By Scott North Herald Writer
SNOHOMISH — An October knife attack that nearly ended in death for one girl and left another seriously injured happened because Snohomish High School school officials and staff at a Kirkland mental hospital failed to take adequate steps to protect others from a troubled student, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
The case was filed in King County Superior Court on behalf of the families of April Lutz and Bekah Staudacher. Both were 15-year-old freshmen when they were ambushed and repeatedly stabbed in a high school bathroom.
Named as defendants in the case are the Snohomish School District, Fairfax Hospital and the parents of the girl who attacked them.
The attack was “a preventable tragedy,” Seattle attorney Sim Osborn said in a prepared statement.
“Both the school and Fairfax Hospital fell asleep at the wheel when they allowed an unstable person, known to harbor violent impulses, to have free rein on campus,” he said. “The defendants failed to act to protect students and the public.”
The school district does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Kristin Foley said.
The girl who attacked April and Bekah came to school that day with two large knives in her backpack. She waited in a bathroom stall and apparently picked her victims at random.
April had life-threatening injuries, stabbed at least a dozen times, causing damage to her heart and a lung. Bekah was slashed in the arm and stabbed in the back trying to protect her friend.
Neither girl knew their attacker, an upperclassman, now 16.
That girl in March pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and second-degree assault. Under a plea agreement, she’s now serving 13 years behind bars. The plan is to keep her in a juvenile lock-up where she’ll receive mental health treatment for about five years. After her 21st birthday, she’s expected to be moved to adult prison to serve out the remainder of her sentence.
Officials at both the hospital and school didn’t do enough to protect students from the girl, Osborn said in court papers.
The girl told adults in spring 2011 that she was thinking about killing others or herself. She had been seeing a therapist and receiving medication for depression since February 2011.
She was expelled from school in April 2011 after she threatened to stab another student, court papers said. School officials said the girl needed to get professional counseling before returning.
She attended out-patient services at Fairfax Hospital for about eight days before the hospital concluded she was safe to resume classes, according to court papers.
The girl continued to see a therapist for the next eight months, with her last visit about three weeks before the assaults, according to court papers.
The girl did not fully participate in therapy sessions at Fairfax nor volunteer much information about her problems, Osborn alleged. Even so, the hospital cleared her to return to classes without restrictions.
By September 2011, the girl was again a source of worry at the high school, Osborn wrote.
“Students and teacher alike voiced concerns to the school about her disturbing behavior. However, nothing was done to curtail said behavior or to keep other students safe. The school was not a safe environment.”
The lawsuit doesn’t specify the amount of damages being sought by the girls and their families.
Scott North: 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org.