Students at a school in El Paso, Texas, were let out of classes Friday to make a statement about deaths caused by guns. But after a tragedy that took place during the school-organized protest, one student will never be coming back.
Jonathan Benko, 11, was killed Friday during the event, The Associated Press reported.
Although the school’s plans for the walkout that school officials organized called for students to remain on Parkland Middle School’s campus, a few students left the approved area and went to a nearby park.
While he was trying to cross the highway to get to the park, Benko was struck by a truck driven by Jesus Diaz, 61, who was not charged in the incident. El Paso police spokesman Darrel Petry said Diaz remained at the scene of the accident.
“It is illegal to walk on a highway. It’s next to impossible for motorists to move out of the way of pedestrians on the roadway and that’s why it’s a restricted passage,” said Sgt. Robert Gomez of the El Paso Police Department, according to The New York Times.
Some on social media noted that if the school had not staged the walkout, Benko might still be alive.
But school officials insisted they were not responsible for the boy’s death.
Ysleta Independent School District Superintendent Xavier De La Torre said the students who used the approved walkout as an opportunity to leave school grounds were an “isolated group.” He said the group “breached” the school’s perimeter, according to KDBC.
“This group of students, in a separate, isolated incident, who decided not to participate in the walkout but instead decided to use it perhaps as a way to get off the premises and go meet at the park,” said De La Torre.
According to the superintendent, the school was taking students to the football field, when the group of students jumped a wall and left the campus. He said school officials were watching the building’s front and back doors, but those students left by a side door.
The school’s safety and security “is unparalleled,” he said, but when students choose to leave campus “it becomes more and more difficult to guarantee their safety.”
Eighth-grader Angela Rodriguez, 14, told the El Paso Times that Benko will be missed.
“He was a free spirit. He was fun to be around, always lighting up the room,” she said. “He played the violin. He was very good. He was one of the best ones in the class.”
De La Torre praised students who walked out of class Friday and remained on school grounds.
“What we’ve come to understand is that there are students out there that are very vocal, that are going to be our future leaders that are going to insist upon walking out,” he said. “And what we try to do is help them understand that they can still have a voice and that they can still have a presence and demonstrate their recognition and honor of some of the things that have happened in this country without leaving the premises.”
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