Adam Garcia wants everyone to know he never burned the American flag, which is one of the rumors he’s heard about himself.
The 16-year-old is the Apache Junction High School sophomore who brought a Mexican flag to campus Thursday. He said he got the idea from friends to hoist it on one of three flagpoles there.
It was before school, and before an American flag had been raised.
“I wouldn’t have taken it down if it had been there, because I’m proud of that flag as well,” he said in an interview Tuesday while under house arrest on charges of disorderly conduct and interference with or disruption of an educational institution.
Police and Garcia say it was Garcia’s Mexican flag that was burned by some ROTC students who stepped in to stop the group from raising it. One ROTC student, like Garcia, was arrested and taken to the Pinal County juvenile detention center in Florence.
According to police reports, the other student arrested denied he had any part in burning the Mexican flag, then refused to answer police officers’ questions.
These are some of the details that emerged Tuesday as a community sought some clarity on a flag flap that heightened tensions at the school, the same week when students elsewhere voted with their feet in the nationwide immigration debate by walking out of class.
Garcia told the Tribune his story the same morning the Apache Junction Unified School District held a special meeting on the matter and the Apache Junction Police Department released its report.
District Superintendent Greg Wyman said inaccurate media reports magnified a situation where details of an event not witnessed by teachers or police tended to change between students, teachers and parents.
“In all honesty, we’ve been burned on this one,” he said. “I think it’s painted an unfair picture of our school, an unfair picture of our district and an unfair picture of our community.”
One detail the parties don’t agree on is how close the Mexican flag came to reaching full staff on the flagpole in front of the building where Apache Junction High School’s renowned NJROTC program is based.
Wyman told the board that the Mexican flag never flew over campus due to the ROTC students’ involvement.
Garcia said in the Tribune interview he and his friends did get the flag partway up the pole, but in his police statement, he said “all we did was tie it on the pole, we didn’t raise it.”
Eyewitness statements indicate Garcia and his friends had at least attached the flag to the pole.
At the school board meeting, Wyman said Friday’s short-lived ban on students displaying any national symbols on their clothes for the rest of the school year was sparked by a shouting match earlier that day between white and Hispanic teens.
“Kids were using the symbols to incite each other,” he said. Wyman reversed the policy later Friday after several parents complained.
Garcia said he was released from juvenile detention on Friday, and he’d been trying to contact media since Saturday to explain his actions. He said he was not trying to make a proimmigration statement, but was responding to racial insults.
“Instead of saying anything to them, I thought of a better way because I’m in counseling,” he said. “So I decided I’d put up a flag because I’m proud of Mexico no matter what they say.”
“I think I made things better,” he said. “But maybe I made things worse.”
Garcia said he and his father were born in the United States, and his Mexican-born mother is now a U.S. citizen. Garcia has struggled with academic and disciplinary problems.
Garcia has a court date scheduled for May 4, one day before his Cinco de Mayo birthday. He’s been suspended from school and has a due-process hearing scheduled for today.