N E W Y O R K, Oct. 7, 2002 -- Like other parents across the nation, Marisol Figuera worried about her little boy's safety at school, but she never thought about the dangers he'd face during the morning commute.
Figuera says her 5-year-old son, Christopher Gonzalez, got a lesson in brutality during his first week of kindergarten in New York's Bronx borough. The boy says he was pushed out of the school bus by another child while it was turning a corner.
Christopher suffered a fractured skull in the Sept. 18 incident. It took 34 staples top close the wound, and the boy was hospitalized for seven days. Christopher also has a scar on his head that may never go away.
The boy told his mother that someone opened the vehicle's emergency door and pushed him out after a round of rowdy horseplay.
"I'm traumatized myself," his mother said. "I just could picture in my mind all the kids going out of control, kids opening the door and my son gets pushed out."
No Monitors On Board
But police say the fall may have been just an accident. One theory, police sources said, was that the bus was going around a curve at the time of Christopher's fall and that another student may have bumped him as the door opened.
The bus was carrying 58 kindergartners and no bus monitor or "matron" when the incident occurred on the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Police said the driver stopped the bus when an alarm indicated the emergency door had been opened, but none of the 5-and 6-year-olds mentioned anything about Christopher.
The driver didn't notice the boy was missing until he dropped all of the kids off, according to police.
Investigators are trying to determine whether or not Christopher's case was a simple accident or a horrific example of bus bullying. Many new school buses are equipped with interior video cameras, and these cameras have captured some scenes of brutal bullying.
In one taped incident, two girls took turns punching another girl in the head and pulling out clumps of her hair.The driver, the only adult on the bus, continued driving the vehicle during the attack.
In another taped incident on a junior high school bus, a girl was attacked twice. She was punched in the head and back while the bus driver radioed for help. In this case, the attackers were charged with assault.
Christopher's mother says she will never let her son back on the bus. She believes bus monitors are the only thing that will stop kids from turning school buses into fight clubs.
"My baby's hurt," Figuera said. "But this all could have been avoided."