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One year later, keeping the skies bullet free

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image Sandy Duran, Diego, and Diego Sr. pose for a photograph during a ceremony to open the Diego Duran Skateboard Park in Apollo Beach in September. Photo Mitch Traphagen

It would be impossible to say how many lives have been saved or injuries prevented thanks to 14-year-old Diego Duran, his mother Sandy, and his family.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

It would be impossible to say how many lives have been saved or injuries prevented thanks to 14-year-old Diego Duran, his mother Sandy, and his family. There is no way to account for the lack of headlines blaring printed words over senseless injuries, there is no way to measure the lack of needless, downright thoughtless bloodshed that might otherwise have occurred. But despite the inability to measure it, Diego, Sandy and family have most definitely saved lives and prevented injuries. Through their pain, struggle and tears, they have saved others from senseless torment. They have made a difference in helping to keep the skies over South Hillsborough, America and the world bullet free. Without question, they have saved others from tragedy.

As 2011 turned to 2012, Diego and his family were celebrating the New Year by watching fireworks from their yard; their home is an oasis of peace, surrounded by acres of solitude. Within the first few minutes of the New Year, Diego suddenly fell to the ground, bleeding. A bullet, fired into the sky from possibly miles away, found him and changed his life forever. Somewhere out in Ruskin, his assailant remains unknown and unidentified, someone who fired a gun into the air in celebration without giving thought to the fact that the bullet that emerged from the barrel did not simply disappear into the night sky. It came back down and struck a child. Intent or deliberation are not factors because the thoughtlessness of such an act is little different from a direct shot at a child; the end result was the same. A child was struck in the head by a bullet and instantly began fighting for his life. Until that moment, the young family rightfully thought they were safe in their own yard, celebrating the New Year together at home. But celebratory gunfire knows no boundaries. No one is safe from it.

Over the past year, Diego has endured repeated surgeries, gains and setbacks. He never stopped fighting for his life and is now on the road to recovery. And now he is fighting for the lives of others. He is trying to keep the names of other innocent victims out of the headlines. Together with his mother Sandy, an organization called “Bullet Free Sky” emerged from his injuries and his year of recovery.

“Diego continues to improve overall,” Sandy said. “He still has a shunt to help drain his cerebral spinal fluid and he is on blood thinners due to a constricted artery in his brain. Still, he seems to be just great! If anyone was to see him in person, they would not even have a clue of what he had been through since January 1 of this year.”

Upon meeting him it is clear that Diego is an intelligent, polite, creative and sensitive young man. His struggle to recover and his fight to prevent this from happening again have garnered worldwide attention. He is still coping with memory loss but is improving thanks to the dedication of his family, teachers and therapist.

In September, Hillsborough County Commissioners gathered to name a skateboard park in his honor in Apollo Beach. Diego has become a symbol as well as a motivation to keep people, particularly children, safe from senseless threats to their lives. No one should ever lose a loved one because of someone else’s sheer thoughtlessness. And it doesn’t get much more thoughtless than randomly firing a bullet into the air. That isn’t celebratory, that could well be attempted murder.

“We are doing our best to educate people regarding the dangers of celebratory gunfire, a very irresponsible use of a firearm,” Sandy said, referring to Bullet Free Sky. “We have had booths at events leading to the New Year. We’re working on a public service advertisement to air on television and are planning on educating students in schools.”

You can help their efforts by visiting the Bullet Free Sky website at www.bulletfreesky.com. There, you can find free posters, banners and flyers in both English and Spanish to download and display at businesses or anywhere they can be seen by the public. On the website, there are also t-shirts, wristbands and medallions for sale, with all of the money earned going back into the nonprofit organization and used to help fund current and future activities to help keep the skies over South Hillsborough and America bullet free.

“You can help create awareness without even saying a word,” Sandy said of the t-shirts, wristbands and medallions. One person can make a big difference. One person may save a life.”

Last New Year’s Eve, the Duran family could not possibly have known how dramatically their lives would change in the mere blink of an eye. Their young son had to fight for his life but is now well along the road to recovery. With New Year’s approaching again, the family will celebrate it together, this time with a new outlook, and a new appreciation for so many things.

“As many celebrate the New Year, we will be celebrating the blessing of another year, all together,” Sandy said. “We know Diego is still with us for a reason. With gratitude, we will think of those who sent continuous love, prayers and good energy while Diego was in and out of the hospital. I believe Diego’s remarkable recovery is a living example of what we can achieve when boundaries disappear as we unite for a common cause. In our hearts, we know our son’s recovery is the result of that unity. We also feel great passion towards creating the awareness we did not have before this happened to us.”

And as a result, lives have been and will be saved, fewer tears will flow with loved ones asking, “How, why?” Among the lives they save could well be yours and mine. Thanks to their efforts, we may have been saved from injury and heartbreak, we’ll never know. But we can appreciate that thanks to a young man from Ruskin, fewer bullets will come crashing down from the sky. Thanks to him, the fireworks celebrating this New Year will look better than ever.

Writer’s note:  It is difficult to suggest there could be a silver lining to the tragic and critical injury of a child. My wish would be, obviously, that someone thoughtless enough to fire a gun into the air had never injured Diego. But it did happen and there is a silver lining. I know with certainty that thanks to Diego, Sandy and the Duran family, other people have been spared the same injuries or worse. I know that what they are doing with Bullet Free Sky has had an impact because I’ve heard from people around the country who learned about Diego and began spreading the word to stop celebratory gunfire. I know that my wife or I could well have been spared, as you may have been spared from injury because someone learned from them. For me personally, there’s even more of a silver lining: I’ve met Diego, Sandy and Diego Sr. and I’ve been blessed to get to know what incredible, loving and special people they are. My life is better for it. Please visit www.bulletfreesky.com. They need your help. We all do.

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