The bullet hit 7-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella as she gazed up at the fireworks in a Manila suburb, abruptly turning a New Year's Eve celebration tragic and ultimately ending her life.
The little girl died Wednesday afternoon in a Quezon City hospital, two days after the stray bullet struck her in the head and after suffering a string of cardiac arrests, the official Philippines News Agency reported.
She was among about 700 people injured in raucous and often violent celebrations in the Philippines this week, the latest in a tragic tradition in a country where police have tried to clamp down on celebratory gunfire and dangerous pyrotechnics. Forty people were reportedly hit by wayward bullets.
“For such a promising life to be lost in such a senseless way puts the burden on all of us to make certain that this tragedy is not repeated,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a statement, calling on Filipinos to celebrate “in a responsible and safe manner.”
The explosions and gunfire on New Year’s Eve in the Philippines are tied to the traditional Chinese belief that loud noises drive away evil spirits. Government campaigns have tried to warn Filipinos away from the most dangerous expressions of the ritual.
Hundreds of merchants were arrested for selling banned kinds of firecrackers and $15 million worth of the prohibited explosives were confiscated, according to the president's office. Days before the new year, officers sealed off their own guns with masking tape to prove they hadn’t been fired as the clock struck midnight; health department spokesman Eric Tayag even danced “Gangnam Style” on video, hoping to borrow the infectious power of the South Korean hit to promote the push against fireworks.
Government officials credited the “intensified nationwide campaign” carried out at the behest of President Benigno Aquino III for fewer injuries throughout the holidays. As of Wednesday, the number of people injured by fireworks and stray gunfire in the celebrations leading up to the new year had reached 697, compared to 984 injured in the previous year, Tayag said on Twitter.
But while fewer Filipinos suffered injuries this New Year’s Eve than last, according to the Department of Health, the death of the little girl and the vast number of wounds suffered by children have renewed calls for added steps to stop the violent revelry.
Senators are returning their attention to “sidelined” bills to further restrict or ban fireworks, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported early Thursday; the Health Department had already said it was considering whether to ban individuals from buying fireworks and firecrackers after scores of people were injured in the days before and after Christmas “despite its all-out efforts.”
Gun opponents have also urged stricter laws to control firearms in the wake of the tragedy. Others, however, argue stricter enforcement of existing laws would stop the violence.
While the debate goes on, police are still investigating to try to identify the shooter whose bullet killed Stephanie, according to local news reports.
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