RUSKIN — “Some people have said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Sandy Duran said, referring to her son who was struck by a falling bullet from “celebratory” gunfire on New Year’s Eve. “He was in the front yard of our home. How could that be the wrong place?”
Duran was attracted to the quiet Ruskin home because it was a beautiful and safe place for her children. It still is — Diego was not in the wrong place, he was at home in the best possible place of all. The shooter, however, was very much in the wrong. He or she was in the wrong place and doing the wrong thing to celebrate the New Year. Bullets fired into the sky do not magically disappear. They come tearing back down to earth with lethal force.
Many families celebrate the 4th of July with picnics and barbecues and watching fireworks. Some people choose to shoot their own fireworks, which, within guidelines, are legal in Florida. Other people, however, will choose to fire off weapons. In Hillsborough County, as in most places, that is decidedly not legal. The time has come for the practice to stop because innocent people are being injured and killed. There is nothing celebratory about that.
It would be difficult to imagine a kinder or gentler family than the Durans. Artistic and hardworking, they moved from Puerto Rico to build a quiet life for their children. The 10-acre property on which they live is the embodiment of peace and tranquility, and they chose to spend holidays there together rather than run the risks of being out. They had every right to their expectation of peace and safety — just as anyone should have that expectation at their own home. In the first few minutes of 2012, however, a bullet, fired from a gun up to a mile or three away, fell from the sky and shattered that expectation; it violated their right to have that expectation. The bullet could have fallen anywhere: through a screened lanai in Sun City Center or through the roof of a house to strike a sleeping family. As long as people fire guns into the sky, no one is safe — not in your yard, not in your home.
To prevent anyone else from suffering that needless tragedy, Sandy and Diego Duran, along with Diego’s godmother, Kat Chiu, have created the Bullet Free Sky awareness campaign. They are currently seeking donors to raise the funds necessary to file as a non-profit organization with the Internal Revenue Service. At press time, approximately $340 was still needed. In addition, they have begun selling wristbands emblazoned with the words, “Bullet Free Sky” and Diego’s signature, signed while he was still in the hospital, along with Bullet Free Sky t-shirts.
The campaign has garnered nationwide and international attention. A wristband sent to a woman in Minnesota earned a pledge from the members of her family who are hunters to never fire recklessly into the sky and to help promote the campaign to other hunters. That is but a single example of dozens. Almost certainly, Diego’s tragedy has already saved lives and prevented injuries.
Diego’s recovery has been remarkable. He returned to school, on a limited basis, at Beth Shield’s Middle School in Ruskin before the year ended for the summer. He has endured multiple surgeries and the road ahead is still long, but he is taking each step without complaint, without tears. Along with his family, he is moving forward, getting better and now trying to save lives.
With the nation’s 236th birthday approaching this July 4th, you can help this young man, who only recently turned 13 years old. First and foremost, you can help by not firing weapons into the sky. In doing so, you could end up shooting someone just as though you pointed the weapon directly at his or her head. Again, a bullet fired into the sky can travel for up to three miles from where it was shot, and there is no way of knowing where it will land.
You can also help Diego by supporting the Bullet Free Sky campaign. Although they are still raising funds to become an official non-profit organization, it is already functioning as such. Information about how to donate to the campaign can be found at www.bulletfreesky.com. In addition to donations, Bullet Free Sky wristbands, t-shirts, stickers and bumper stickers are also available at very reasonable prices. Finally, you can help by being aware. On this 4th of July, if you hear weapons being fired in “celebration,” call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to report it. Another needless tragedy is no way to celebrate this nation’s independence.
Every year people are injured or killed because of celebratory gunfire; tragedies that are entirely unnecessary. This 4th of July, join a brave, gentle, and artistic 13-year-old boy — a young man most definitely in the right place at the right time — in working to end the tradition of “celebratory” gunfire. Together you will make a difference.