Hours after eighth-grader Anthony Soltero was called to the vice principal’s office, he took his stepfather’s rifle and killed himself.
Now, Anthony is being portrayed as a martyr in the immigration debate.
The boy’s family says he killed himself because he had been threatened with jail for walking out of school to protest proposed changes to immigration law.
But school officials deny he took part in the protests and deny he was threatened with anything more than missing a dance or field trip. They say he simply cut class.
Anthony, 14, ducked out of DeAnza Middle School on March 28, the same day thousands of students across Southern California took part in walkouts and protest marches. He killed himself at home two days later, leaving a suicide note in which he blamed the run-in with the vice principal, a family lawyer said. The lawyer would not release the note.
The boy’s mother, Louise Corales, said that over her objections, her son protested against federal legislation that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally and would hasten construction of a wall along the Mexican border. The boy and his mother were born in the U.S., the family’s lawyers said.
“He was just fighting for his rights,” Corales said at a Palm Sunday Mass. “He would be proud that we are here now to honor him because he is a hero.”
A student march planned for Saturday in downtown Los Angeles will be dedicated to the boy.
“He was 14 years old, and he was thinking he’s going to jail,” said Mitchell Santos, 15, a Venice High School student and member of the Coalition of United Students that is planning the march. “That was a big pressure on him.”
On the Internet, several blogs have portrayed Anthony as a martyr — the word used by one civil rights activist aligned with his family. The headline on one posting pronounced the suicide “First Death From Walkouts.”
Officials with the Ontario-Montclair School District about 45 miles east of Los Angeles expressed sympathy for Anthony’s family but adamantly defended the vice principal.
Superintendent: Boy never marched
The school district said four students left school March 28. Superintendent Sharon McGehee has said that interviews with students and faculty members show the boy and the other students never marched with protesters. She said the students went to a store, then returned to the school for lunch.
Two days later, the vice principal told Anthony and three other students that for their truancy they could choose whether to miss a field trip or year-end dance, McGehee said.
That was not what Anthony told his mother by phone moments before shooting himself, nor what he wrote in a suicide note, according to lawyers for the family.
Attorney Samuel Paz asserted that interviews with the other students support the mother’s recollection: that Anthony was told he could be jailed for three years and his parents could be fined. Anthony had been on probation for bringing a pen knife to school, according to the family lawyers.
In his suicide note, the boy named the vice principal and “expresses his fear and worry about what would happen to him,” Paz said.