The family of the 11-year-old El Paso boy killed during last week’s school gun control walkout has called out the school district, saying school officials bear responsibility for enabling the protest.
Johnathan Alexander Benko, whose funeral service was held Wednesday, was struck by a truck as he and several other students crossed a four-lane freeway after filing out of class Friday at Parkland Middle School for the National School Walkout.
“We are aggrieved to know the school refuses to take any responsibility in protecting an 11-year-old child in a walkout that they sanctioned,” Michael Benko, Johnathan’s uncle, told the El Paso Times.
Ysleta Independent School District Superintendent Xavier De La Torre denied that the district supported the walkout, held on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine mass shooting.
“I know the family is going through a lot, and I don’t want to be indelicate, [but] that’s the distortion of the truth,” Mr. De La Torre told The Times. “The district and the school did not endorse, sponsor or promote the walkout.”
Thousands of students have participated in national walkouts calling for gun control held March 14 and April 20, which were spurred by the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Schools have been accused of promoting the protests by working with students to organize events, while educators argue that their participation has been necessary to prevent the walkouts from spiraling out of control.
Parkland Middle School established a designated gathering spot on the football field for the walkout, and about nine staff members oversaw the roughly 400 students who gathered on the field for about 15 minutes before returning to class.
While initial reports said that 12 to 15 kids left campus, district officials now say that 22 students crossed Loop 375, which runs adjacent to the campus, in order to reach a park on the other side.
“Somehow, the school lost count of a large group of children,” Mr. Benko said.
Mr. De La Torre said those who left campus without permission were marked truant.
No teachers, administrators or support staff are facing disciplinary action for the incident, and police have not charged the driver, 61-year-old Jesus Diaz, who told officers he was unable to avoid hitting the boy after he ran into the truck’s path.
The El Paso Police Department report said that Johnathan “was taking part in a school organized ‘walk out.’ ”
“During the walk out, Johnathan and several other students left the designated walk out area,” said the report.
Johnathan died at the University Medical Center of El Paso about an hour after the accident.
“My family expresses our deepest gratitude to the community, the emergency responders, University Medical Center staff and UMC Foundation,” Michael Benko said. “In losing Johnathan, we as a city and community have suffered a horrible loss.”
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