TAMPA — Diego Duran's young life almost ended just after 1 a.m. on New Year's Day 2012, when a bullet fell from the sky and hit him in the head as he watched fireworks with outside his family's Ruskin home. Authorities blamed celebratory gunfire. The bullet that traced diagonally through Duran's brain, leaving him comatose for days, had probably been fired into the sky miles away.
In the two years that have passed since Diego's miraculous recovery, he and his family have made a mission of spreading awareness about the danger of celebratory gunfire. They have encountered pushback, though, from gun enthusiasts who think their charity, Bullet Free Sky, is anti-gun.
The Duran family tried to dispel that perception Friday with a press conference at Shooters World gun store and range. As gunshots popped at the indoor firing range behind her, Sandy Duran explained that gun lovers have nothing to fear from her charity and its message.
"We are not anti-gun," said Duran, 40, a massage therapist. "We are pro-common sense … When you shoot in the air, the bullets don't evaporate or disappear."
Bullets fired into the air can return to the ground at speeds greater than 200 feet per second, according to the Center for Disease Control. While that's considerably slower than the 2,500 feet per second some bullets travel just after being shot, it is fast enough to injure or kill.
No reliable data exists for the number of injuries and deaths caused annually by celebratory gunfire, but the Duran family is now painfully aware of how often it happens. Celebratory gunfire has been blamed for at least four other shootings in the Tampa Bay area since Diego's injury, and they've all coincided with the two holidays most favored by people who like celebrate things by pointing guns in the air and shooting — New Year's Eve and Independence Day.
"It hits us in the heart, because we know how that family feels," Sandy Duran said. "It's a matter of common sense. This is 100 percent preventable."
Diego is 14 now, a freshman at Lennard High School. He stood next to his mother Friday, friends and family behind them, all clad in Bullet Free Sky T-shirts. Memory problems are the only lingering effect of Diego's near-tragic experience.
"I'm fine," he said. "I just hope people don't use guns to celebrate New Year's. Use fireworks."
Sandy Duran said she hopes to approach the National Rifle Association for support in spreading their message. She'd also like to meet with state legislators about passing a law that would increase the penalties for shooting into the air, currently a misdemeanor in Florida.
Bullet Free Sky is taking donations, and recently hit a milestone: It raised enough money for a billboard along Interstate 75 near Ruskin.
"It's huge," Sandy Duran said when asked of the importance of the billboard. "I mean, literally, it is huge."
Bruce Kitzis, general manager of Shooters World, said it was an easy decision to allow Bullet Free Sky to use his store and range to spread its message.
"If you want to shoot a gun, come here, where it's safe and controlled," Kitzis said. "Anything that goes up is going to come down."
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]