EL PASO — A Parkland Middle School sixth-grader who left campus during the National Student Walkout was killed when he was struck by a vehicle Friday morning on Loop 375 in Northeast El Paso, school district officials said.
The boy, who was 11 years old, was hit by a Ford F-150, which was traveling north on the loop, at 10:27 a.m., police and school district officials said.
He was taken to an area hospital, where he died at about 11:30 a.m., officials said.
The child's name was not released by police or school officials.
However, a news release from University Medical Center of El Paso identified him as Jonathan Benko and said a memorial fund has been set up by the UMC Foundation for his family.
The news release states, "Jonathan was struck by a car this morning outside of his school, was transported to University Medical Center of El Paso and did not survive. Jonathan's mother, Ashley, works as a Registered Nurse in UMC's Emergency Department. His uncle, Michael Benko, is also an employee at UMC, where he works as a Respiratory Therapist."
Ysleta Independent School District Superintendent Xavier De La Torre said the boy was with a group of about 12 to 15 students who used the National School Walkout as a way to leave Parkland Middle to go to a park.
All Parkland Middle School extracurricular activities Friday and over the weekend were canceled, De La Torre said. He said there were walkouts at almost all the district's secondary schools — mainly to the football fields or ending in moments of silence.
Classes weren't canceled after the accident, but a line of parents formed at Parkland Middle as they attempted to take their children out of school.
Crying students with their heads leaning on their parents' shoulders could be seen leaving the campus.
After the accident, the Ysleta Independent School District sent parents a voice message stating that the boy was a student at Parkland Middle School.
"It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we inform you of the death of a Parkland Middle School student who left campus this morning and was struck by a vehicle on Loop 375," the YISD message said.
Boy wasn't participating in walkout
The student was hit while crossing the highway during the walkout, but was not participating in the walkout, De La Torre said.
It was “a separate, isolated event of a group of students” who left the school as other students protested gun violence, he said.
De La Torre added that the students who left with the boy are being questioned by law enforcement about why they left the school and how the accident happened.
Grief counselors went to Parkland Middle to provide help for students and faculty dealing with the tragedy, De La Torre said.
Students taking part in the walkout had gone out to the football field to congregate.
However, a group of students jumped a wall and left campus, then headed toward the highway, students said.
Eighth-grader Angela Rodriguez, 14, knew the sixth-grader who was killed from an orchestra class they shared.
"He was a free spirit. He was fun to be around, always lighting up the room," she said, her eyes red from crying. "He played the violin. He was very good. He was one of the best ones in the class."
The entire school is in shock and mourning, said eighth-grader Daniela Ramirez, 14.
"It's sad. I didn't know him, but it's sad because we are from Parkland. We care about our students," she said.
"Inside (school), they're crying. They don't have nothing to say. The halls are empty. It's messed up."
De La Torre said school officials are trying to determine why the students left campus.
He said staff was posted at the front and back of the school, but the six-grader and the students with him left by a side.
The accident occurred on Loop 375 North near Bormac Street, El Paso police said via Twitter. The boy was taken to University Medical Center.
The section of Loop 375 has two southbound lanes and two northbound lanes. Bormac Street crosses under the highway less than a block from where the pedestrian accident occurred.
Parkland Middle School and Parkland High School are located on opposite sides of the highway.
The driver of the truck stopped after the collision, said Sgt. Robert Gomez, a police spokesman.
Crossing a freeway can be extremely dangerous, Gomez warned. "Vehicles are traveling at a high rate of speed and it's next to impossible to stop for a pedestrian on the highway," he said.
The highway remained closed until Friday afternoon as the police traffic investigators worked at the scene.
Donations to family
The UMC news release said contributions to the family by check can be mailed to:
C/O Jonathan Benko Fund
1400 Hardaway St., Suite 220
El Paso, TX 79903
Donations also can be made online to the Jonathan Benko Memorial Fund at the UMC Foundation's website.
According to UMC Foundation Director Dennece Knight, Mt. Carmel Funeral Home will donate funeral services to the family, the release said.