Student stable after Service High stabbing

Police say skier halted teen's attack on 17-year-old ex-girlfriend

December 7, 2009 

A 16-year-old Service High School student stabbed his ex-girlfriend more than 20 times with a pocketknife behind the school Monday during lunch break, only stopping his attack after a skier in the area confronted him and scared him off, according to police and school officials.

The 17-year-old girl, a senior, was hospitalized with critical injuries after suffering severe stab wounds to the leg, back and stomach, according to police. The girl underwent surgery in the afternoon and was listed in stable condition by Monday night, according to police.

The boy, a junior at the school, led police on an hour-long manhunt involving dogs, officers with assault rifles and an Alaska State Trooper helicopter spotting the Hillside from the air. Students at Service were locked in their classrooms for more than an hour while police searched for the suspect.

The boy was taken into police custody and was being detained but was not charged with a crime Monday. Police and prosecutors were reviewing the case and are expected to file charges today, police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said.

Nearly two dozen police officers rushed to the high school after a man skiing along a back field witnessed the stabbing and called police about 11:50 a.m. as the suspect fled into the trail system behind the school.

"A person skiing near the school saw what he thought was a male punching a female," police spokeswoman Anita Shell said. "When he got closer, he saw the male had a knife and was repeatedly stabbing the girl. The witness intervened by kicking at the male who stopped stabbing the girl and threatened the skier with the knife."

THE HUNT

The crime scene, behind the Little Gym and next to a Nordic Skiing Association trailer, had a couple of foot-wide frozen blood stains in the snow Monday afternoon.

A blood trail from the crime scene led police into the trail system, up the Hillside, across Abbott Road and down to Birch Road, where the alleged attacker was caught about an hour later, according to police. Blood spots spaced about five feet apart were also visible on the snow-crusted pavement of Yukon Road leading out to Birch.

At one point, police contacted the suspect on a cell phone. He said he was lost and ready to surrender, but the boy directed the helicopter in the opposite direction of where he was actually hiding, Shell said.

"We go north, but the officer on the telephone could hear the rotor wash going the other direction," Shell said. "He could hear it go away from the guy."

A K-9 unit caught the suspect in a wooded ravine behind a house at 9430 Birch Road about 12:50 p.m. The boy sustained an injury to his hand during the stabbing, which involved a pocketknife blade.

"It was a folding knife," Shell said. "As he was stabbing her, it folded in on his hands several times."

Fire Department paramedics treated the boy for the injury in an ambulance at the scene, then brought him out briefly for the witness to identify him. The boy was then taken to police headquarters for questioning, where he remained for the afternoon.

Neither he nor the victim were identified Monday because of their ages.

CAUSE UNCLEAR

Police said the motive for the stabbing was not immediately known, but that the two people had some history together and it was not random.

Shell said the victim is the ex-girlfriend of the attacker. "They're an on-again, off-again type of relationship," she said.

Service Principal Lou Pondolfino would not discuss the students' histories, including whether they had disciplinary problems in the past.

The students were on a regular lunch break for juniors and seniors at the time of the stabbing and were allowed to leave the confines of the school during that time, Pondolfino said.

After getting the report of the stabbing, the school was put into stay-put mode, which requires outside doors be locked but allows instruction to continue. That was then upgraded to lockdown, in which students are confined to their classrooms, the lights are cut off and instruction stops, Pondolfino said.

Parents were informed about the situation in a recorded message sent out about 2 p.m., he said. But students were not told about the events that caused the lockdown in the classroom announcements, he said.

INSIDE THE SCHOOL

During the lockdown, said Thomas Zimmerman, a 16-year-old junior, "It was pretty scary because I didn't know where he was. I heard that he went into the woods and they had a police helicopter and I heard a whole bunch of cop cars coming up here."

The school was locked down for about an hour and 15 minutes while police searched for the assailant. Students remained calm during that time, Pondolfino said, and began leaving the campus at the usual time of about 2 p.m. Trailside Elementary, next door to Service, also was in lockdown right after the stabbing, according to the school district.

Mariah Barkley, 18, was at the school after hours to pick up her sister. She said she heard from the school office that her sister was fine when she learned of the stabbing, so she wasn't worried, but she was surprised something like that could happen.

"It makes everybody question whether or not their kid is safe," Barkley said. "But it was personal, so it wasn't a random event."

Pondolfino said the school has security guards and cameras installed to observe activity along the perimeter, though they are not continuously monitored and it was not known if the stabbing was recorded.

School will be held as usual today, with counselling services available for students and staff who need them.

"It's tough, when something like this happens, for our entire community," Pondolfino said. "We have a safe school, despite this. And I think, I hope, that parents know that."


Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call 257-4589.

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