School safety talks planned after California fatal stabbing

Mar 7, 2023, 3:18 PM | Updated: 4:47 pm
Misty Lenwell, mother of Jayden Pienta, receives a hug after speaking to students during a walkout ...
Misty Lenwell, mother of Jayden Pienta, receives a hug after speaking to students during a walkout at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., Monday, March 6, 2023. Pienta was fatally stabbed during a fight between students in a classroom at the school last week. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat via AP)
(Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat via AP)

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California school district will hear community concerns about campus safety Tuesday in the wake of a fatal stabbing at a high school, a day after the teenage suspect made his first appearance in court.

Prosecutors say the 15-year-old freshman fatally stabbed one classmate and injured another last week in self-defense during a fight inside a high school classroom. The attack stunned Santa Rosa, a community best known for its wineries about 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) north of San Francisco.

The violence has prompted student protests and increased police presence at the Montgomery High School campus. The school district will hold a “listening session” Tuesday afternoon as detectives continue to investigate what prompted the initial fight.

Although the teen was initially booked on felony charges of homicide, attempted homicide and having a weapon on a school campus last week, prosecutors instead brought a manslaughter charge because the teen appeared to be acting in self-defense, The Press Democrat reported. Still, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office says the slaying was not justified under state law.

The freshman appeared in court Monday on one count of voluntary manslaughter with an enhancement for the use of a knife and one count of bringing a knife onto school grounds, the DA’s office said. The teen remains in jail and is due to return to court Friday for a detention hearing.

“There was some action taken on the part of the victim that did mitigate the actions by the minor that we charged, but that we concluded did not rise to the level of complete self-defense,” Sonoma County Assistant District Attorney Brian Staebell said.

Police say the altercation began when two groups of students were arguing last Wednesday outside an art classroom. Once inside, a 16-year-old junior from one of the groups confronted the freshman in the other group as more than two dozen students watched.

A fight broke out, and the freshman stabbed the 16-year-old with a knife at least three times, Santa Rosa police said. The 16-year-old, Jayden Jess Pienta, later died.

School officials broke up the fight, but the freshman got into another brawl with a different 16-year-old junior and stabbed him once in the hand, authorities said. The freshman fled and was later found hiding in a creek bed. Police have not determined what caused the students to fight originally.

“We are still investigating the motive, but we have no significant previous criminal contacts with any of the students involved in this incident,” Santa Rosa police Sgt. Chris Mahurin said Tuesday in an email. “We are working to get school records and determine if (this) school had addressed issues between these students. We do not have those records yet.”

Under state law, prosecutors cannot try anyone under the age of 16 as an adult, however, proceedings for certain crimes — including homicide — perpetrated by juveniles must be held in open court.

The teen’s attorney, the school district and the Montgomery High principal did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. The Associated Press is not identifying the teenager because he is a juvenile.

About 200 students protested Monday during a walkout, saying they do not feel that school officials have done enough to address their safety on campus.

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School safety talks planned after California fatal stabbing