RUSKIN – It would be difficult to imagine a scene that embodies more peace and tranquility than the small house on ten acres in Ruskin. The family chose to spend their holidays there. It was quiet and safe, and it was everything the refuge of home should be — and then a bullet fell from the sky.
No one heard the gunshot, nor did anyone see the bullet falling. They just saw 12-year-old Diego Duran fall to the ground, bleeding from the head. They had no idea that a mile or more away from their peaceful refuge, someone fired a bullet into the sky to celebrate the New Year. Just seconds after that, the lives of the Duran family changed forever.
No one has stepped forward to say, “I did this. I didn’t know this could happen.” But how could anyone not know? How could anyone not know that a bullet fired into the sky would come down somewhere? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Someone pulled the trigger of a gun and shot a 12-year-old boy in the head. His recovery is ongoing and will be long. He is lucky to be alive. Someone in Ruskin will have to live with the knowledge of what he or she has done. At a minimum, in sleepless nights wracked with guilt, perhaps they have learned something even schoolchildren know: what goes up must come down and sometimes that happens with tragic consequences. But those consequences should not have been unforeseen. Diego’s mother, Sandy, is now working to ensure that those consequences are known and what they have gone through will not happen to another innocent family.
Last week in front of reporters and television cameras, Duran kicked off the Bullet Free Sky Campaign. To raise funds for the campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of celebratory gunfire, wristbands created by Diego, are available for $5. Celebratory gunfire, while common in certain communities, is illegal. With the Fourth of July approaching, Duran feels a sense of urgency in getting the word out.
“Please be aware of the dangers of celebratory gunfire,” she said. “We are all part of the same earth and no matter where you are, even in your front yard, this can happen. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this.”
Life changed for her son in the beginning moments of 2012. While he is improving and has returned to school on a limited basis, he still has a long ways to go. Barring any unforeseen problems, this summer he’ll under go at least two more MRIs to check on an aneurism. Since his last surgery, he has developed some problems with short-term memory, but his doctors and his family are working to change that. If his recovery has been miraculous, as much credit for that goes to Diego himself as to his doctors and family.
“He has always been a happy kid,” Duran said. “When he was taken into the operating room, the surgeons and anesthesiologist asked him how he was, he said, ‘I’m fine’ with a smile on his face. He was trying to help us compose ourselves.”
From a hospital bed, he created his artistic signature, which adorns the Bullet Free Sky wristbands.
At first Duran felt that it was ridiculous to talk about common sense, things like not shooting bullets into the sky. But as she began to research the issue, she realized that many people have been impacted by it.
“We do not go out to parties, especially not on days like New Years or the Fourth of July, so we’ve been doing the best we can to protect our kids,” she said. “Yet just two steps from our door, it reached us. It has reached many people; it has killed people. If it can happen to us, it can happen to anyone.”
Joseph Krawtschenko, firearms instructor from Aegis Tactical in Bradenton, joined Duran at the press conference and is supporting the Bullet Free Sky campaign.
“In our classes we teach our students to always keep their gun pointed in a safe direction,” he said. “Up in the air is not a safe direction.”
After multiple surgeries and five months of therapy, Sandy Duran’s son is alive and recently celebrated his 13th birthday. Rather than submitting to anger or frustration, Duran is finding the positive in the tragedy. All she wants is for the sky to be bullet free; all she wants is for no one else to suffer needlessly from a tragedy like this.
“This experience has opened our eyes to things we did not know were possible,” she said. “First of all, this has brought people together, sending their love and prayers. I think that has played a role. And there is awareness. I also had no idea how celebratory gunfire could affect us right at our home. We are a peaceful family; we live in a peaceful place. We stayed there because we felt our kids were safe.”
And maybe something as simple as a wristband will help to keep her kids, and your kids, safe in the future.
“There are positive things that have come from this, but we don’t want this to happen again,” she continued. “Shooting a bullet into the sky is pretty much like putting on a blindfold and just shooting randomly. Anyone can die from it. I really don’t think the chances are very small.”
Bullet Free Sky wristbands are available for $5 at the:
• Chakra Center in Sun City Center,
• Southshore Chamber of Commerce,
• Firehouse Cultural Center (during open hours),
• Aegis Tactical firearm instructors in Bradenton
• Bullet Free Sky Campaign website
• Friends of Diego Duran Facebook page