County health officials investigate death of Santa Monica High student amid norovirus concerns

Santa Monica High School in 2011.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is investigating the death of an 18-year-old Santa Monica High School student.

Kelly Cano, a senior, died Saturday. She is the second student that the high school has lost this school year. Sophomore Vanai Jelks, 15, died in October.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office has not determined a cause of death for either student, according to an email from coroner’s spokesman Craig Harvey.


Sandra Cano, Kelly’s mother, who is a school nurse at Santa Monica High, said her daughter fell ill last week over two to three days. She was nauseous and vomiting, but it seemed like a common illness. Then on Saturday morning, Kelly stopped breathing. She was taken to the hospital, where she died despite exhaustive resuscitation efforts.

She said that doctors could not rule out norovirus as the cause of her daughter’s death, but that it could take up to six months for toxicology reports to come back with a definitive answer. She said she plans to return to her job at the school, when she is ready.

There currently is no indication that the high school’s two student deaths are related to each other or to a possible norovirus outbreak at a Santa Monica school earlier this month, Gail Pinsker, a spokeswoman for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, said in an email Monday.

“Parents are concerned now and at this time we have no evidence of any connection between the two deaths,” Pinsker wrote. “We have been assured that Kelly’s sudden death is not thought to be associated with the gastrointestinal illness, possibly norovirus, that has affected students and staff in SMMUSD the past two weeks, including a few cases at Samohi [Santa Monica High].”

Students can receive counseling in the high school’s library this week.

When Kelly’s classmates learned Saturday that she had died, they took to social media and held an impromptu vigil.

Kelly, who was a swimmer and in the school choir, was a supportive and upbeat friend who “always lit up the room,” her mother said.


To read the article in Spanish, click here


6:05 p.m.: This article was updated to include an interview with Kelly Cano’s mother.

This article was originally published at 11:40 a.m.