The Miller School Hosts National ASK Day to Avoid Gun Tragedies

In February 2007, 15-year-old Yamel Trigo became the kind of statistic that the June 21 observance of National ASK Day at the Miller School was designed to prevent. While Yamel snapped a photo of her cousin holding a rifle the girls mistakenly thought was unloaded, the cousin pulled the trigger. The bullet pierced Yamel’s neck, consigning her to a wheelchair.

Every day 75 children like Yamel are shot in America, 65 percent of them by firearms they found in their homes, or in the homes of a relative or friend.

Calling that statistic “America’s shame,” Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho gathered with the Miller School’s Judy Schaechter, M.D., professor and associate chair of pediatrics, and trauma specialists, law enforcement officials and other child advocates to encourage parents to ask parents of their children’s friends the questions that have saved countless lives since the ASK – for Asking Saves Kids – campaign launched in 2000.

Is there a gun in the house? Is it accessible? Is it locked?

“In Miami-Dade, 80 percent of unintentional and suicide child shootings occurred in the victim’s home, the home of a relative, neighbor or friend,’’ Schaechter said at a news conference held on the first day of summer to spread the ASK message. “In addition, two-thirds of those guns used in those shootings were owned by a family member or by a friend of the family. One has to ask: How many of those children could have been saved had families known about the risks and taken the necessary steps to make sure those guns were not accessible to children?’’

Ryder Trauma Center surgeon Carl Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., associate professor of surgery, urged parents to take those steps now “so no parent has to face me, or one of my colleagues, in a very cold, dark room in the trauma center where I have to tell you that your son or daughter has been seriously injured, or killed, from a firearm that was accessible in the home.’’

In hopes of reaching all public school parents with that message, Charles Hurley, the school district’s police chief, said the district sent automated phone messages to the homes of all of its 350,000 students asking parents “to ask the hard questions.”

“Do not be afraid to pick up the phone, to walk next door and ask your neighbor, your children’s friend’s parents, ‘What is in your home? Who will be there when my child is there?’’’ Hurley said. “If we do this, we have all of our students back next year.’’

Now 19 and a college student, Yamel said she realizes just how lucky she is.

“I’m glad I’m here today, but some kids don’t have that luck,’’ she said. “There are a lot of accidents that have been caused because they were curious about guns. They think it’s something you can play with, and it’s not.’’

For more information on the ASK campaign, a collaboration between the Center to Prevent Youth Violence and the American Academy of Pediatrics, visit the center’s website. For more information about Miami-Dade Public School’s ASK campaign, view the school district’s flier.

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