Oh fishy, fishy, fishy, fish! With questions outweighing answers, a distraught community struggles to nail the culprit behind the shocking disappearance of the Franklin Spanish department’s class fish. Image by Alyson Sutherland  

Author’s Note: Theories described in this article are simply speculation; anyone accused of wrongdoing is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. If you have information regarding BubbleButt’s disappearance, please contact Ruben Navarrete in room S-218 (or whichever classroom is blaring reggaeton/Shakira.) 

The demise of a pet is often a child’s first encounter with loss; Mr. Business buried in a shoe-box, or Mittens “gone for a ride in the country” are the blows that serve as our early doses of mortality. Unfortunately, we aren’t afforded the closure promised by a fish gone belly-up with the shocking disappearance of a gilled pillar in our community. BubbleButt—responding also to Stinky and Pretty-Boy—a beloved personality within Franklin’s Spanish department, has been missing for over a month. His whereabouts and state of being remain unknown, as this baffling offense ricochets among a devastated collective of students and staff. “I don’t hold any grudges,” Spanish teacher Ruben Navarrete says, holding back a sob. “I just want my fish back.” 

BubbleButt and Fishy West—the latter christened by the author’s previous Spanish 3/4 class—have served as Navarrete’s class fish since their adoptions last year. “BubbleButt has provided a lot of joy for people,” he says. “I think that’s BubbleButt’s mission in life, to be a source of joy.” At 3:30 in the afternoon of Friday, March 24, Navarrete fed BubbleButt and Fishy West—housed in separate tanks in room S-218, shared with another Spanish teacher, Laura Valent—as he ordinarily would. Navarrete admits that he can’t recall seeing BubbleButt that afternoon, however he claims to have seen them earlier in the day; unaware that it would likely be for the last time.

By the time Navarrete returned to S-218 at 8:15 on the morning of Monday, April 3—following spring break—he remained unaware of any abnormality. Again, although he didn’t see BubbleButt, he assumed the fish to be hiding in his “little house”—a mossy faux-rock grotto. “Tuesday [April 4] was when it really started to sink in that BubbleButt was missing,” Navarrete recalls. The following morning, after thoroughly inspecting the tank and filter, Navarrete’s teacher’s assistant drafted posters officially declaring BubbleButt’s disappearance. The notice pleaded for help in locating and safely returning their chum home. Although the original reward stood at “Ms. Valent’s undying love and appreciation,” it has since been increased to $10, thanks to an anonymous donor. At this time, Navarrete also began documenting the rapidly unfolding saga on his Instagram account (@spanishwithmrn).

The following week, the disappearance received a further publicity boost. Around 7:45 on the morning of April 10, Navarrete re-posted a short interview segment regarding BubbleButt’s disappearance, published by correspondents at FHS Leadership, to his Instagram. In the segment, he reveals that prior to the interview (which was recorded on April 7, and published three days later) an unfamiliar student approached him, claiming to have witnessed another student with a blue fish in a jar near the library on March 24; the day Navarrete claims to have last seen BubbleButt. Nothing has come of this lead, as security footage from that day has revealed no Fish-Snatcher. “We just want him back, no questions asked,” Navarrete later implores in the segment, before BubbleButt’s vacant tank. “We need justice. Fins up!” Unfortunately, this innocent request for common decency and goodwill only precedes the full-throttle eighteen-wheeler Navarrete and the larger Franklin community would soon be shoved before. Buckle up, buckaroos.  

On April 11, the day after the segment was published, an Instagram account by the name of @bubblebuttsthefish posted a series of photos featuring a blue betta—closely resembling BubbleButt—in a jar. The photos capture the fish eyeing a croissant inside Good Coffee—their Division Street location—and exploring Mt. Tabor Park, accompanied in one photo by a small, wiry-coated white dog; likely a poodle-mix. One image also features the presumed Fish-Snatcher’s fair-skinned hand, holding the jar. “Had a great spring break!” the caption reads. “Made some friends, pet some dogs, ate a croissant—got a phone, don’t tell my dad.” The dad, presumably, being Navarrete. On the same day, Navarrete received a direct message from the self-proclaimed BubbleButt account, reading: “Father, I’m coming home.” It seemed but for a moment that this would-be tragedy could have a happy ending.  

Unfortunately, as the phrase goes, there is no such thing. The following day of April 12, “Fake BubbleButt”—or FB, as he is referred to by Navarrete and others—appeared in S-218. Naturally, this raises questions as to how the fish was placed in the classroom without witnesses; or, presuming the classroom was locked, how a person—or persons—managed to access the tanks in the first place. These details might feel trivial if it weren’t for Navarrete’s conviction that whatever fish now occupies BubbleButt’s tank is nothing but a phony. “[FB] is a lot smaller than the real one,” he explains, adding that the original BubbleButt has gray accents. He believes that FB is the fish featured on @bubblebuttsthefish’s account.

With a possible stranger now swimming in BubbleButt’s tank, Navarrete once again turned to FHS Leadership for exposure. On Tuesday, April 18, a second interview segment was published regarding FB’s mysterious appearance. “Valent comes into her classroom at 8:28 [in the morning], and boom! There’s an imposter betta,” Navarrete remarks in the clip. 

Prior to filming this segment, Elizabeth Kirsch’s sophomore English classes had joined in the effort to nail the Fish-Snatcher. Examining the white pup’s dog tag featured in @bubblebuttsthefish’s only post, the collective established a list of 200 possible phone numbers—beginning with 503, and ending with 5233—one of which hopefully belonging to the culprit. The status of this lead is unclear, as neither @bubblebuttthefishinvestigation or @finding_bubblebutt responded to requests for comment. Significantly, the sophomore investigators published a GoFundMe page—now defunct—to raise $600 in the case that BubbleButt is held for ransom.  This detail was included in Navarrete’s second interview with FHS Leadership. 

