Santa Rosa school stabbing: Victims' families say administration 'failed' students in campus safety

ByLena Howland, Anser Hassan KGO logo
Friday, March 3, 2023
NB school stabbing: Victims' families say admin 'failed' students
The victims' families say administration 'failed' students leading up to deadly Montgomery High School stabbing in Santa Rosa.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- A somber cloud hovers over Montgomery High School -- with hugs by parents and school officials -- at the same time the bell would typically ring, just one day after a student was stabbed to death inside of a classroom.

"What every single one of these parents lived through yesterday was their worst nightmare, and of course, it goes to school safety and 'Is my child safe at school?' and no parent should have to deal with that," Alexis Kearney, a parent said.

As more families stop by the closed school to drop off flowers at the memorial under the school's flagpole, Kearney's daughter, 14-year-old Kate, calls for an end to the violence.

"We really need to protect ourselves, we need to be safe, we need to be respectful to others, we need to be kind, we need to stay out of this, violence at school needs to end," said Kate Kearney, a student at a nearby middle school said.

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The family identified the student killed as 16-year-old Jayden Pienta, but this comes less than three years after the Santa Rosa City School Board unanimously voted to remove all school resource officers from the district.

"Would a resource officer help if they could truly be engaged with the students and walk among them?" said Mary Gonnella, a neighbor and former parent of the school. "Maybe some type of community connection is needed."

"It's awful that they have gun shooter drills but clearly, it's not enough," Kearney said.

School Board President Stephanie Manieri was on the board that unanimously voted to remove these officers.

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"I have historically, personally, not been in support of school resource officers," Manieri said. "There are many different ways that we need to look at safety and so I am really open to having all conversations about what safety looks like on our campuses."

And while she says, the district is working over the next couple of days to figure out what school will look like safety and security-wise once students come back on Monday, she says, she's all ears to her students.

"I think we need to listen to our youth. I think that our youth really want to be heard right now. I think that we need to offer them the space for them to share and to grieve and to hurt, and we as adults in the system really need to do a better job of listening to them," she said.

Police says Pienta and his friend (whose family have only identified as "Cruz") were stabbed during a fight, in which they went to confront a 15-year-old freshman, who was in the class.

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According Maria Cervantes, Cruz's mother, she warned the school three weeks ago that there was trouble between the students. She alleges that the school did nothing in response.

"You guys had common knowledge that things were going on. You guys told me, three weeks ago, when you pulled me in for a meeting to let me know that my son was assaulted, three weeks ago, by this same individual, that you guys have first-hand knowledge that this was going to happen," say Maria Cervantes, the mother of Cruz, referring to the school administration. "And you didn't even stop it then."

Cruz was stabbed in the hand, treated and released from the hospital hours later.

Cervantes, who is a nurse, says for three weeks, her family has been trying to get resolution. She adds that the same 15-year-old freshman slashed Jayden's tires last week.

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"So not only did, yesterday, he bring a knife to class, but last week as well. So, this isn't an isolated incident where this individual has brought weapons onto the campus. It's not," says Cervantes.

Jayden's grandmother also confirmed on Wednesday that Jayden's parent raised concerns with the school. They also reported the tire slashing.

"They had issues last week and went to the school, and asked them to do something about it. And nothing happened," said Cheryl Griffin, Jayden's grandmother

"I want to make it very clear that the school and the school district failed my son! And they failed Jayden! And they failed the rest of the students that attend this school," Cervantes said.

Sargent Christopher Mahurni with the Santa Rosa Police Department says "anything below the level of violence," is handled at the school level.

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But Cervantes claims her son was assaulted, which then should have been reported to police. Yet Sgt. Mahurni says he is not aware of any previous assault.

"I did look into it earlier today. There are no cases, that I am seeing, filed between those three students that are associated with any assaults that I am aware of," says Mahurni.

Mahurni says they have received 97 calls from Montgomery High over the past 12 months.

Cervantes believes Jayden's death was preventable had the school acted.

Some argue, had the district keep the school resources officer, Wednesday's confrontation may not have escalated. However, Sgt. Mahurni says that is not always the case.

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"We did less calls for service when officers were on campus, because they built those relationships with students, to be able to prevent them. It doesn't mean it's not going to happen. We are seeing nationwide, violence happens on campus, even with SROs on there," Mahurni said.

The school district did not return request for comment.

ABC7 News has not been able to reach representatives of the 15-year-old freshman, either, to get his side of the story.

Santa Rosa police say the 15-year-old was arrested and booked into the juvenile justice center.

He's now facing three felony charges of homicide, attempted homicide and weapon on a school campus, and one count of misdemeanor battery.

As a reminder, Montgomery High School will continue to be closed for the rest of the week as this community works to process what happened.

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