Certain adolescent nerves arise when preparing for prom, but early Friday morning at one Connecticut high school, something went horribly wrong after a boy asked a classmate to be his date. Investigation is underway after a 16-year-old girl is stabbed to death in a high school stairwell following her rejection of his invitation to the prom.
Jonathan Law High School in Milford had yet to begin the first class of the day when staff members and paramedics rushed to the aid of victim Maren Sanchez after she was attacked in a first floor stairwell at 7:15a.m. Despite quick reaction, life-saving measures were not enough to save her. She was pronounced dead at a Bridgeport Hospital in southwestern Connecticut at 7:43 a.m. Friday morning.
The suspect in this tragic case is a 16-year-old boy who was charged with murder as a juvenile offender. His name was not released, but students reportedly watched him taken out of the school wearing handcuffs. According to Chief Keith Mello of the Milford Police Department, the suspect is in police custody, facing the possibility of being charged as an adult.
Chief Mello said investigators were looking into reports that the stabbing attack on the Connecticut teen, Maren Sanchez, may have been fueled by her rejection of the suspect’s invitation to be his date for the high school junior class prom, which would have taken place Friday evening. In lieu of the horrifying events that took place in the morning, school officials canceled classes for the day as well as the prom.
“This is a very raw, a very fresh investigation,” Chief Mello said.
While it may be too early to draw any conclusions about what motives may have sparked this particular school violence, peers have spoken out with their speculations.
Imani Langston, a close friend of Sanchez, said that she and the boy were friends but had never dated. Sanchez was described as a vibrant and excited teenager who helped organize the junior prom, and had looked forward to attending with her new boyfriend.
Tyler Curtin, also a junior that said he had known both Sanchez and her attacker since middle school. He described the boy as “dejected” when Ms. Sanchez rejected his invitation to the prom.
Several students reported the horrors they saw during the morning: the victim lying on the floor surrounded by crying teachers, the “blood all over her neck” as she was wheeled into an ambulance, the attacker taken away in handcuffs.
This is a haunting reminder of tragedies like the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, which left 20 young students and six adults dead.
Earlier this month, a 16-year-old Pennsylvania boy was accused of stabbing more than 20 people at his high school. Police reported finding a note he wrote stating he “couldn’t wait to see the ‘helpless looks’ on his victims’ faces.”
There is all too often breaking news of lethal violence within schools, and no matter how many discussions take place about gun control, school security and violence prevention in the wake of these incidences, preventing them can be difficult.
“How can we create an environment that’s safe for our children?” asked Janet Golden, a Milford alderman and mother of two students at Jonathan Law High School.
Golden poses a question that does not have a straight answer, but there is an emerging movement toward paying closer attention to students’ mental health. Across the country, a teacher training program developed by American Psychiatric Foundation (AFP) is now being implemented. The program teaches all school staff members (including custodians) on how to identify behaviors that may be warning signs in disguise as typical teen-aged tendencies. AFP cites that warning signs appear during teen years in 90 percent of people who develop a mental illness.
A majority of the public agrees that schools should focus their attention on student well-being. In a recent Gallup poll, 59 percent of Americans believe the most effective answer to promoting school safety lies in mental health services.
Although investigation is still underway about whether the prom date rejection was the thing that led to the Connecticut high school stabbing, there was evidence that the attacker was carrying the weapon. Milford police said late Friday that a knife was found at the crime scene and later obtained a search warrant at the home of the suspect. An arraignment is scheduled for Monday in New Haven.
By Erica Salcuni