A Bullet Free Sky

by Diane Dimond on December 3, 2012

I want to introduce you to a truly thankful man. His name is Richard Smeraldo of Clearwater, Florida. After you hear his story, I promise, you will never forget it.

The Bullet’s Path Marks His Face

Richard, a happy-go-lucky 74, has always loved fireworks so this past July 4th he, his wife and a female friend went to a fireworks show at a nearby community, ironically, called Safety Harbor. There, sitting in an open field among 16,000 others, including children and their families, Smeraldo looked up into the night sky and ooh’ed and ahh’ed with delight.

“It happened at a time when the fireworks had paused,” he told me at a recent dinner where we met. “It was right before the big finale. I thought I was hit with a baseball bat or a big rock … it was like something big just hit my nose.”

Smeraldo suddenly realized he was, “bleeding all over the place.” And, his friend sitting on the grass in front of him also cried out in pain. She felt as though something had violently poked her in the back.

Richard Describes Bullet’s Path

That “something”, as it turned out, was a 9 mm bullet. Police believe it had been shot into the night sky by a reckless Independence Day celebrant and that it had ricocheted off Richard and struck his friend. Because a bullet can travel as far as three miles (depending on the caliber) police still have no suspect.

Think about the path this stray bullet took! It came down out of the sky with such force that it tore through the bill of Richard’s baseball cap – leaving a perfect hole – before nearly slicing off parts of his face.

“The bullet went through my nose, out my nostril, through my chin and hit a medallion that my daughter had given me,” Smeraldo told me. I couldn’t help but notice the healing scars on his face as he used his finger to trace the bullet’s path as he spoke. I imagined what would have happened to this kindly man had his head been in just a slightly different position.

The emergency room doctors believe Richard’s metal medallion necklace kept the bullet from penetrating his chest and perhaps killing him. That conclusion still causes the retiree to shake his head in disbelief.

A Necklace Like This May Have Saved His Life

He told me the necklace had been a recent gift from his 28 year old cancer-stricken (but now recovering) daughter. He had it engraved with a biblical verse his mother often quoted, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

“I sure felt like someone was watching over me that night,” he said in a quiet voice.

Coincidentally, that same July 4th night Florida TV stations had run a news story – unseen by Richard – featuring a woman who lived in nearby Ruskin, Florida. Sandy Duran looked into the camera and begged people with guns not to shoot them into the sky in celebration. She explained that six months earlier, on New Year’s Eve, her 12 year old son had been hit squarely on the top of his head by an errant bullet after he had stepped outside to ring in 2012. He was hospitalized for six months and endured several surgeries.

Diego, center, and His Loving Family

“Diego was not in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. “He was in the right place. He was right in front of his house where he should be safe.” Today, Diego is recovering but has short term memory problems.

The Duran family launched an education campaign against celebratory gunfire they call A Bullet Free Sky and on their web site they sell bracelets, T-shirts and bumper stickers to help finance their effort. Also offered now are replicas of Smeraldo ’s life-saving necklace – lovingly made by Richard who feels a real kinship with Diego.

“This is not to get people to not have guns,” he told me on the phone the other day. “It’s all about the education for people who happen to own guns.”

Killed in Church, Marquel Peters, 4

Richard and Diego’s stories are not as rare as you might think.

In Decatur, Georgia four year old Marquel Peters was in church with his parents on New Year’s Day 2010 when a bullet smashed through the roof struck him in the head and killed him. Last year, celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Day took the life of Karla Michelle Negron, 15, in Puerto Rico. On that same day in Miami a six year old tourist from Italy was hit by a stray was bullet that punctured his lung.

Over the years, intoxicated celebratory shooters in New York City, New Orleans and Orlando have been tracked down and prosecuted on charges ranging from weapons violations to manslaughter.

All across the country law enforcement agencies are now gearing up for the anticipated next round of holiday gun madness caused by those who simply don’t think through the consequences of their wildly irresponsible actions. Geez, even a kid can tell you, “What goes up must come down.”

Imagine a 9 mm Slamming Into Your Head/Face

After years of senseless maimings and death this stupidity still goes on – even at Christmas time according to reports I’ve read. Isn’t it time to get tough on these people? In some states, randomly firing a gun into the air is automatically considered a felony. Yet, in far too many others it is a mere misdemeanor.

In researching this worldwide problem I discovered that in the Republic of Macedonia a person found guilty of firing off a gun during a celebration faces a mandatory prison sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Sounds about right to me.

Celebrate the holidays – but lose the guns.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond December 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Nancy Madigan writes:

“Thank you for writing this editorial. Perhaps it would be good for readers, for everyone, to know that a bullet comes back down with the same speed as it went up–if it’s a fact. I want to know that for sure myself. When I first heard that, I couldn’t believe it, but the damage done, as you report, makes me think that, definitely, it’s true. To me, the idea that it could come back down with that same speed and intensity, didn’t make any sense. Maybe you could emphasize this fact, and it could be on every box of bullets. I live in a semi-rural area, where revelers do this celebrating, especially on New Year’s Eve at midnight, and on July 4th.

