Seeing Things

Manuel Duasso has achieved a semblance of normality in the decade since he was blinded. The same can't be said of his assailant.

Fernando Lamigueiro, Jr., and another kid were strolling through bird Drive Park looking for trouble. A gangly sixteen-year-old with coal-black hair that curled past his shoulders, Fernando had run away from home a few weeks earlier. It was March of 1985, Youth Fair time, a Friday evening, and he and this younger kid were on their way to a friend's house, having spent most of the day drinking beer and smoking dope. He had a gun with him, a little .22 pistol he'd found during a break-in. A few minutes earlier, the younger boy had attacked a middle-age man sitting innocently on a bench. Really beat him up. Now a younger man came into view, jogging through the park.

Manuel Duasso was out for a Friday-night jog, his way of unwinding after a demanding week. Less than ten minutes into his run, the 23-year-old sixth-grade teacher was stopped short by two teenage boys standing directly in his path. The taller kid was aiming a gun at him. "Your money! Your money!" he screamed. Duasso was wearing only a T-shirt and running shorts. "I don't have any money," he explained, breathing hard. He pivoted slightly to his right in an instinctive effort to continue running and heard, "You're dead, you're dead!" He felt blood pouring through his eyes and down his face, heard footsteps retreating.

Calmly, he pulled off his shirt to mop up the blood in his eyes, which he assumed was the reason he couldn't see. He was walking, asking for someone to call an ambulance, and then he was aware of the sound of footsteps running toward him. Somebody told him to lie down. After he was carried into an ambulance, a man said, "He's going into shock." He replied, "No, I'm not, I'm just relaxing." Two days later, he would learn from doctors at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute that a bullet had entered his left temple, severed the optic nerve, and exited through his right eye. He would never regain his sight. If he hadn't made that pivot to the right, he wouldn't have been blinded.

He would have been dead.
Manuel Duasso was working toward his bachelor's degree in education at Florida International University. He was popular with his students at Continental Military Academy, a private kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade school in West Dade that has since closed down. A year earlier, he'd been named the school's Teacher of the Year, and many of his young students were stunned when they got the news about their teacher on the Monday morning following the shooting.

In order to help Duasso with his medical bills, the students organized a radiothon at WQBA. "It was amazing how many kids showed up to answer phones at the station," recalls former student Angel Menes. "Some of us stood outside on Eighth Street collecting change from cars." Menes and two dozen classmates raised $10,000, which they presented to their teacher along with clothes, cologne, and other gifts when he came for a visit at the end of the school year.

That day Duasso sat at his old desk. He joked about how quiet the boys were, told them he'd thought at first the assault was a practical joke being played by a few of his friends, and gave them a pep talk about overcoming adversity.

"I didn't believe any of that," he admits now. His upbeat demeanor, he explains, "was a front to not make them suffer, the same thing I did with my parents, a way of letting them know things were okay." The boys gave him a tape they'd recorded the day they first learned of the tragedy; he remembers making an excuse to keep from listening to it in front of them. "I was ready to totally break down," Duasso says. "It was so hard going back to that class."

Ten years after the shooting, Duasso has been able to return to the profession he feared he had lost. But the young man whose troubled life touched Duasso's so briefly is still shadowed by the crime.

"My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse:

"My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood."

Fernando Lamigueiro, Jr., is seated at the glass-topped dining table in the bare living room of his father's West Dade townhouse, reading from Proverbs. "And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives."

Lamigueiro says he has always been a Christian, but not one who has always heeded the word of God. "My whole life has been one extreme to the other," he asserts. "I've been as low as anyone could be, but the times I've fallen have been because I turned my back on God." Lamigueiro now wears his black hair short and brushed back like his father's white hair. His face is long and angular, and his dark, downturned eyes appear sad. The truth is, though, he is filled with joy, because the mercies of God are poured out on him. Three days earlier, Lamigueiro explains, he was standing and praying in the front yard of a house in which he was taking part in a Christian drug rehabilitation program. "Three days ago I asked God to heal the wounds of Manuel Duasso, and to make a way where there is no way," Lamigueiro marvels. "And now I find out there's going to be an article [about Duasso]."

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