A scar across Diego Duran's head marks where doctors operated on him after he was struck by a stray bullet (photo courtesy the Duran family)
Ruskin, Florida -- On the Fourth of July, a holiday where people are more prone to firing guns in the air as a way to celebrate, the family of Diego Duran is urging people not to use celebratory gunfire.
Diego, who's now 13 years old, was standing outside his house on New Year's Day with his family in a rural area of Ruskin. A bullet that had been shot into the air ended up piercing Diego in the head.
After six months and numerous surgeries, he's improving every day through physical therapy, skateboarding video games, and spending time with his family. He's getting ready to start the 8th grade this fall.
"Today, Diego will actually be able to enjoy this holiday, so it will be the Fourth of July, but it will also be our New Year's celebration because we are finally back home together," says his mother, Sandy. "There has been a lot of pain, but I think we have transformed that pain into passion."
"It was painful. It was hard to go through," adds his godmother, Kat Chiu. "But from the beginning, we wanted to do something so this didn't happen again to somebody else."
Diego's mom and godmother have been at the forefront of Bullet Free Sky, a nonprofit that sells bracelets and other items to keep the message visible and to keep people talking.
"Diego was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in the right place. He was right in front of his house, where he should be safe just looking at the fireworks," Sandy says.
Looking at the fireworks, as people will be doing as they celebrate Independence Day. It's the family's hope that no one will fall victim to celebratory gunfire.
"What goes up comes down, and what comes down can injure someone or damage property," says Bill Proffitt with the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Since 2008, the St. Petersburg Police Department has launched a campaign each New Year's Day and Fourth of July to raise awareness. One of the messages shared in a public service announement related to the campaign: "Never use guns as party favors."
It's a message Diego and his family hope will resonate even louder than fireworks.
"If we take action, even with these little things, we can make a difference," Sandy says.
Right now in Florida, knowingly firing a gun in a public place is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine. Bullet Free Sky hopes to eventually play a role in changing those laws, but right now the utmost priority is here at home, helping to protect people against the dangers of celebratory gunfire.