Family of girl stabbed by classmate files suit

·4 min read

Sep. 23—ROCKPORT — The parents of a girl who was stabbed by a classmate in a corridor at Rockport Middle School in 2020 have filed a lawsuit against the school district, the boy who stabbed her and his parents, and their insurance company.

The complaint, filed Wednesday in Salem Superior Court, alleges that Rockport school officials were grossly negligent in failing to address the boy's "propensity for violence," citing prior assaultive behavior against other students, including a stabbing when he was in the third grade. It also includes counts for assault and battery against the boy, negligence against the boy and his parents, and for judgment against the parents' insurance company.

It seeks at least $50,000 in damages, the threshold for a case to be entered in Superior Court in Massachusetts.

The school district, the suit says, had a duty to protect the girl from a "foreseeable harm" but failed to take any actions, including moving the boy to another educational setting that could deal with his issues or suspending or expelling him. The suit also says the school and its administrators had a duty to warn the parents of other students.

The suit also seeks damages through the boy's parents' homeowners insurance.

Named in the suit are Principal Todd Simendinger and then-Superintendent Robert Liebow, and the parents of the boy, who was prosecuted as a juvenile because he was 13 at the time, as well as Narragansett Bay Insurance Co.

The incident occurred on the morning of Jan. 6, 2020, while the girl was standing in front of a friend's locker.

The boy, identified in court filings as "John Doe," stabbed her in the back with a kitchen knife, pushed her into the locker and then drove the knife further into her body, according to the lawsuit.

"He was heard stating that he made a 'rage kill' before leaving the scene of the incident," states the complaint, filed by attorney Joseph Orlando Jr..

The girl's parents later learned, that before the stabbing, the boy had posted a photo of the knife he planned to use and wrote "I have no respect for human life. She will die without knowing why," on Discord, a social media app.

Two years earlier, the boy had told the victim that he "did not want to live anymore," the complaint says. The girl's mother reported the statement to school officials.

Around the same time, the boy physically assaulted another girl. That child's parents reported the incident to the principal.

After the stabbing, the girl's parents learned that the boy had stabbed a student with scissors in the third grade.

The boy's case was adjudicated in Salem Juvenile Court, where proceedings are closed to the public.

As a result of the attack, the girl has suffered both physical and emotional injuries, missed time at school, and is left with permanent scarring and other injuries.

Orlando said in the complaint that his office served a notice of the planned lawsuit last December but received no response.

The insurance company for the boy's parents responded to a similar letter in which it denied any liability or coverage for the incident.

Typically, insurance policies do not cover intentional acts by a policyholder or anyone under that policy. But in this case, Orlando believes that he can show that the boy's acts were the result of mental illness and that therefore he could not form the intent.

At the same time, the complaint notes that the boy admitted in court to the incident, and seeks damages for assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"That is a very complicated legal question to answer and much of this lawsuit will center around that issue," Orlando said in response to a question about the argument. "That is certainly one of our arguments, but not at the exclusion of the others, so the complaint should be viewed in its totality."

A message left with Rockport's current superintendent of schools, Mark Branco, was not returned by Thursday's Gloucester Daily Times deadline.

Efforts to reach one of the boy's parents, as well as the insurance company, were unsuccessful as of Thursday afternoon.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis