Kindergarten Teacher Stabbed to Death at Home

Times Staff Writer

A 23-year-old kindergarten teacher at Westwood Charter Elementary School was stabbed to death Wednesday morning, shortly after she called police to say her former boyfriend was at the door of the Westchester home she shared with her parents.

Before she hung up, Mary K. Dasaro told police that Darren Nelson, 24, was breaking in and went to hide from him, LAPD Det. Mike DePasquale said Thursday.

Shortly after 10 a.m., Nelson made it inside, armed himself with a knife from the kitchen and stabbed Dasaro, police said.

Afterward, Nelson apparently tried to kill himself, dousing himself with a flammable liquid and setting himself on fire in his car, police said.

"They'd been going out for five years, but he was involved with another girl, and that's what caused the breakup," DePasquale said. "He didn't want to break up with our victim and tried to reconcile, and she wouldn't have anything to do with it."

Nelson's other girlfriend told police that she and Dasaro had found out about each other recently and that both decided to leave him, police said.

On the tape of her 911 call, Dasaro was composed, DePasquale said. "Actually at first she's pretty low-key, I wouldn't say panicky," DePasquale said. "But when he starts coming into the house she's got a lot of anxiety, and she hangs up."

About an hour later, Nelson apparently set himself on fire.

A passerby reported smoke coming from a car near the Del Rey Lagoon, opened the car door and Nelson, engulfed in flames, emerged, DePasquale said.

"Paramedics and the Fire Department responded, but by then we were looking for him -- we had a name, a vehicle description, and our officers rolled out," DePasquale said.

Nelson was transported to Centinela Freeman Memorial hospital, where he was stabilized. He was then moved to a hospital with a burn ward. Thursday morning he remained in critical condition with second- and third-degree burns over most of his body.

At Westwood Charter Elementary School, where Dasaro had worked since 2003, a crisis team from the Los Angeles Unified School District was on hand to help children, their parents and teachers grieve.

Dasaro did her student training at the school and had recently earned her teaching credential. She was hired last week as a permanent substitute for a teacher out on maternity leave.

As a teacher, Dasaro was effervescent and warm, Principal Judy Utvich said. She adored children, and children and their parents adored her.

"Even as a student-teacher and teacher assistant she went out of her way to address the needs of every child," Utvich said. "She was a phenomenal educator. She had that immediate rapport with children, and it came naturally.

"You can train a teacher, but she was a born teacher," Utvich said.

On Thursday morning, teachers were asked to keep an eye out for children who may be struggling and refer them to the crisis team for counseling. "Many times children equate this kind of loss with the loss of a family pet, a loss of a family member or someone else, so this can trigger other losses that may have occurred in their life," said Lainey Rogers, operations administrator for the district and part of the crisis team.

About 80 parents met with Utvich on Thursday morning to discuss the best way to talk to their children about Dasaro's death, but also to remember Dasaro as more than a murder victim. A remembrance for her is being planned.

Dasaro graduated last year from the liberal arts program at Loyola Marymount University. Her father, George Dasaro, has been a professor of accounting there since 1977.

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