By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
They unlocked the door of the boys' bathroom on the second floor of Southwood Middle School this past November. It was determined that enough time had passed. Except for a few laggards, the last of the students who'd attended the school at the time of the incident had now graduated. A lot of teachers were relieved. The bathroom had been painted and remodeled and was barely recognizable. It was better to move on, they said.
February 3 fell on a Saturday this year. The day was passed without fanfare, although some teachers at the Palmetto Bay school were silently marking the three-year anniversary in their minds.
On Tuesday, February 3, 2004, classes had not yet begun when Bob Lunior received a call in the cafeteria. A student had been injured in a second floor bathroom. Would he come upstairs?
He left the cafeteria. He ascended the concrete stairs and charged through the windowless concrete tunnels of the school's hallways. He entered the bathroom.
"The student was hanging over the toilet," recalls Lunior, a counselor at Southwood for the past eleven years. "There was blood. I thought maybe he fell and hit his head."
Lunior ran to get a pair of latex gloves and returned to the bathroom. With the help of a security guard, he lifted the student from the toilet, thinking perhaps to initiate CPR.
"There were no cuts on his face," Lunior remembers, sitting in his office three years later, just down the hall from the bathroom. The room is covered in pictures of his family and his students. A sign on the wall reads "Do not be afraid of tomorrow. God is already there." He speaks in measured tones. He has had to learn how to tell the story.
"As we dragged him off, his sweatshirt had kind of come up around his neck," Lunior says. "I pulled the sweatshirt down to take a pulse, and that's when we saw."
As local television news anchors would frantically broadcast a few hours later, Jaime Rodrigo Gough, age fourteen, had been stabbed 40 times by Michael Hernandez, also fourteen years old. The two had been friends and classmates. Although Lunior didn't know at the time, both of Gough's jugular veins had been slashed, along with his windpipe. He did know that Jaime was already dead.
Michael Hernandez, who has been charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of premeditated/attempted murder, is scheduled to go on trial June 4. On Tuesday he appeared before Miami-Dade County Criminal Court Judge John Schlesinger in a hearing that will decide the validity of the confession he made the day of the murder. Michael's defense team will claim that the now-seventeen-year-old is not guilty for reasons of insanity, and they hope to work out a plea bargain.
"Nobody's saying he didn't do it. The question is, 'Why?'" Michael's mother, Kathy Hernandez, says in an interview with New Times.(The family of Jaime Gough declined requests to be interviewed for this story.) "The answer is, 'Because he is mentally ill.' There is no difference between that and having cancer. You don't ask for either one. We're hoping his confession will be repressed. We're hoping that there can be a resolution without it going to trial."
In Florida, psychiatric treatment and the possibility of parole are unlikely. The state has some 600 inmates serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, according to the New York Times. Some context: A 2004 Human Rights Watch Study found that outside of the United States only about a dozen child offenders in three countries were serving life sentences. In this country there are about 9700. About twenty percent of that population has no chance for parole.
"I'm not saying Michael should come home," says Kathy, who sat to tell her story on a recent Sunday in the tiled living room of her Palmetto Bay home. Her husband was at work at the consignment shop he owns. Kathy has close-cropped hair and a round face, wears wire-rimmed glasses, and speaks with a slight Southern twang.
"This country is supposed to have the best judicial system in the world, to be the most progressive country in the world," she continues. "To treat Michael, an ill child, as a competent adult is not right. He should have the right to get treatment he needs and an education.
"If this could happen in my family, it could happen in anyone's."
Lunior remembers what he was thinking when he saw Jaime Gough's hunched form in the bathroom stall the morning of February 3, 2004: "There's no way blood can go to his head. This kid's a goner."
It wasn't even 9:00 a.m. Counselor Lois Solly happened to look out of the main office when she caught a glimpse of Lunior, running at full speed. Strange, she thought. She went upstairs. Outside of the boys' bathroom was a police officer who looked dazed. The door was open, and Solly stuck her head in. A partition blocked the view.
"I asked if everything was okay," remembers Solly, who retired last fall. From inside, another cop yelled to keep everyone out.