OAKLAND -- While an 18-year-old Oakland resident recovers in a burn unit after being set afire Monday night aboard an AC Transit bus, supporters have raised $20,000 for medical care and recovery costs.
More than 400 supporters had pledged money by Wednesday afternoon, helping the online fundraising effort for Luke "Sasha" Fleischman reach its goal of $20,000 within 24 hours.
The money will help pay medical bills for Fleischman, who suffered second- and third-degree burns to the legs and was in stable condition Wednesday at St. Francis Memorial Hospital's Bothin Burn Center in San Francisco. Fleischman, a senior at Berkeley's Maybeck High School, will require massive skin grafting and a long recovery period, the victim's mother, Debbie Fleischman, said.
The fundraising site was shut down Wednesday and the family is no longer raising money.
"I'm honestly not surprised at all," friend Eve Irwin, 22, said of the outpouring of support. "Sasha is a wonderful human being. The idea that anybody would hurt Sasha is dumbfounding."
Less than 24 hours after the attack, police arrested a 16-year-old Oakland High School student Tuesday afternoon on the campus.
Police said the suspect, not named because he is a juvenile, boarded the AC Transit bus near Oakland High about 5:20 p.m. Monday, saw Fleischman sleeping in a rear seat and lit the teen's skirt on fire. Fleischman tried unsuccessfully to put out the flames before other passengers rushed to help and extinguished the flames.
Fleischman does not identify as male or female, but rather a "nonbinary" gender. When they aren't referring to Fleischman by name, friends refer to the Oakland resident as "they," "them" or "it," said Irwin.
On the day of the attack, Fleischman was wearing a skirt, as usual while riding the bus, according to family members. Fleischman's parents said their child has not had an incident before on the bus, but the attack has left some friends fearing the attacked was provoked because of the outfit.
"Wearing a skirt when you look masculine can get negative attention," said Irwin. "I don't think that the suspect had a plan, but I think it had some factor to it."
Police investigators are still sorting out whether the fact that the victim was wearing a skirt was the reason the fire was set. Charges are not expected to be filed until Thursday. The suspect was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and mayhem and could face other charges. He was identified through surveillance video on the bus, according to police.
Tiffany Woods, transgender programs manager at Tri-City Health Center in Fremont and the liaison for the transgender community with the Oakland Police Department, said transgender and gender nonconforming individuals routinely experience acts of violence against them for simply expressing their gender identity and expression.
"Many never get reported," Woods said. "The recent horrific acts of violence in Oakland against a young gender nonconforming individual while riding a public bus as well as the murder of (transgender woman) Brandy Martell in 2012 are everyday reminders of how deadly and pervasive anti-transgender bias is."
There are many young people who don't feel comfortable identifying as a male or a female, Woods said.
"By putting themselves out there, they are trying to make people think about that there are more options than just male or female," said Woods. "As more and more kids are coming out, you are going to see this gender nonconforming movement grow."
Fleischman's parents described their child as a straight-A student who is applying to universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The younger Fleischman has a fascination with public transportation, volunteering at Market Street Railway in San Francisco, the parents said.
Meanwhile, police would like to interview passengers on the bus who left before police arrived, particularly two men who helped extinguish the burning clothing. Lead investigator Anwawn Jones can be contacted at 510-238-3326.
"We are asking the good Samaritans to contact the Oakland Police Department, and we also want to recognize their heroic efforts," said Oakland Police spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson.
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