A 16-year-old high school student was fatally stabbed Tuesday after he arrived home with his mother and was confronted by a knife-wielding burglar.
James “Jake” Bush, a lanky, sandy-haired cross-country runner and scholastic standout, was stabbed at least once in the midsection during the noontime attack, police said.
Details of what prompted the attack were sketchy Tuesday, but Ventura Police Lt. Don Arth said Jake had just come home with his mother, Gail Shirley, a seventh-grade English teacher.
The two immediately suspected something was not right, Arth said.
“They noticed there were things out of place,” he said. “It’s a very neat home and a closet door was askew or something.”
Shirley checked the back of the modest single-story home and Jake checked one of the front bedrooms.
“That’s when he [was] assaulted,” Arth said. Though they were still trying to determine exactly what happened, police said they believe that Jake was protecting his mother from the assailant when he was stabbed.
When paramedics arrived at the home in the 1900 block of Swift Avenue, Shirley was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her son, who was covered with blood.
Jake, who had just finished his junior year at Buena High School, was rushed to Ventura County Medical Center, where he was taken into surgery. His mother and stepfather, Bob Shirley, an eighth-grade history teacher, initially thought that their son was going to be all right and for a brief time returned home to talk to police, neighbors said.
But less than three hours after the attack, Jake died on the operating room table, a Ventura County coroner’s spokesman said.
Police and neighbors said they believed the attacker ran out the back of the house, through several neighbors’ backyards and into a vacant field. More than a dozen investigators scoured the Montalvo neighborhood for clues.
Ventura Police Chief Richard Thomas said his department would spare no effort in finding the boy’s killer.
“This is personal--a tragic, senseless act like this we take very seriously here,” Thomas said. “If ever there was one, [Jake] was an absolutely innocent victim.”
Classmate Daniel Gonzales, who lives just blocks away, said Jake was a computer whiz who loved mountain biking. He said Jake wanted to become a captain of the school track team during his senior year.
“He talked about it all the time,” Gonzales said. “He loved track.”
Other friends and neighbors were shocked by the midday stabbing.
“They are a wonderful family,” said Beth Pallares, a family friend who works with the boy’s parents at Balboa Middle School. “Jake is a great kid . . . he is really attached to his mother. I could see him standing up for her. He’s that kind of kid.”
Originally from Texas, Gail Shirley and her son moved to the area more than 10 years ago, where she began teaching at Balboa Middle School and met Bob Shirley.
The family had moved into the neighborhood about two years ago and were excited because it was their first home together, Pallares said.
Jim Tuttle, who lives directly behind the Shirleys’, was working on his Volkswagen van when the stabbing occurred.
“My dog Chelsea started barking, and she never barks,” Tuttle said. “So I went back to tell her to be quiet. She stopped and then took off like she was following somebody. A few minutes later there’s a cop looking over my fence. They figure the guy probably ran behind our fence and into the open field.”
When Tuttle went around to the front of the house, he saw paramedics wheeling Jake out of the home with a huge bandage covering his torso.
Tuttle talked to Jake’s stepfather soon after the stabbing.
“He thought [Jake] was going to be OK and that they would be able to go back with the police when he came to and get a description,” he said. “This is just awful.”
Tuttle said two girls on bicycles saw a “suspicious” man knocking on doors of homes along the street about 15 minutes before the stabbing. Although police released a composite sketch of that man based on descriptions from the girls and other witnesses, they had not characterized him as a suspect late Tuesday.
Police are asking anyone with information about the crime to call Sgt. Gary McCaskill at 805-339-4482.
Times staff writer Daryl Kelley and correspondents Chris Chi and Nick Green contributed to this story.