I always enjoy your column.”

Reply

Diane Dimond December 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Reader Garen Wintemute writes:

“Ms. Dimond,

Hello. Given your very good column on a stray bullet shooting, I thought the attached research report and press release on such shootings might be of interest.

Please let me know if you’d like further information. Thanks.”

NOTE TO READERS: The information was provided me in a Jpeg form. I’m attempting to get a proper link to post here for you. Here’s the headline of the press release.

UC DAVIS STUDY FINDS STRAY-BULLET SHOOTINGS FREQUENTLY HARM WOMEN AND CHILDREN

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Most people killed or wounded in stray-bullet shootings were unaware of events leading to the gunfire that caused their injuries, and nearly one-third of the victims were children and nearly half were female, according to a new nationwide study examining an often-overlooked form of gun violence.

Reply

Diane Dimond December 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm

UPDATE: Here are two links to learn more about the U.S. Davis study on who is most frequently hurt by stray bullets.

>> Here’s a direct link to the article:
http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/vprp/publications/straybulletJTrauma.pdf

Perhaps more useful, here’s a link to our web page, which has an obvious link to the article and also displays some of our other recent work:
http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/vprp/

Reply

Dick Smillie December 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Diane;

Have followed your writings for a long time. Was really sorry to learn that you are against GUNS. You must agree that the GUNS are not the real problem. It is all the idiots that operate the guns that is the problem. The so called leaders of this country are out of touch. One would hope the rumors about Hilary and the international gun ban are false? Please alter your thinking on Guns.

Reply

Diane Dimond December 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I am not against guns, Dick! (in the interest of full disclosure I must tell readers this is my favorite cousin from Missouri, Dick Smillie, writing) I’m against the reckless use of a gun should the shooter get liquored up and decide that the best way to celebrate is to fire bullets into the air! No responsible gun owner on the face of the earth would disagree.
(I think you’re pulling my leg here, cuz.) ~ DD

Reply

Diane Dimond December 9, 2012 at 6:24 pm

ABQ Journal Reader DShuma writes:

“I couldn’t agree more. Here in Las Cruces an elderly lady sitting in the stands one Saturday at an NMSU football game had a bullet come down and hit her in the thigh. She said it was her first football game and the LAST.
They could never find where it came from.

That is the big problem with this. Where do the bullets come from? We could lock up all of them if we could find them but the jail would be standing room only. Have you seen the video of the arabic people firing their rifles into the air with abandon? I always wonder what happens but we never hear.

Good theory but it can’t happen! A few examples could be made MAYBE but that would be all. The police caution us (those of us who don’t do it) every year but to no avail. There just are not enough police or jail space for all the miscreants.”

Reply

Diane Dimond December 12, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Huffington Post Reader Norman Clegg writes:

“I agree shooting in the air is stupid, but I have to say when I see members of the taliban or al queda doing it, I think wow why can’t they wipe themselves out and then, problem solved : )”

Reply

Diane Dimond December 12, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Huffington Post Reader pamelafpam writes:

“What’s wrong with people ? Shooting into the sky is so dangerous.They should have a law for this stupidity.now days it seems like their are more stupid people doing dangerous things. you really got to think if it is really worth it to go to these events.Especially where guns and alcohol are.These people don’t practice firearm safety.Rednecks gone wild at these family events ruin it for the rest of the spectators.and that rediculous stand your ground law makes it scary to go to parks or public places.it seems like the people who use that law really are little mentally off or just paranoid.It gives them an excuse to harm someone .they seem to agitate and then say I feel scared for my life.What. A crock. Our country seems to have a lot of these vigilantly types,who call them selves peppers.It seems the people with the concealed weapons seem to be really paranoid. The park I go to have lately had a lot this stand your ground talk by these low mentality people.”

Reply

Diane Dimond December 20, 2012 at 8:20 am

Huffington Post Reader PamelafPam writes:

“What’s wrong with people ? Shooting into the sky is so dangerous.They should have a law for this stupidity.now days it seems like their are more stupid people doing dangerous things. you really got to think if it is really worth it to go to these events.Especially where guns and alcohol are.These people don’t practice firearm safety.Rednecks gone wild at these family events ruin it for the rest of the spectators.and that rediculous stand your ground law makes it scary to go to parks or public places.it seems like the people who use that law really are little mentally off or just paranoid.It gives them an excuse to harm someone .they seem to agitate and then say I feel scared for my life.What. A crock. Our country seems to have a lot of these vigilantly types,who call them selves peppers.It seems the people with the concealed weapons seem to be really paranoid.The park I go to have lately had a lot this stand your ground talk by these low mentality people.”

Reply

Diane Dimond December 20, 2012 at 8:23 am

Huffington Post Reader LordRocksavage writes:

“This would be an excellent topic for local news stations all across the country. Stories could begin right after Christmas and go till New Years Day. This is not new. I remember it as a child in the 1950s. I’m sure the custom has been around as long as guns have.”

Reply

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