Grief counselors are on hand this morning at Coral Gables Senior High School as students deal with the violent stabbing death there of a 17-year-old boy.
Students could be seen walking into school wearing black shirts to show their grief. A bouquet of flowers was placed on the site where Juan Carlos Rivera was stabbed Tuesday. A classmate has been charged with second-degree murder.
It started Tuesday morning, with students spilling into the hallways and courtyard of the school. Rivera found himself outside the gym at about 9 a.m., locked in a shoving match with another student.
Tussling over the reported affection of a girl, Juan Carlos and the other boy pushed each other in what seemed like a typical schoolyard fight that would be settled with fists.
Instead, witnesses said the boy, identified as Andy Rodriguez, pulled a switch blade from his shirt pocket on Juan Carlos and stabbed him three times — once in the chest, once in the collarbone and once near the stomach.
As Juan Carlos lay dying on the ground, the boy dashed away. He was caught almost immediately by Coral Gables police.
Within minutes, the school was in lockdown, with top school district officials, police and panicked parents descending on its campus, all trying to comprehend the death of one student at the hands of another.
"This will be a very lengthy and detailed investigation," said Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, a Miami-Dade police spokesman.
Rodriguez, 17, was interrogated by detectives and was charged late Tuesday with second-degree murder, police said.
"Obviously something went very wrong here today. We'll have many conversations about what we'll learn from this very terrible tragedy," said Miami-Dade School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho at an afternoon news conference at the school at 450 Bird Road.
At Juan Carlos' home in Miami, Laura Peinado, 20, the dead teen's cousin, told reporters that Juan Carlos had moved to Miami from Cuba only about five months ago and was happy to be in high school, and determined to graduate.
"He didn't talk about any problems," she said.
Juan Carlos lived in a two-story Miami apartment with his grandmother and uncle, said Peinado, who said the boy's mother still lives in Cuba and that his father lives in Spain.
She said she saw the news of the killing and started calling him. She couldn't reach him and rushed to the school.
"We waited until 2:30 for the dismissal and he never came out," she said.
The family still wasn't sure Tuesday afternoon how to tell the teen's mother in Cuba.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's office is helping to arrange a humanitarian visa for the mother.
Said Peinado: "I want justice from whoever killed my cousin."
Classmate Yani Acosta, 16, had a P.E. class with Juan Carlos.
"He always had a smile on his face," she said crying. "He was really happy. He was a funny kid."
Witnesses told The Miami Herald that the surreal crime scene turned chaotic in the aftermath of the slaying.
"It was like watching a movie." said Felix Cedeño, a sophomore who saw the fight on his way to the restroom. "It just keeps on replaying in my mind. He died right there."
Cedeño said he rushed to the stabbing victim's aid only to find the teen unable to speak.
"He was gasping for air. He was clutching his chest, bleeding everywhere," he said.
"As I got to him, his eyes were open, teary-eyed," said Alex Lorig, 16, who still had the victim's blood on his school uniform slacks Tuesday afternoon.
"There was a lot of fright, you heard screams," said Luis Salas, a 16-year-old senior.
"Everyone was panicking, some were crying," he said. "They were just in shock."
The school was immediately placed in lockdown as detectives began interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence to piece together what exactly led to the stabbing. School officials brought water and lunches to the children in their classrooms.
Meanwhile, the parents of students began arriving soon after receiving telephone calls and text messages from their children.
Local television stations broadcast live coverage and news helicopters captured photos of Juan Carlos' body, covered in a white sheet, lying in the courtyard. Cameras also showed the suspect, dressed in his red school uniform shirt and khaki shorts, being led in handcuffs into Miami-Dade police headquarters.
By noon, hundreds of parents had gathered outside of the football field, waiting for their children to be released from school. Teachers and other school administrators answered questions and handed out cups of water. One mother clutched the green fencing, sobbing. Many held their cellphones in their hands or up to their ears.
Dozens of parents demanded that school administrators release their children. "Queremos nuestros hijos," they chanted. "We want our children."
"I'm in a state of absolute shock that something like this would happen," said Sharon Watson, vice president of fundraising and former president of the school's PTSA, who has a daughter at the school. "It's a safe school; it's in a good area. The administration is on top of things.
"There's not a single day I haven't been comfortable sending my child to school."
Students were ordered to stay in classrooms for several hours while the school remained on lockdown for most of the morning and afternoon.
Junior Marlene Vazquez was in chemistry class when the principal declared a code red. Her teacher shut and locked the classroom door, Marlene said.
Marlene and her classmates began sending frantic text messages to their parents and siblings.
"It's really scary," Marlene said from inside the classroom. "Everybody wants to go home with their parents. It's really intense."
Students were released to their parents throughout the afternoon.
School district officials said they would hold classes on Wednesday.
"Despite the tragedy today, we expect that tomorrow will be a regular school day," said Carvalho, who said Tuesday was "the most difficult day any of us educators can live through."
A group of students started a Facebook page asking classmates to wear black Wednesday in Juan Carlos' memory.
Said Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick: "This is a tragedy for everyone. For the student whose life has come to an end. For the student's family. For the student who has done irreparable damage to his own life."