Keeping to the call-and-response nature of this unfolding odyssey, the day following the interview’s publication—Wednesday, April 19—Navarrete, Kirsch, and Valent received direct messages from @bubblebuttsthefish. “I got the DM to ‘check your [office mailbox],” Navarrete recalls. “That’s when I found the ransom note.” The note was sealed within a manila envelope addressed to “Rubendario Navarrete”—a reference to Navarrete’s full name, Rubéndarío Navarrete—menacingly scrawled in red crayon. A significant detail, as Navarrete feels it points to the elusive Fish-Snatcher being a current or former student of his; “In class I’ve mentioned [my full name] a few times, but it’s not something that I use in my day-to-day,” he explains. Pasted from various magazine clippings, the note demanded him to “Leave $600 in the vault by Friday April 21 or Fishy West is next”; notably, the same amount requested from the sophomore investigators’ GoFundMe page. The image of a chopped fish head was pasted beside the message, illustrating a grim future for the remaining class pet. Perhaps most depraved of all, within the envelope was a Ziploc baggie containing a plastic betta lying in a pool of “blood”—resembling red food coloring—possibly symbolizing BubbleButt’s status. Fortunately, nothing has yet come of this threat; and no, Navarrete did not submit the ransom money. “I thought about doing $600 of Monopoly money,” he admits. Navarrete comments in his third, and most recent, interview with FHS Leadership: “To [@bubblebuttsthefish]: I don’t know who hurt you, but this is not the answer.”

Since this incident, activity regarding the Fish-Snatcher seems at a standstill. With questions outweighing answers, neither the culprit(s) nor the motive behind this seemingly wanton act of pet-thievery has been unveiled. Thus our distraught community, to paraphrase Truman Capote, has suddenly to endure the unique experience of distrusting each other; we know the Fish-Snatcher to be among ourselves. In addition to casting suspicion on either a current or former student of his, Navarrete feels that staff involvement shouldn’t be ruled out. If the real BubbleButt was indeed stolen, whoever did this managed to access the tanks not once, but twice; with no credible witnesses. “My wondering is, are they getting help from a staff member with access to this department, and a master key to open the classroom?” Navarrete speculates. Perhaps Navarrete’s former co-student success advisor, Charles McKinney, couldn’t take one more jab at his Spanish pronunciation; or a certain teacher couldn’t forgive Navarrete for mistaking them for Valent in, let’s say, an embarrassing circumstance. Or perhaps Navarrete’s notorious class rantings reached our district overlords, causing them to employ a ragtag crew of PPS “plumbers,” if you will, to eliminate Navarrete’s hypercriticism once and for all. Is it really a coincidence that Principal Chris Frazier follows every BubbleButt account on Instagram? However, Navarrrete has a difficult time comprehending this possibility. “I’m perfect,” he asserts. “I get along with everyone in this world—I’m basically a saint. So no, I don’t know who it was.” Certainly in the vein of Mother Theresa, Navarrete won’t accuse anyone in particular of the offense; aside from the majority of his students. 

However, the individual facing the most speculation seems to be Navarrete himself. In a lethal display of betrayal, nearly his entire afternoon Spanish 5/6 class—of which the author is apart—in some way accused Navarrete of orchestrating the disappearance himself. In Google Slides presentation after Google Slides presentation he was slandered with accusations of stepping on, sautéing, assassinating, or mailing—to Alicia Keys—the missing class pet. While he acknowledges the inclination to cast blame on him, the man indiscriminately accusing others who also happens to have seen BubbleButt last, he asserts his total lack of involvement. “I was [in San Diego] during spring break,” he says. “I did not take BubbleButt, I don’t know where BubbleButt is, and I want BubbleButt to come home.” 

One could also theorize that BubbleButt died during the week-long break, and the accompanying drama is simply a coverup for Navarrete’s neglect. However, no evidence of BubbleButt was found in the tank upon students’ return to school. While it’s possible that BubbleButt could have decomposed in a week’s time—a process that takes seven to ten days on average, according to bettafishaquarium.com—neither bones or the unmistakable stench of rotting fish was evident. Nor could a custodian have disposed of BubbleButt, according to Navarrete, as the employee responsible for cleaning S-218 was taking paid time-off that week. “It’s possible that someone took it, because there’s no evidence that BubbleButt died in the tank,” Navarrete says.

Of course, who’s to say that Navarrete isn’t a liar? He could be muddying the case with false details, bribing staff to generate alibis and ignoring incriminating security footage; this could all be Navarrete weaving an elaborate whodunit, feigning remorse for a fish he repeatedly refers to as “it” throughout our conversation. “What I say to that is, I don’t have that much time,” Navarrete explains. “I have a three year old who’s very active, a six year old that I’m coaching in soccer; I don’t have time to come up with this scheme.” This theory also implies that Navarrete is a good liar, which could use further substantiation. 

With blind alley leads and volumes of inconclusive evidence, we can’t predict when or if we’ll ever discover what really happened to BubbleButt. “BubbleButt is out there, floating in a different tank,” Navarrete comments, with a faraway gaze. One can’t help but picture BubbleButt, swimming alone and confused, in the depraved hands of a cold-blooded poodle-mix owner. “[Or] maybe he died of sadness; we don’t know. At this moment, the only thing I want is closure.” Although many continue to do so, one can hardly blame him.