Family of Harlingen teen files new federal lawsuit five years after his death

Local News

HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The parents of a 13-year-old have filed an amended federal lawsuit five years after his death.

Gabriel Miranda Jr. was an 8th grader at Vernon Middle School in Harlingen. He died while on a field trip to UTRGV in Edinburg on November 14, 2016.

Police reports said Gabriel jumped out the back of the moving school bus’s emergency door, labeling his death a suicide.

“You do what every parent does. You send your child to school, and you expect to pick them up and I didn’t get to pick him up,” said Maria Fuentes, Gabriel’s mother.

Gabriel Miranda Jr.’s family filed a new amended federal lawsuit on December 6, 2021. It alleged officials with the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District, City of Edinburg, and representatives of the Edinburg Police Department covered up the death of Gabriel.

At a news conference on Tuesday the Miranda family attorney, Kenneth Perry said after Gabriel’s fall from the bus, and before a thorough and full investigation, an autopsy had not yet taken place. He said the school district [Harlingen CISD] and the city of Edinburg joined with representatives of the Edinburg Police Department and conspired a theory that Gabriel died because he had committed suicide. The family also accuses then Hidalgo County Forensic Pathologist Norma Jean Farley, who also did the coroner’s report, of a “rush to judgement” in labeling Gabriel’s death as a suicide.

Gabriel’s sister, Alley Melendez said, “what happened and what was said about him, he didn’t deserve.” And Perry adds, “There is knowledge of people, spoken, word of people that he was trying to close the door not jumping.” 

Perry said they have at least one witness and are trying to get more.

“We have the driver who was right behind the bus as one witness. We are still in the process of figuring out who all the witnesses were,” said Perry. 

In the lawsuit, they also allege a civil conspiracy that was pre-determined to limit the school district’s liability and put the responsibility on Gabriel.

“The school district had recently put cameras on the school bus. Three separate videos and audios that functioned perfectly, however when suspended later from multiple complete investigations, two of the three video channels were gone and only the audio remained and one video channel,” said Perry. 

However, when we reached out to the Edinburg Police Department for comment they forwarded our request to the city of Edinburg who states for both parties, “the city of Edinburg was not aware of the newly filed amended complaint. This case was dismissed by both the U.S. District Court in February 2020 and the U.S. Court of Appeals in October 2020.”

Attorney Kenneth Perry said they have new evidence of what was on the audio channel on the bus at the time.

“What emerged was evidence that shows Gabriel did not purposefully jump to his death. In fact, there were buzzers installed on the bus that were set to go off when the back door was ajar; the audio channel is evidence that the buzzers went off numerous times before the tragic incident occurred,” said Perry. 

Harlingen CISD said, “The incident was immediately investigated by law enforcement, the student’s death was ruled to be by suicide. Those investigations did not find any indication of wrongdoing on the part of the district. While the district acknowledges the parent’s significant loss, we do not believe the district bears responsibility for this misfortune.”

But the family does believe the district is responsible. 

Courtesy of Maria Fuentes

“It shows that it went off several times during the trip and that it was not addressed by the bus driver. There was no stopping of the bus,” said Perry. 

The family hopes in federal court with a jury they can have the coroner change the cause of death to reflect that Gabriel died from trauma to his head, or some other reasonable related alternative, and not suicide.

“If a jury decides that a school district and city and the city defendants operated in a nefarious manner that jury will decide what damages each should pay,” said Perry. 

ValleyCentral did make a request with the Edinburg Police for the audio portion of the buzzers that were claimed to have gone off before the incident.

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