Sasha Fleischman, an agender teen attacked with fire while riding an AC Transit bus in Oakland Monday, requires major surgeries, but has raised tens of thousands of dollars from donations to cover medical expenses.
An 18-year-old senior at Berkeley’s Maybeck High School, the teen (referred to in some media accounts by the birth name Luke Fleischman, but reported to prefer the first name Sasha) was wearing a skirt while sleeping in a rear seat on the bus Monday evening when the incident occurred. The line 57 bus was passing near I-580 at about 5:20pm when surveillance video from the bus shows a suspect setting the skirt on fire with a lighter, then fleeing when the driver pulled over to call for help.
Upon waking, Fleischman attempted to extinguish the flames, but was unable to do so alone. Two passengers—whose actions police have referred to as “heroic”—rushed to assist in putting out the flames, but were unable to do so before second- and third-degree leg burns were inflicted.
Police took the suspected attacker, identified via the surveillance footage, into custody on Tuesday. He is described as a 16-year-old male student at Oakland High School.
Police have not yet determined if the brazen attack on a moving bus that set the agender Oakland teen on fire was a hate crime. It is unclear whether the skirt (or “kilt-like piece of clothing,” as described by police), or any other aspect of Fleischman’s appearance or gender identity was related to the attacker’s motive. The suspect, whose name was not released due to his being a juvenile, is currently being held on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and mayhem.
Police also say the suspect and Fleischman did not know each other.
After the attack, emergency personnel immediately rushed Sasha Fleischman to St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. The 18-year-old is listed as being in stable condition, but had major surgery on Wednesday and will require more, including massive skin grafting.
The online fundraising page “Helping Sasha Have a Speedy Recovery” was started on Tuesday and by Wednesday evening, donations were already closed, with the effort having exceeded its goal, raising over $21,000. Though the donation page is no longer accepting money, cards and other gifts or messages for the teen can be directed through the Maybeck High School office.
Fleischman identifies as agender, considering that identity to fall under the umbrella term nonbinary, for genders other than male or female. In fact, the politically active teen had gathered 27,000 signatures on an Internet petition asking President Barack Obama to recognize nonbinary gender. “Australia and New Zealand both allow an X in place of an M or an F on passports for this purpose,” the text of the petition stated, “and the UK recognizes ‘Mx’ (pronounced ‘Mix’) as a gender-neutral title.”
Though most media outlets and quoted statements use male terms like “he” to describe the 18-year-old, sources indicate Fleischman prefers neutral pronouns such as “they” and “them.” Debbie Fleischman says Sasha first asked to be referred to as neither male nor female two years ago, saying that wearing a skirt is how the teen “feels comfortable dressing.” She also said her child, who is such a fan of public transportation that they volunteer at San Francisco’s Market Street Railway, rides the bus regularly, often in a skirt, and they have never previously had a problem. She also wondered if the attack was a hate crime based on Fleischman being agender, or if it just began as a cruel prank.
The attack has shaken and horrified the local community, which has a reputation for being tolerant and politically liberal. The non-traditional school Fleischman attends, Maybeck High School, has as its motto “Open Doors, Open Minds.”
“Why?” asked police spokesperson Johnna Watson. “Why would any human being think it’s okay to set another human being on fire? That’s horrific.”
Maybeck High School Director Trevor Cralle described Fleischman to KTVU News as “a wonderful, exceptional student,” then added, “Of course, we all wish Sasha a speedy recovery.”
Another KTVU News report described Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent starting to walk past reporters and out of police headquarters, then stopping, before turning back to the assembled journalists as if he wanted to say something. “It’s shocking and clearly unacceptable,” Whent said. “Glad we were able to arrest the person, get him off the street.”
A statement on the “Helping Sasha Have a Speedy Recovery” page struck a more thankful note after donations poured in so quickly. “Words cannot express our gratitude. Though this fundraiser cannot undo what has happened, it can be a testament to all of us that there are still good people in the world.” In her official statements, Watson also discussed the passengers who helped Fleischman and prevented them from suffering more severe injuries. “They’re not only witnesses, but we’d like to recognize their heroic efforts,” she said, calling on the good Samaritans who aided the agender teen on the Oakland bus after the attack and put out the fire to come forward.
By: Jeremy Forbing