An Oakland teenager is back home and speaking publicly tonight for the first time after being set on fire while sleeping on an AC Transit bus. NBC Bay Area’s Jodi Hernandez reports.
Despite enduring a terrifying ordeal, Sasha Fleischman couldn't be more grateful this Thanksgiving.
“It just feels really great to be home, and I'm really glad I can be home for Thanksgiving,” Fleischman said.
The California high school senior, who is agender, suffered severe burns to the legs when another teen set Sasha's skirt on fire aboard an AC Transit bus three weeks ago.
Fleischman talked to reporters for the first time Thursday morning.
“I look down and my skirt is on fire,” Fleischman said. “I freak out because I'm on fire.”
For the first time, Fleischman is speaking publicly about the ordeal, describing the moments of panic after seeing and feeling the flames.
“My first instinct was kind of dumb,” Fleischman said. “I started waving it around trying to put it out with air, but that just fanned the flames and made it bigger.”
What Sasha did next, something learned in kindergarten, may have saved the teen.
“My second reaction, which is probably what saved my life, I went back to kindergarten class and stop, drop and roll, so I just dropped on the floor and started rolling around,” Fleischman said.
Fleischman's injuries required three surgeries and three weeks in the burn unit, yet Sasha doesn't seem bitter.
“I don't want to be too harsh, because people do dumb things, especially when they're teenagers,” Fleischman said.
Fleischman believes the 16-year-old suspect Richard Thomas shouldn't be prosecuted as an adult, though the teen is not sure what Thomas's intent really was.
“I think it was a really dumb thing he did,” Fleischman said. “I think you should really know better than to light someone's clothing on fire. You should be able to realize that's not just a funny prank.”
The case has drawn worldwide attention, and Fleischman, who doesn't identify as male or female, hopes it will lead to a better understanding of gender-identity issues.
As for the skirts, don't expect any changes.
“I'm going to keep wearing the skirt. I'm not going to give it up,” Fleischman said. “It's a big part of who I am and I don't like pants.”