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2006-04-11

Eighth Grader Commits Suicide After Being Threatened by School Official With Jail Time for Organizing Walkouts

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An eighth grader in California killed himself two weeks ago after being threatened by a school official for participating in the student immigrant rights walkouts. Anthony Soltero, 14, died after he shot himself in the head on March 30th. We speak with the attorney representing Soltero’s mother. [includes rush transcript]

Along with the mass demonstrations, tens of thousands of students have staged walkouts across the country in support of immigrant rights. Students defied school lockdowns and strict bans to take to the streets in unprecedented levels and participate in the immigration protests.

But tragedy struck two weeks ago in California when an eight grader killed himself after being threatened by a school official for participating in the walkouts. His family claimed a school administrator pulled Soltero aside on March 30 and told him he could be jailed for three years, banished from his graduation and his parents could be fined for his involvement in the protest.

Anthony Soltero died after he shot himself in the head later that day. He was just 14 years-old.

About 200 people gathered in a church in Long Beach on Monday to remember him. Some of his friends wore black shirts with a picture of Anthony on the front.

On Monday, school district officials released a statement but failed to address whether the incident occurred. The statement read quote "The district expresses its sincere sympathy for the student’s family and friends. Out of respect for the family’s privacy and because litigation is being threatened against the district, we can’t comment any further regarding this very unfortunate incident."

  • Samuel Paz, a civil rights lawyer representing Anthony Soltero’s mother, Louise Corales.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone right now from California by Samuel Paz, a civil rights lawyer representing Anthony Soltero ’s mother, Louise Corales. We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you quickly tell us what happened? Anthony was one of the key organizers of the student walkout in his school?

SAMUEL PAZ: As best as we know, yes. He was one of the organizers and one of the leaders of the walkout. What happened, briefly, was that after the walkout, he was brought into his vice principal’s office and told essentially that he was going to be suspended from school, he would lose his privileges as far as his eighth grade graduation and graduation dance, his mother was to be fined, and that he was going to face three years of prison because of a prior school probation.

And he went home, called his mother shortly thereafter, and told his mother what had happened. She said, essentially, ’I’m coming home. We have to talk about this.’ By the time she got home, he had shot himself. He had left a note. And, tragically, he died three days later after being on life support. His heart was donated to a 20-year-old girl in Washington who was dying, and luckily, she now lives because of him. We are now investigating the allegations and finding witnesses who could corroborate exactly what happened at the school.

AMY GOODMAN: Samuel Paz, just to understand, the assistant principal at DeAnza Middle School told Anthony that he would go to prison for three years, that his mother would be fined, that he wouldn’t be able to graduate eighth grade, go to the ceremony, and he couldn’t go to the eighth grade prom, the dance?

SAMUEL PAZ: Yes. That’s correct. That’s the information we have.

AMY GOODMAN: And the school district will not say anything right now?

SAMUEL PAZ: They have not made any statement that we know of. We are in the process — in fact, today we will be serving the requests under the federal law to obtain his records.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And to your knowledge, has there been a wider crackdown on other students in California who have participated in these protests?

SAMUEL PAZ: I know at this particular school district, which is San Bernardino — I know that over 250 students were referred to the police department if they were involved in the walkout, so that their parents would be ticketed. I also know that in some areas near the Long Beach area, where also the principals took punitive measures, called the police and had children threatened with tickets and fines.

Contrast to this, that many student — good educators actually walked out with their students. They were joined by parents, and they asked the parents to join, so that the walks would be safe, so that the kids would understand what it is to demonstrate, so that they could use it as a teaching moment and then go back to the school and talk about the importance of dissent in a democracy, talk about the importance of participation in civic discussion, and talk about the debate that there should be whenever there’s some important legislation. And they used it to enhance the moment and to teach with it, as opposed to a punitive action against students who are doing the right thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you suing on behalf of his family, Anthony’s family?

SAMUEL PAZ: We’re looking into it. The mother has not asked us to make that decision, nor have we done the complete legal analysis in terms of what we want to recommend to the mother. Anthony was only buried yesterday. The services were in the morning, and the burial was in the afternoon. So, at this point, we told the mother that she needed time, and she’s taking this time to deal with his death.

AMY GOODMAN: Samuel Paz, I want to thank you very much for being with us, and please extend to Anthony’s family our condolences.

SAMUEL PAZ: I shall, and thank you so much for your work.

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