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Fatal stabbing at South East High prompts call for more security

Cindi Santana died Friday after being stabbed, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, at South East High School in South Gate. Parents say the campus needs increased security.

October 02, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles school police officers look at photos from surveillance cameras after the stabbing at South East High School. The school was put on lockdown for two hours after a male student allegedly stabbed his girlfriend during lunch time. The female student later died. Another student and a teacher were also stabbed when they intervened, but their injuries are not life-threatening.
Los Angeles school police officers look at photos from surveillance cameras… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Parents and students called Sunday for increased security after a fatal stabbing at South East High School, where grief counselors were on hand in the library and students were outside raising money for the victim's family.

Cindi Santana, 17, died Friday at a local hospital following a lunchtime attack by her ex-boyfriend, 18-year-old Abraham Lopez, authorities said. Lopez is being held without bail at the Men's Central Jail downtown.

Three days before the stabbing, he'd been released on $50,000 bail after being arrested on Sept. 25 for making a criminal threat against Santana. After the stabbing, authorities became worried that Lopez might have planted an explosive device in a car owned by Santana's family. That concern led to the temporary evacuation of the hospital parking structure where the victim's family had driven.

Photos: School stabbing

South East High on Sunday became a gathering place for students, family, staff and community. A memorial included more than three dozen candles, bouquets of flowers and two heart-shaped balloons tied to a fence next to the parking lot in front of the campus.

Media were gathered there, too, but kept off the campus itself, where an intermittent stream of students and family members met in the library with counselors.

"You think your kids are safe at school, but they're not," said one parent, who declined to give her name. "To me they should have more security at school. They should search bags more often. I would like to see metal detectors."

Other parents and students echoed the call for more safety measures. But they also generally defended the school's academic program.

Until Friday's incident, the school had been under scrutiny chiefly for academic achievement levels that, while improving, remained low. South East High administrators and teachers have been busy putting together reform plans that would allow them to retain control of their campus.

Two well-known charter-school organizations are competing for the school, which serves a student body that is more than 85% low income, with more than a quarter of students learning English. About one-third of students test as proficient in English, as do 7% in math — figures that reflect substantial recent gains.

Special education teacher Dave Sievers, who is working on one reform plan, said the lunchtime supervision appeared to have been more than adequate Friday and that adults and students responded quickly to the attack. "We have some heroes here," Sievers said.

One student who tried to intervene was Jorge Garcia, who also was stabbed. On Sunday, he stood in front of the school with the group trying to raise donations.

"I'm doing OK," he said, adding that he wasn't ready to discuss anything related to the incident. "I'm sad that it happened."

Dean Christina Ordonez also tried to stop the assault and suffered a stab wound that was not life threatening. "She cares about students and looks out for them," said recent graduate Oscar Tranquilino.

"The dean was always trying to stop people from doing something bad, and she always tried to turn something from negative to positive," said senior Steven Gutierrez.

Gutierrez knew Santana and Lopez. "They were always walking around school, a happy couple. It didn't seem like there was nothing wrong," he said.

Students remembered the two as friendly and not known for getting in trouble. But some said Lopez seemed jealous and possessive.

"This is a heart-breaking situation for the school and the family," said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who stopped by South East High on Sunday.

Deasy said the South Gate complex, which also includes a middle school, is patrolled by two to four school police officers and numerous security aides. As at other schools, there are random searches of lockers and backpacks, with some students checked with electronic wands.

Deasy also was dealing with the aftermath of the death of Angela Gettis, a sophomore at Washington Prep High School. She collapsed on the field at a high school football game Friday night at Fremont High School in South Los Angeles.

"We are working with both schools' students and staff," Deasy said. He added that counselors would be available throughout the week.

Photos: School stabbing

howard.blume@latimes.com

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