Monday, May 28, 2018
Public safety

Ruskin boy hit by 'celebratory' New Year's gunfire remains critical

RUSKIN — The Durans don't have guns on their 10 acres in rural Ruskin. That's the way the artistic couple wants it — a safe haven for 12-year-old Diego Duran and his teenage sisters.

So if their mother had heard gunshots as they watched fireworks on New Year's Eve, she would have pulled the family inside. But she didn't.

That's the thing about gunfire, she said. It sounds like fireworks.

As Diego remained in a coma Monday at Tampa General Hospital, deputies sought tips on who could have fired a stray bullet about 1 a.m. Sunday. They think it may have traveled miles, likely shot into the air in a New Year's celebration.

The Sheriff's Office has fielded calls from people who say they heard the pop of celebratory gunfire near College Avenue and U.S. 41, but deputies need specifics, said spokesman Larry McKinnon.

When the bullet pierced the top of Diego's head, his sisters heard a sound like the snapping of fingers. They thought their brother was goofing around until they saw blood.

Later, doctors told the family the bullet had traveled diagonally through Diego's brain. It broke two bones — one behind his eye and one behind his nose, said Sandra Duran, his mother.

It stopped behind his cheekbone, where it remains.

Doctors are waiting for swelling in his head to subside before they take any invasive action or make a prognosis, his mother said. That could be several days.

Authorities won't know the bullet's caliber until it's removed.

Diego's mother, father and two teenage sisters have been by his side at the hospital.

Sandra Duran is hopeful. Though her son is in a coma, it's not terribly deep, she said. And when the sedative medications start to wear off, Diego responds to requests to make a thumbs-up.

"Every move he makes is just the greatest gift," she said.

Diego is a quiet, good-natured boy who gets good grades, his mother said. He loves skateboarding, heavy metal and playing the guitar.

Each spring, he helps his mother rehabilitate injured songbirds.

The teachers at Beth Shields Middle School adore him, and principal Anna Voida said he is one of the school's best students.

When she broke the news to the faculty before school Monday, she saw shock in their faces. School district crisis team leader Patrick Canavan said the teachers all wanted to know why.

"It was so random, and the adults, particularly, can't really understand why it happened to Diego," Canavan said.

A couple of students were worried after hearing the details, said school psychologist Robert Pepe.

"They realized this could happen to anyone," he said.

Diego's mother is a stained glass artist who is studying to be a massage therapist. Her husband, Diego Duran Sr., does fine woodwork.

The father and son spent last week building a skateboard ramp in their yard, a Christmas gift for Diego. The father asked for prayers for his son.

Meanwhile, Sandra Duran hopes to raise awareness that celebratory gunfire is dangerous. It's a warning that goes out each year in some areas, such as Miami, but the mother said she has never heard anything here.

It's a practice that has killed but for some remains in the realm of, "is it a myth?"

The Discovery Channel's popular show MythBusters tested it in 2006. The results: When shot at precisely 90 degrees into the air, the bullet loses its spin and isn't lethal. At other angles, it can kill.

It has harmed at least four people — killing one — in Florida since 2006.

"A firearm is a weapon," Sandra Duran said Monday. "It's a weapon that takes a life. It's not a tool for celebration."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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