by Mugo Odigwe and Megan Hickey

CHCIAGO (CBS) — Chicago Police Officer Carlos Yanez Jr. received a hero’s welcome on Thursday as he went home from the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, after more than two long months of rehabilitation.

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Yanez was critically injured in the shooting that took the life of his partner, Officer Ella French, in August.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey was there for this major milestone.

The crowd was full of friends, family, police officers, and strangers who knew Officer Yanez’s story and wanted to be there for the moment that so many people have been praying for: a hero finally heading home to his family.

“He’s a fighter, everybody saw that,” said his father, Carlos Yanez Sr., a retired officer himself. “Look around. What other department or group of people are there like this, that come here on their day off in the rain, and do whatever they gotta do? That’s what the type of people that we have here in the Police Department.”

Supporters held signs that said “Carlos Strong,” wore bracelets and t-shirts in honor of the officer.

It was a true celebration; with balloons, signs, and a full mariachi band; a moment the community has been praying for since Aug. 7, when Officer Yanez was shot in the head during a traffic stop.

The same shooting took the life of his partner, Officer Ella French.

All this time, he’s been mourning her loss from a hospital bed and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

“I feel like my heart is going to burst. You know, like I said, he has so much positivity in him, but all the policemen, the FOP, everybody has been so good,” said Nora LaPorta, Officer Yanez’s aunt.

“I am ecstatic I am so happy. I’m so happy. I’m his aunt, and every day we pray for him. I go to church and I pray for him,” said another aunt, Veronica Garza.

Officer Yanez thanked the crowd and gave hugs — as many people wiped away tears.

“It’s great. All my family and friends here for support,” Officer Yanez. said.

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Also standing in the crowd was Keith Thornton, the 911 dispatcher who helped get Officer Yanez and Officer French to the hospital on that tragic night.

He pledged to be there for both families in the future.

Wiping away tears, Thornton explained why it was so important for him to be there for Officer Yanez on Thursday.

“I spoke to the family, and I told them you guys are the heroes being here to support him,” he said. “I met my tia, my other tia, and my abuelita. She already popped me a little bit, and said, ‘Come on, we love you.’ You know, this is what family’s about, and I’m just really honored, and I thank God for everything that he’s here, and the number one thing that that he’s safe in God’s arms.”

Officer Yanez was shot four times in the head and shoulder—losing sight in one eye and leaving him partially paralyzed, but he’ll never give up.

“This whole experience has taught us that hope is never lost. You have to keep praying, and you have to keep inspiring him,” said his sister, Nicole Yanez.

Nicole, who is also a physician, said her brother’s progress has been remarkable — thanks to so many prayers.

“He had big plans to grow his family, to grow his career, and I tell him, ‘You can still do those things. No door is shut,’” she said.

“He’s come back to this? It’s because God and all of your prayers,” Yanez Sr. said.

Nicole said her brother’s right arm is strong, and his left arm is getting stronger. He’s also been able to stand at times, and shift his weight, which is remarkable given the severity of his injuries.

She said the unsung hero in all of this is Yanez Jr.’s wife, Brenda, who has been at his side day in and day out.

Officer Yanez still has a long road ahead, but at least from this point on he will be able to complete his rehab on an outpatient basis.

Now he’ll be able to spend more time with friends, family, and his wife and young son.

Two brothers, Emonte and Eric Morgan, have been charged in the shooting that killed French and wounded Yanez Jr., and are being held without bail.

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff