HARTFORD, Conn. » A 16-year-old girl was stabbed to death inside a Connecticut high school Friday, and police were investigating whether a boy attacked her after she turned down an invitation to be his prom date.
Maren Sanchez was stabbed in a hallway of Jonathan Law High School in Milford, about an hour’s drive from New York City, around 7:15 a.m. Staff members and paramedics performed life-saving measures on the girl, but she was pronounced dead at a hospital, police said.
The 16-year-old boy was charged with murder as a juvenile offender. Police said the suspect, whose name was not released, was being held Friday afternoon in police custody at a medical facility and could be charged later as an adult.
Imani Langston, who describes herself as one of Sanchez’s best friends, said students were gathered in an auditorium when a teacher came and told them Sanchez had been stabbed.
"She basically just explained to us that Maren Sanchez got stabbed in the throat for saying no about going to prom" with the suspect, she said.
Langston said she saw the suspect taken out of the school in handcuffs. She said Sanchez and the boy were friends but had never dated. She said Sanchez had helped to organize the junior prom and was looking forward to attending with her boyfriend. The dance was scheduled for Friday night but was postponed because of the stabbing.
In class on Thursday, Sanchez "told me about her prom dress, she told me how she got asked to prom," Langston said. "We were just laughing, talking about what we were going to do when we got there, how many pictures we were going to take."
Sanchez, a junior, was in the National Honor Society and engaged in school activities, schools Superintendent Elizabeth Feser said. Students were released from school early, and officials were offering counseling services.
"We are obviously devastated by the loss of one of our students, Maren Sanchez," Feser said at a news conference. "She was a 16-year-old junior — vibrant, very, very involved in Jonathan Law High School, an incredible contributor, someone who was loved and respected."
A cousin of Sanchez, Edward Kovac, said the family is shocked and devastated. He described her as a "bright light full of hopes and dreams" as he read from a family statement and said more needs to be done to ensure young people are protected from attacks at school.
Students described an emotional, somewhat chaotic scene as police and paramedics swarmed the school.
Sarah Golden, a 14-year-old freshman, said she was sitting in the main lobby with friends when she was startled by several security guards running down the hall. Then she heard a voice on a walkie-talkie say that someone had been strangled.
"I was trying not to freak out because it was really scary," Sarah said. "I just don’t believe that something like that happened at my school. It’s something that seems so unreal."
Golden’s 17-year-old sister, Rebecca, a senior at the school, said she saw the victim lying on the floor surrounded by teachers, some of whom were crying. She said she didn’t know what was going on at the time, and teachers directed her away from the victim.
Police Chief Keith Mello said investigators were looking into the reports involving the prom rejection.
"This is something that everybody wants to get to the bottom of and find out why it happened, how it happened and what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again," he said.
Mello said town schools are very safe, despite not having metal detectors. He said police will review surveillance camera footage for evidence.
Milford police said late Friday that they recovered a knife from the crime scene and executed at a search warrant at the suspect’s home. An arraignment is scheduled for Monday in New Haven.
Janet Golden, Sarah and Rebecca’s mother and a Milford alderman, said she rushed to the school to get her daughters. She said the stabbing most likely will result in more community discussions about school security, like those that were spurred by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December 2012.
"How can we create an environment that’s safe for our children?" Janet Golden asked. "My daughter actually saw the victim lying on the floor, so I’m dealing with kids that are pretty traumatized now. I can’t believe this is happening in our town. It’s frightening."