SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KRON) — Students and police officers alike are demanding action from school administrators and city leaders to revamp campus safety in the wake of a classroom homicide at Montgomery High School.
Last year, the Santa Rosa Police Department responded to 945 emergency calls from schools, according to the police union. Within just the past two weeks, police were called to schools for emergencies including “stabbing, battery, robbery, criminal threats, public intoxication, and arson,” the Santa Rosa Police Officers’ Association wrote.
While Montgomery classes remained canceled on Thursday, the police union wrote, “Our city is feeling the impact of not having School Resource Officers on campus. It is important for our community to reach out to city leaders and help bring them back.”
A 15-year-old freshman was sitting inside his art class Wednesday morning with 26 classmates and one teacher when two juniors entered the classroom and instigated a fight with the freshman, according to the police chief. The three students had several prior conflicts, police said.
“An argument and fight ensued inside the class. The teacher and three aides were able to briefly breakup the fight, but the three students quickly began fighting again. The 15-year-old brandished a knife and stabbed both 16-year-olds,” the Santa Rosa Police Department wrote.
One of the juniors, Jayden Jess Pienta, was stabbed three times in the chest and staggered to the nurse’s office, according to police.
Parent Amy Gonzalez said her son was in the office when Pienta walked in, said he had been stabbed, and collapsed. Pienta, 16, died soon after at a hospital.
Outraged Montgomery High School students attended a press conference held by the police chief and Santa Rosa High School District superintendent just hours after the deadly stabbing. A senior student shouted, “The school needs to be held accountable. My little brother goes to this school. The school knew that these two had problems beforehand.”
Montgomery High School students and their parents told KRON4 that their school no longer feels safe.
Another student asked Police Chief John Cregan, why doesn’t the school have any campus safety officers from the Santa Rosa Police Department?
Cregan answered, “It’s really important to understand that the Santa Rosa Police Department did not remove the SROs (School Resource Officers) from the school campus. That was a decision by the Santa Rosa school board.”
Cregan said he’s always advocated for having SROs on Santa Rosa schools’ campuses. Cregan noted that he’s also a dad, and his child goes to school in Santa Rosa.
The school board made its “complex” decision to eliminate SROs based on several factors, including pressure from the community, the police chief said.
In June 2020, the Santa Rosa school board unanimously voted 7-0 to suspend the district’s partnership with police, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The vote ousted SROs from all campuses.
One Montgomery High School student said it shouldn’t take a student getting stabbed to death for campus safety improvements to happen.
School district superintendent Anna Trunnell said at Wednesday’s press conference, “The tragedy that happened here today is heartbreaking. Right now our focus is on meeting the immediate physical and emotional needs of our students and staff. Our campus followed emergency protocols in order to keep students and staff safe.”
The freshman was arrested on Wednesday after he fled from his high school and was later found hiding near a church. Montgomery’s lockdown was lifted after the boy was taken into custody.
Police said the freshman was booked into Sonoma County Juvenile Justice Center on the following charges: Homicide, attempted homicide, bringing a weapon onto a school campus, and battery.
His name was not released by officials because he is a juvenile. The second junior who was stabbed is expected to survive his injuries, according to the police chief.
SRPD detectives are investigating the cause of the fight and the relationship between the students. “Anyone who witness the fight/homicide is encouraged to speak with SRPD detectives. Additionally, detectives are interested in any video footage that might have been taken before and during the incident,” SRPD wrote. Witnesses can call police detectives at 707-543-3590.