Police and fire block off Aptos High School after Tuesday's stabbing attack.
Law enforcement and fire vehicles block off Aptos High School after Tuesday’s stabbing attack.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
K-12 Education

‘Heartbreaking’: Student dead after stabbing at Aptos High, two other students to be charged with murder

Tragedy strikes Aptos High on Tuesday after 17-year-old is stabbed and killed on campus. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a 17-year-old and 14-year-old who Sheriff Jim Hart says will be charged with murder.

UPDATE: Sheriff says PVUSD’s decision to defund school police affected safety

A stabbing at Aptos High School Tuesday afternoon that put the school on lockdown turned tragic when Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said that the student has died and two other students will be charged with murder.

School officials also announced at the evening news conference that the campus will be closed Wednesday and Thursday.

Hart said that officers responded to a 17-year-old male senior with stab wounds at 2:23 p.m., shortly after the school’s final 1:54 p.m. bell. The student, who was found by the school’s pool, was life-flighted to a trauma center where he died.

“Two students, ages 14 and 17, were detained and will be booked into juvenile hall later this evening on the charges of murder,” Hart said.

Hart said there may be phone video footage of the attack and encouraged those families who may be aware of it to turn over that footage to his deputies.

Farris Sabbah, head of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, who has a child that attends Aptos High, called Tuesday’s events “heartbreaking.” He, Aptos principal Peggy Pughe and Michelle Rodriguez, the Pajaro Valley Unified School District superintendent, joined Hart at the news conference.

Cynthia Silva, whose son is an Aptos sophomore, said the larger school community has been talking about friction on-campus since classes resumed a few weeks ago. She was waiting at Cabrillo College Tuesday afternoon where parents had been asked to pick up their children. Later, deputies redirected parents back to Aptos High for pickups after the lockdown was lifted.

“It sounds like there’s a lot of fighting going on right now at the high school — the kids are talking about it, the parents are talking about it,” Silva said. “So I think they need to get together and discuss that and figure out what they’re going to do to combat that. There needs to be some type of a protocol for kids that are suffering and need help.”

The school was locked down until 5:30 p.m. as deputies interviewed potential witnesses and canvassed the campus for the suspects. Two male students, aged 14 and 17, were arrested and detained; the two suspects were booked into juvenile hall later that evening on murder charges.

“We’re still in the early stages of this investigation, but we have learned that there may be some cell phone footage of the stabbing,” Hart said. “I’m asking that those students come forward and provide us with that evidence — it could be critical to this case.”

The scene outside Aptos High on Tuesday afternoon as the school went into lockdown.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Sabbah and Rodriguez said they are working to provide as much support as they can for the community to heal. Rodriguez added that on-site crises and grief counseling will be available for students while classes and other school activities are cancelled.

Those services will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Cabrillo College campuses in Aptos and Watsonville. Grief counselors will be on the Aptos High School campus when school resumes Friday.

“As an educational community, we are experiencing extreme grief,” Rodriguez said. “We are not only grieving the loss of this student, but struggling with a sense of safety and security.”

The county will offer additional counseling services based on feedback from the students as well as the greater community.

Lookout Santa Cruz is providing a summary of safety measures and protocols by high school. This list will be updated as...

Hart noted that a recent change to California law may hinder the investigation of the case. Passed in September of last year, SB 203 bans police interrogation of any youth under age 18 while in custody until the young person has consulted with an attorney about their rights.

Hart, a lifelong resident of Santa Cruz, said he does not believe there has been a campus homicide in more than three decades.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, as have many of our staff — I don’t ever recall there being a homicide on the high school campus,” he said.

Those in need of additional counseling or support can call Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance at 831-728-6445, or Santa Cruz County mental health services at 831-454-4170.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Billy Burnett at 831-454-7702.

Updates:

10:43 AM, Sep. 01, 2021: Updated with additional information about the victim and where he was found.