Mandy Cortes was distraught and downright furious. Her son, Anthony Ruelas, had been suspended from school after defying a teacher’s order so that he could help a classmate who was suffering an asthma attack. Instead of staying in his seat, as instructed, he had carried the girl to the nurse’s office — and, his family said, he had been disciplined for doing so.
Cortes decided she couldn’t send her son back to Gateway Middle School in Killeen, Tex. She told The Washington Post that he will begin home-schooling with his aunt next week.
Not only has she lost faith in school officials, Cortes said, but so has her 15-year-old son, who struggled to wrap his head around the idea that he was being punished for possibly saving someone’s life last week.
Whatever lingering doubts Cortes had about home-schooling the eighth-grader disappeared, she told The Post, when school officials released a statement denying that a student had been “disciplined for providing aid to another student.” At the time, she said, Ruelas was serving a two-day suspension.
“I think it really did bother him, and the fact that he feels like the adults at the school didn’t care, that’s why he’s not going back,” she said. “You don’t care about him, his classmates and this girl that almost died. How is he going to come back to school and respect you, and after you’ve been lying about him?”
She added: “He already has the bad kid jacket on because he’s at this alternative school, and now they’re basically calling him a liar, too.”
The episode, she said, has been “infuriating.”
The saga has garnered international attention, and the boy’s mother said their family has received supportive emails from as far as the Netherlands.
A San Francisco businessman has even offered to pay for Ruelas to participate in a two-day Wilderness First Aid course in Austin. Cortes said her son has expressed interest in becoming a fireman or an EMT and is “very excited” about the offer, which he accepted. He also plans to accept an offer from Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), who invited Ruelas to intern in his Capitol Hill office this summer, the boy’s mother said.
Refusing to let anyone leave the classroom, the teacher emailed the school nurse and waited for a reply, telling students to stay calm and remain in their seats.
When Tishica Fisher fell out of her chair several minutes later, Ruelas later recounted, he decided to take action.
“We ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse,” a teacher’s report quotes him as saying, according to Fox News Latino.
In a statement provided to The Post on Wednesday, the Killeen Independent School District said that its crisis management plan directs teachers “to contact the Campus Principal and the Nurse in the case of a Medical Emergency.”
The district did not mention Ruelas by name but said that “the student was suspended because of an unrelated incident.” The statement said that district officials were “unable to provide details about individual students,” citing privacy laws.
Fisher recovered and later thanked Ruelas in person.
“All I know is I blacked out, and I felt myself getting picked up by somebody,” she told NBC affiliate KCEN.
Cortes told The Post that she thinks her son’s decision to take action was influenced by the death of his father, who was fatally stabbed in the parking lot of a San Antonio grocery store on Thanksgiving Day in 2007, when Anthony was just 7.
Anthony Ruelas Sr. had gone to the store to buy beer when he got into a fight over a girlfriend, police later told the San Antonio Express-News.
“Two other men got involved in the scuffle, and as one was leaving the parking lot he threw a large butcher knife at two men who were following him,” the Express-News reported. “The knife missed the men but hit Ruelas in the chest.”
Ruelas, 33 at the time, was pronounced dead at the scene, the newspaper reported.
As a child, Cortes said, her son overheard vivid descriptions of his father’s final moments, when he collapsed on the ground, gasping for breath, his body writhing in pain. The description haunted the boy, and he re-created the scene in drawings over and over again in a notebook, Cortes said.
“The way he talks about Tishica’s asthma attack — the little things he says, like how she was grasping for air, the way her body was moving — it really scared him,” Cortes said. “I think it also reminded him of his father’s death.”
When he saw a life possibly slipping away, he reacted instinctively, his mother said. It’s possible, she said, that her son understood what was going on better than his teacher: He has two cousins with asthma, one of whom slipped into a coma after a severe attack.
Ruelas is protective of both relatives and frequently worries about their safety, his mother said.
Cortes thinks that’s why witnessing this latest attack was so hard on her son. By the time he got Fisher outside the classroom, she said, the tiny middle schooler had gone limp in his arms. Ruelas was crushed, his mother said, thinking that his friend had died and that he hadn’t done enough to stop it from happening.
Within minutes, Cortes said, her son had been written up and school officials were refusing to give him any information about Fisher’s condition. Cortes said she received a call from school officials telling her that her son had been suspended for walking out of class.
He’s still processing what happened, she said.
“Even now, he’ll just get really quiet, and I can see him sitting there in his mind, playing it back over and over,” Cortes said. “He’ll say: ‘I wonder if she’s all right? Do you think that something like that could happen again?’
“I know it bothers him. It’s a lot for a young person to experience.”
Cortes isn’t the only parent furious about the way Fisher’s asthma attack was handled by school officials.
In an interview with KCEN, Fisher’s stepfather, Jeffery Bailey, said that while he’s shocked by how Ruelas was treated, he’s even more shocked that his daughter was left to suffer on a classroom floor.
“Where was security at and why didn’t the nurse come to the room?” Bailey asked, according to KCEN. “It took an email?”
Despite his frustration, Bailey may be the only person alive prouder of Ruelas than his mother.
“I wanna invite him as part of my family,” he said, referring to the heroic teenager. “I don’t know what I would have done, I really don’t.”