Ventura County prosecutors charged a 13-year-old Simi Valley schoolboy with murder Thursday in the fatal stabbing of a classmate at Valley View Junior High.
Phillip Hernandez is scheduled to be arraigned this morning before Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren.
The suspect, described by witnesses as a "tagger" who emulated gang members, is accused of killing Chad Patrick Hubbard, a popular 14-year-old boy and member of the school baseball team. The two boys had a long-running feud that escalated last week when Hernandez took Chad's baseball cap, witnesses and students said.
Chad was stabbed in the chest in an open-air hallway of the school about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, just after classes let out. He was pronounced dead a short while later at Simi Valley Hospital.
Concern over the stabbing drew an overflow crowd of 350 people to Sinaloa Junior High on Thursday night, where school officials tried to reassure hostile and wary parents that Simi Valley schools are safe.
Principal Don Gaudioso told the crowd that contrary to public perception the two boys did not have a long history of conflict. He said school officials had learned about a brewing disagreement between them only about 1 1/2 weeks ago.
And Simi Valley Police Chief Lindsey Paul Miller stressed that the stabbing was an isolated incident and not gang related.
But Chad's aunt, Chris Miller, shouted from the back of the room, "Our kids are not safe in your school system. What are you going to do to protect our children?"
And Bruce Levine, Chad's uncle, interrupted, yelling, "Chad gave his life and it (should) not all be for not. It's got to make a difference."
The outburst brought applause and prompted another parent to stand up and confront city and school leaders. "The school system hasn't been safe for years," shouted Gertry Comden. "I reported it to them years ago."
Simi Valley schools Assistant Supt. Susan Parks took the microphone and encouraged parents to channel their anger into helping officials combat teen-age violence. "I am personally glad you are all here today, to see that it doesn't happen again. We all feel that way."
After the shouting ended, other parents wanted to know more about the suspect and specifically what school authorities are doing to control problem students.
School officials said students caught with weapons are immediately expelled. But that answer did not satisfy the crowd.
"You need to stop showing concern for your job and start showing concern for our students," said William Reed, who said his daughter witnessed the attack.
Another parent shouted, "Nothing is going to get better if the parents act irrationally. Let's just cool it." The man's comment also brought applause.
Phillip Hernandez, who was arrested about 10 minutes after the stabbing, has been held at Juvenile Hall since then. Under California law, juveniles are not entitled to bail.
Although the arraignment will be a Juvenile Court proceeding, it will be open to the public because of the seriousness of the charge, authorities said.
But since the suspect is under 16, he cannot be tried as an adult. If found guilty of murder, he could be sent to the California Youth Authority until 2001, when he turns 21.
"Anybody who is under the age of 16 has to be tried in Juvenile Court under California law," said Frank C. Woodson, director of the county's Corrections Services Agency, which operates Juvenile Hall.
Prosecutors refused to discuss the evidence that led them to file the murder charge.
They had to charge or release the suspect within 48 hours of his arrest. The murder charge was filed midafternoon Thursday, a short time before the deadline.
Deputy Dist. Atty. James D. Ellison said the evidence supports the murder charge, though he would not discuss any evidence or the motive for the stabbing.
"At this point in time we filed what we thought was appropriate," he said. "In any case where there is an ongoing investigation--and right now there is an ongoing investigation--there is always a possibility of things changing."
Hernandez family members could not be reached.
All juvenile defendants are eligible for the services of the Ventura County public defender's office, regardless of economic need.
But Duane A. Dammeyer, assistant public defender, said his office had not been asked to represent Hernandez by Thursday.