Two high school students arrested, one in connection with teen’s overdose death
Two high school boys were arrested Thursday, one on suspicion of manslaughter for allegedly selling what is believed to be a fentanyl-laced pill that led to the overdose death of a student at Helen Bernstein High School. The student was found in a bathroom at the Hollywood school this week, authorities said.
Police did not identify the boys — ages 15 and 16 — because they are juveniles, but both are students at Apex Academy, an independent charter school on the Bernstein campus. The 15-year-old, who was arrested on the manslaughter charge, is suspected of selling fentanyl-laced pills on campus at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday to two 15-year-old girls. The surviving victim remains hospitalized, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said in a news conference.
The 15-year-old boy was arrested Thursday morning at his grandmother’s house, where police found additional pills suspected to be the same narcotic that was sold to the girls, police said.
Investigators are awaiting lab confirmation that the narcotic was laced with deadly fentanyl, Moore said.
The two girls are believed to have crushed and snorted the drug sometime between 12:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., the chief said.
The second suspect was arrested on the way to school and booked on suspicion of narcotics sales for allegedly selling pills to another student, a Hollywood High School boy, at Lexington Park, located a few blocks from Bernstein High, Moore said.
The police chief said evidence indicates that the two boys are “close associates.”
“Our work does not stop here,” Moore said. “These two individuals are simply transferring and soldiering this distribution. There is a drug organization behind this.”
The overdose death of a student on a high school campus is rare, but the deadly consequences of fentanyl-laced pills are not. In recent year, the death toll has surged.
California Department of Public Health preliminary data show that California saw 3,857 deaths related to a fentanyl overdose in 2020 compared to 239 in 2016. Even two milligrams of the substance can be deadly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the 12-month period ending in October 2021, more than 105,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, with 66% of those deaths related to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Last year, the United States suffered more fentanyl-related deaths than gun- and auto-related deaths combined, according to federal officials.
Police warned that it’s becoming increasingly common for drug dealers to lace pills with fentanyl — a highly addictive synthetic opioid used in medical settings to address extreme pain. The drug is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, making it very dangerous outside medical settings.
Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have filed more than a dozen cases against dealers where users suffered fatal overdoses.
L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho said a major component of the school district’s response will be to raise awareness of the danger posed by any pills obtained from sources other than a pharmacy operating under instructions from a doctor.
Police initially responded at about 9 p.m. Tuesday to a possible overdose at Bernstein High on North Wilton Place.
A female student, who was suffering from a possible overdose, told her stepfather that her friend was in the girls’ bathroom, police said. The parent and a school employee found an unresponsive student inside the bathroom and attempted lifesaving measures.
A 15-year-old died Tuesday from a fentanyl overdose at Bernstein High School in Hollywood while three other students were hospitalized, the LAPD said.
The Los Angeles Fire Department arrived and pronounced the unresponsive teen dead at the scene. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office identified the deceased girl as 15-year-old Melanie Ramos.
Authorities say they believe the girls bought what they thought were Percocet pills and confirmed that two others were found suffering from possible overdoses in the area of the park.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who took part in a Thursday news conference outside police headquarters with law enforcement and school district officials, took issue with the word “overdose.”
“These are not overdoses.” Garcetti said. “These are people who have been poisoned. These are murders.”
Over the last three weeks, at least six Los Angeles Unified students, including the three from Tuesday, have been involved in the use of narcotics, “some resulting in overdose, some resulting in students being transported to a medical facility, some being immediately released to the parents,” Carvalho said.
Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs (including heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine) to increase potency, but it can be deadly. Test kits can help.
Carvalho met on Wednesday morning with the parents of the girl who died.
Regional Supt. Adaina Brown said she has spoken with a third victim, the Hollywood High student, who is 17.
“He understands that he’s been presented with a unique opportunity and now this is his chance to help other students and really put it out there how we need to move forward and make sure that no other students get hurt,” Brown said.
The identity of a fourth victim, also at the park, is unknown. It is likely she also was a student, said Lt. John Radtke, the lead homicide investigator. Paramedics gave this victim the overdose drug Narcan, and she left the scene before investigators could interview her. Police have urged her to come forward to assist with the investigation.
The LAPD is working with the Drug Enforcement Administration in the investigation because of the ongoing nature of the drug sales, Carvalho said.
There were soccer and volleyball matches taking place Tuesday night that made it “acceptable for the students to be at the school,” Carvalho said.
Carvalho hopes to use the nearby Selma Elementary campus to provide safe after-school activities. The site is partially occupied by a charter school, but the district no longer operates a school there due to declining enrollment. There is no timetable for that project.
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