Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Anchorage's Frank Bruno A Two-Time Hero

Earlier I posted about a Utah youth, Dallin Manning, who was honored for the near-impossible task of earning all 121 Boy Scout merit badges. However, an even stronger example of selflessness on the part of a local youth took place right here in Anchorage. Seventeen year old Frank Bruno may not be a Boy Scout, but he definitely deserves a merit badge for courage. Full story from KTUU Channel 2.

The Anchorage Police Department has confirmed that the football game that turned into a gun battle on July 9th has a gang connection. Also, there was an uncharged fourth shooter who rushed in to try to save people's lives. The information comes as a grand jury adds new counts to the three men accused of starting the shooting spree.

Clayton Nai (pictured upper left), Norman Fagafaga (pictured at left), and Kalani Maalona (pictured lower left) were involved in a pickup football game at Anchorage Football Stadium. Angered by rough play, they left, then returned and allegedly opened fire on four of the other players involved in the game, including Frank Bruno. However, Bruno, who was packing a gun of his own, fought back. Witnesses say Bruno was in the line of fire, with bullets coming at him and three others. According to the Anchorage Daily News, anywhere from 30 to 50 shots were fired. Dozens of bystanders were at risk.

Mr. Bruno saw the situation and saw that people were about to be killed in his evaluation. He went and retrieved his own gun and then engaged these three in a gun fight to draw the fire away from people on the field who couldn't defend themselves,” said Assistant District Attorney John Novak. “He was defending other people. His role in this was to try to protect people from being shot and killed,” Novak continued.

Although he's too young to have a handgun of his own or to have one tucked out of view, in this case, he's a victim. He helped others, and there are no plans to view him otherwise. “I don't see that there is any stretch of the imagination criminal charges against people that were place in fear of being shot and killed that day,” said Novak. So it's unlikely Bruno would be charged for underage handgun possession under the circumstances.

However, it turns out Frank Bruno is no stranger to heroism. Anchorage first met Bruno five years ago, when, as a kid, he had the courage to fight a man intent on harming other children. When a knife-wielding mentally ill man invaded Mountain View Elementary School in 2001 and attempted to kill several schoolchildren, Bruno, then 12, wasn't about to stay on the sidelines. “He was sitting on top of kids stabbing them, and I told him to get up and he wouldn't, so I hit him and that's when he got up after I hit him,” said Bruno.

When Bruno (pictured at left) spoke with KTUU-TV in November, he had lost at least two friends in separate gang-related shootings. “I miss the people that died, but everything's that's occurred I learned from. It's all lessons in life,” said Bruno. In that same interview, Bruno said he's not involved with gangs and said that although guns are easy to come by, he didn't have one or even want one. The risk, he said, was just too high, adding that it’s better to fight with fists than bullets. However, eight months later, at the age of 17 and about to enter his senior year in high school, police say he had a gun with him at that football game last month.

Police say Bruno and the three other attempted murder victims were targeted because they were involved in the rough football play that angered the three men who starting the shooting. As for why the shooting is considered gang-related, police won't elaborate other than to say at least one of the people involved -- it could be a witness, victim or defendant -- is a known gang member. Although the three perpretrators are of Polynesian origin, local Polynesian chiefs, religious leaders and elders have stepped forward recently in response to Mayor Mark Begich's call for more community leadership. About 30 percent of Anchorage gang incidents involve youths of Polynesian descent, police have said.

Analysis: Since Frank Bruno attended Mountain View Elementary School years ago, it's likely he doesn't come from a rich family. Yet unlike other youths who come from poverty, he chose not to embrace the gang lifestyle. His remarks during his KTUU interview reveal that he was taught some principles. I'd like to see him recognized with some Spirit of Youth award. Poverty may provide an economic incentive for criminality, but does not excuse it. Just because one is poor in substance doesn't require that one be poor in spirit. Efforts by Polynesian community leaders are welcome and must continue.

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