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Keep pursuing or move on

by Bo Gu, NBC News editorial assistant

Xiong Yonghao looks old and weary when we see him 6 months later in Mianzhu, a town devastated by the 8.0 magnitude earthquake last May. Xiong's only child, an 11-year-old girl, died under the collapsed school building in the quake. "I am so tired, really, so tired. I don't want to talk about this anymore, never." Xiong's bloodshot eyes and repeating sighs make it hard for me to connect this young man with the same guy we met 6 months ago.

It was in late June when we first met Xiong, along with about 100 other parents by the rubble of school buildings at Fuxin No. 2 Elementary School in Mianzhu, Sichuan. Parents of 126 deceased children gathered together on that day demanding a thorough investigation of the building quality of the classrooms, which they suspected fell apart due to shoddy construction.

Xiong was one of the parent representatives who started the demand for an investigation. He was calm, expressive and affirmative. Parents did not receive any investigation results on that day as they had been promised by local government. When I asked Xiong what they were going to do after that, he answered with a very composed but confirmatory tone: "We will not give up. Imagine if you lost your only child, what would you do? We're not going appeal because Olympics is coming soon and we don't want to cause the government any trouble. But after Olympics we'll keep pursuing justice and find out whoever responsible for the school building's collapse."

On December 1, Xiong and 58 other families filed the first lawsuit against the school administration, Mianzhu Education Bureau, construction contractors of school buildings and local government. They are the parents who do not want to be muffled by the $8,823 compensation (per killed child) along with a note promising not to protest. Yet the suit has come to a standoff as many have expected. "What can we do? We've tried to sue, we've tried to find out who should be held responsible, but nobody has answered us and it's like every door is closed wherever you go," says Liu Hui, a mother who went through the same tragedy of losing her only son from another school.

Now, Xiong, the former leader of the anguished parents, is also pulling out. "I just can't bare to think about this anymore. I have to drink every day to make myself forget about it." He heavily sighs as an answer to every of my question, his wrinkled face looks exhausted.

However, not every parent is ready to move on with a new life. One of the plaintiff parents says he'd never give up, and another one even suspected Xiong was summoned by the government and persuaded not to continue the lawsuit. 

I'm not sure if I should go on with my questions of whether he'll be more relaxed by pulling out this too long or probably hopeless pursuit. Life moves on after all no matter what happens, and Xiong, along with so many other parents who lost children in May, do have the right to choose how to move on.

7,000 classrooms in Sichuan collapsed in the devastating earthquake. Official figures as of Nov. 21 on how many children died in the May earthquake was 19,065.