At­tack raises doubts at school

Par­ents ques­tion Har­vard-West­lake’s han­dling of the trou­bled stu­dent. Class­mates say they had tried to reach out to him.

Los Angeles Times - - California - By Carla Rivera and Andrew Blankstein

An at­tempted mur­der case in which a Har­vard-West­lake School stu­dent at­tacked a class­mate with a ham­mer has roiled the exclusive col­lege prepara­tory cam­pus nes­tled in Cold­wa­ter Canyon and raised ques­tions about whether more could have been done to pre­vent it.

Par­ents said they were press­ing ad­min­is­tra­tors to ex­plain what sys­tem was in place to iden­tify trou­bled stu­dents and whether red flags about this par­tic­u­lar 17-year-old’s be­hav­ior were taken se­ri­ously.

As class­mates ral­lied to the beaten 18-year-old stu­dent’s bed­side with flow­ers and getwell cards, they also spoke of her al­leged as­sailant as some­one who seemed to pre­fer be­ing left alone and an­guished about school and his per­sonal is­sues.

“Peo­ple re­ally tried to reach him, but he just wasn’t re­cep­tive,” said one stu­dent, who spoke on the con­di­tion that he not be named be­cause the school had told stu­dents not to speak to the me­dia about the in­ci­dent. “He was al­ways the odd man out.”

No one, how­ever, could re­call pre­vi­ous vi­o­lent in­ci­dents di­rected at him­self or oth­ers.

Friends and fam­ily of the vic­tim said they be­lieve that the girl was tar­geted, even though the two shared only a few con­ver­sa­tions.

The vic­tim’s mother said the sus­pect struck her daugh­ter 40 times with a claw ham­mer, break­ing her nose, shat­ter­ing her leg and split­ting open her scalp in sev­eral places.

The boy’s at­tor­ney, Pa­trick Smith, said his client was suf­fer­ing from trou­bles but would not pro­vide de­tails. He added that the boy, who lives in Bev­erly Hills, pur­sued so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties and had close friends both in and out of school.

Har­vard-West­lake is a tightknit com­mu­nity, and most stu­dents and adults would speak only on the con­di­tion that their names not be used.

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Fel­low stu­dents said they made a con­certed ef­fort to get to know the al­leged at­tacker, sit­ting with him at lunch and try­ing to draw him out.

School of­fi­cials, the stu­dents said, had en­cour­aged the boy to be­come more in­volved in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and to join a peer sup­port group. He took up fenc­ing and mounted a short­lived cam­paign for stu­dent body pres­i­dent.

Har­vard-West­lake ad­min­is­tra­tors Fri­day did not re­turn calls seek­ing com­ment. But in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Thomas Hud­nut said the school had in place suf­fi­cient se­cu­rity sys­tems to pro­tect stu­dents and sup­port­ive ser­vices for stu­dents with prob­lems.

As well as staff psy­chol­o­gists and chap­lains, “all of the deans and se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tors do a great deal of coun­sel­ing,” Hud­nut said. “We’ve been com­mu­ni­cat­ing the facts through e-mail to all par­ents to keep them in­formed and en­sure the sit­u­a­tion is be­ing ad­dressed and dealt with pro­fes­sion­ally.”

The boy was charged this week by the Los An­ge­les County dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice as a ju­ve­nile. He faces three felony counts, in­clud­ing at­tempted mur­der and as­sault with a deadly weapon.

At a hear­ing Fri­day, a ju­ve­nile court judge — over the ob­jec­tion of prose­cu­tors — re­fused to is­sue a war­rant au­tho­riz­ing the boy’s re­moval from a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal, where he has been re­ceiv­ing treat­ment.

He was ad­mit­ted there Mon­day af­ter the in­ci­dent, which oc­curred as the two stu­dents sat in the boy’s Jaguar on a res­i­den­tial street in Stu­dio City near the private cam­pus.

Smith ar­gued at the hear­ing that the pub­lic would be bet­ter served if the boy re­mained in a se­cure fa­cil­ity where he could con­tinue to re­ceive treat­ment for his ill­ness. Smith de­clined to say what specif­i­cally the boy is be­ing treated for.

“The court’s re­fusal to is­sue a war­rant for my client’s ar­rest in no way min­i­mizes the se­ri­ous­ness of th­ese events,” Smith said af­ter­ward. “But it was the right de­ci­sion be­cause pro­vid­ing treat­ment for the boy ad­dresses the needs of all par­ties in­volved.”

In an in­ter­view with The Times, the girl’s mother, Bar­bara Hay­den, said that de­spite the in­juries, her daugh­ter was de­ter­mined to at­tend tonight’s se­nior prom, even if it meant be­ing trans­ported there by am­bu­lance. The girl was ex­pected to be dis­charged from the hospi­tal late Fri­day.

Hay­den was per­form­ing a surgery at a West­side hospi­tal when she was in­formed that her daugh­ter had been at­tacked. She and her hus­band, an emer­gency room physi­cian, raced to her bed­side. “Her hair and face were caked with blood,” Hay­den said. “On the left side, her head was shaped like a foot­ball.”

Hay­den, who sat in on her daugh­ter’s po­lice in­ter­view, pro­vided the nar­ra­tive of the at­tack:

The girl said she was in­vited to drive with the sus­pect to a Jamba Juice near cam­pus af­ter they had fin­ished tak­ing an Ad­vanced Place­ment exam.

The two sipped smooth­ies and talked ca­su­ally. Once they were back in the car, he reached into the back seat for a back­pack, which he placed be­tween his legs.

In­stead of re­turn­ing to cam­pus, how­ever, the boy de­toured to a quiet res­i­den­tial street. She said he ap­peared anx­ious, and she be­came in­creas­ingly alarmed. He told her that he was think­ing of com­mit­ting sui­cide. She urged that they re­turn to school to get help from a coun­selor. He told her: “It isn’t go­ing to hap­pen that way.”

He also said that he was go­ing to kill him­self and that he wasn’t go­ing to do it alone. She reached for the back­pack, be­liev­ing that he had a gun inside, but he pulled out a claw ham­mer in­stead and be­gan strik­ing her on the head and face.

She used her arms and hands to try to cover her­self while fend­ing off the blows. With her legs, she pinned him to the driver’s side door.

Aw­it­ness who was walk­ing on the street with a neigh­bor said, “Arms were fly­ing. It looked bad. We couldn’t be­lieve it.”

As po­lice were called, the boy got out of the car, went to the pas­sen­ger side, pulled the girl from the car by her hair and con­tin­ued the as­sault un­til the ham­mer broke. He then be­gan to choke her. To save her life, she bit his fin­ger. He screamed and said “I’m done.”

The boy got back in the car and sped off, said the wit­ness, who asked to re­main anony­mous, fear­ing reprisal. As the girl sought help, her shat­tered leg gave way, and she col­lapsed in the street. carla.rivera@la­times.com andrew.blankstein@ la­times.com

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