A knife attack Tuesday at Walter Reed Middle School, which erupted in the middle of an early morning English class, left one student hospitalized and a 14-year-old suspect in custody.
The eighth-grade class was watching the end of a video on American folklore when the alleged assailant drew a kitchen knife from his sleeve and began stabbing a 14-year-old classmate in the chest and side, according to witnesses and Los Angeles Unified School District officials.
The victim was flown to Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, where he underwent surgery for a liver injury and was listed in fair condition, a hospital spokesman said.
LAUSD police and school officials were still trying to determine a reason for the attack, which occurred before an end-of-the-semester "Fun Day" celebration in the afternoon.
"We don't have a school where weapons are a problem," said Principal Lawrence Tash. In his nine years at the school, which is in a quiet middle-class neighborhood at 4525 Irvine Ave., there has never been such a violent attack, the principal said, adding: "One boy out of 2,000 students did something wrong."
School officials make random checks for weapons throughout the day with hand-held metal detectors, Tash said, but none had been performed Tuesday before the stabbing occurred during first period.
School officials and students who knew the boys and witnessed the attack said the stabbing was not gang-related and appeared to stem from a dispute over a girl at the school. Students in the class said the suspect had written a note to a girl before the attack that laid out his plan to stab the other boy. But neither school officials nor police could confirm the report.
School police, who are investigating the attack, said they did not know of a motive.
Two girls who were in the English class during the stabbing said they saw the knife blade before the attack.
"He had the knife in his sleeve," said one. "[The suspect] stood behind him during the whole class. Every time we went up to the teacher he gave us a mean look, like: 'You'd better not say anything.' "
She said one of her friends asked the boy why he had the knife--but the response was laughter.
With the lights off and the video winding down, the boy stabbed his classmate three times, witnesses said.
"He was pretty much trying to kill him," said another student who was in the class. "Everybody started getting hysterical."
The armed teenager, meanwhile, "walked out of class cool and calm," the witness said.
About two hours later, using a description issued by the school, Los Angeles Police Department patrol officers spotted the alleged attacker near the corner of Hart Street and Laurel Canyon Boulevard and arrested him without incident. The boy then led police to the place where he had allegedly discarded a 3-inch paring knife, said Assistant School Police Chief Richard Page.
After being held briefly at the North Hollywood police station, the youth was taken to Sylmar Juvenile Hall, where he was being kept in custody on suspicion of attempted murder.
The teenager had transferred to Reed from Sun Valley Middle School two semesters ago, school officials and students said. The suspect's schoolmates said he had been kicked out of that school after being involved in a fight.
LAUSD spokesman Shel Erlich said he was not familiar with the details of this case, but he acknowledged that most students who transfer between LAUSD schools do so because of disciplinary problems.
LAUSD crisis counselors made themselves available to students traumatized by the attack, but for more than two dozen parents who heard about the stabbing on news reports and picked up their children early on Tuesday, that wasn't enough.
Tammy Sanchez drove all the way from Santa Monica, where she works as a dental assistant, to pull her son Wilfredo Jimenez, 14, out of class.
"My sister-in-law called and told me what happened," she said. "I got scared--I'm taking my baby home."