RUSKIN — Diego Duran walked into school by himself Thursday for the first time this year. The 13-year-old from Ruskin has spent the last five months in and out of the hospital after being hit by a stray bullet on Jan. 1. And now, his family wants to spread awareness about the dangers of celebratory gunfire.
A bullet-free sky. That's all they want. Diego's godmother, Kat Chiu, 34, designed the campaign to spread awareness and make people think twice about firing stray bullets into the air. After all, what goes up must come down. And with Fourth of July right around the corner, the time to get the word out is now, the family says.
"It's a bit ridiculous to come out and have to speak about common sense," said Diego's mother, Sandy Duran, at a news conference Thursday morning. "Anybody that shoots up in the sky is pretty much like they're blindfolded just shooting randomly. Anyone can die. And I don't think the chances are very small. Look at us. We're standing here because of this."
The Duran family moved from Puerto Rico to Florida, in part, Duran said, to keep their family safe. She describes them as a peaceful family who purposefully avoided going out to parties on holidays like New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July, choosing instead to relax at their home on a private 10-acre property.
"We'd been doing the best we can to protect our kids," Duran said. "Yet, we were a few steps from our door, and it reached us."
Strength and endurance remain Diego's biggest challenges. He struggles with short-term memory loss. He continues weekly speech, occupational and physical therapy sessions while balancing his homework to stay on track for school. Overall, he's as vibrant as ever, Duran said. His neurosurgeon hopes he will make a full recovery.
"He's been very brave, very cheerful," Duran said. "He's like a little warrior."
His motor skills are a little off, and he sometimes struggles with writing. But from his hospital bed, Diego managed to sit up, grab a red marker and scrawl his name in cursive — complete with a smiley face at the end. His signature has become an icon of the campaign. The campaign's gray wristbands, which Diego designed himself while recovering from surgery, include a scanned version of his signature with stars on each end.
The Duran family wants people to educate themselves and take classes regarding gun safety. At the news conference, firearms instructor Joseph Krawtschenko urged gun users to be smart.
"If you're going to own a gun, you're going to carry a gun, you have the moral and ethical obligation to know how to use it safely and not injure somebody else," he said.
A bullet from a .9mm pistol can travel more than a mile and at speeds around a thousand feet per second, Krawtschenko said. When it comes back down, it's moving fast.
"Know the safety rules," Krawtschenko said. "The first one's always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Up in the air is not a safe direction."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or (813)226-3111.