Fourteen-year-old Noel Estevez is accused of fatally stabbing Timothy Crump, also 14, outside of their middle school in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx. Estevez was initially charged with murder and was to be tried as an adult, but on July 1, a grand jury voted to indict the teen for a lesser charge, second-degree manslaughter, and move the case to family court.
But none of the legal machinations, so far, have helped to clarify just what motivated the deadly incident outside the middle school that day. Police say Crump, also 14, attacked Estevez, who took out a kitchen knife and stabbed him. Crump was taken to Bronx Lebanon Hospital in critical condition and died soon after.
Bullying came up almost immediately as a possible motivation for the crime: Estevez’s mother, Maria, tearfully told the Daily News in an interview from jail on an unrelated drug arrest that her son was tormented for months by Crump, a former friend, and other boys, and that the school, I.S. 117, did nothing to stop it. Other family members told the paper the abuse included tossing Estevez down a flight of stairs, urinating on the family’s front door, and hurling homophobic slurs at the teen. The two boys reportedly had a falling out over a stolen cell phone; it’s not clear who stole it from whom.
None of that, though, appears to have caught the attention of school staff. According to a new report released today by the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District (SCI), almost two dozen staff members who work at I.S. 117 said they never heard any complaints of bullying from either Estevez or his family. The few staff members who did remember complaints from Estevez about being bullied didn’t know that Crump was allegedly responsible.
At least one staff member described Estevez to SCI investigators as being “quiet and quirky,” with a noticeable speech impediment. The report makes it clear that while both Estevez and Crump were on the school’s radar for their frequent absences, no one was aware that the two had any issues with one another.
SCI investigators write in the report — which we’ve posted in full on the following page — that IS 117 Principal Delise Jones told them she was never made aware of any allegations of bullying. She did tell them, though, that Crump was suspended for more than three months, from January 2 to April 23, and “rarely came to school thereafter.” (A separate Daily News article reported that the suspension was for punching out another student’s teeth.)
Estevez, meanwhile, had also been absent, because he was in an in-patient psychiatric center. A family friend told the New York Times that he had tried to commit suicide in May and had subsequently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. According to the report, Estevez returned to school on June 17, one day before the stabbing. He and his father met with a guidance counselor and a “family assistant” and provided documents from the psychiatric center clearing him to return to school.
Jones told the SCI investigators that neither Estevez nor his family asked for the boy to be transferred, for his own safety, to a different school. The report indicates that a translator was needed for his father; it’s not clear whether Estevez or his dad were aware that a safety transfer was an option.
One of the school’s family assistants, Parbatty Singh, made two troubling reports about Estevez’s out-of-school situation. She entered them into an online student information portal called Automate the Schools (ATS). On April 30, for example, Estevez didn’t show up to school. Singh went to his home, where she reported that he answered the door in his underwear. When asked why he wasn’t in school he said his stomach was hurting. On April 30, Singh received a phone call from Estevez’s Aunt Maria, who told her Estevez had told his mother “he was being harassed in the school by some students.” The report adds that Estevez’s mother went to the local police precinct and filed a report.
Singh told one of the school’s guidance counselors about Estevez’s bullying complaints, but didn’t inform the principal. A separate guidance counselor told investigators she’d met with a child protective specialist from the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), who had also had contact with the family. The specialist told the guidance counselor that, according to Estevez’s mother, “an older Hispanic kid from the neighborhood” was bothering Estevez. But his mother was unable to name the teenager doing the bullying; her best guess was that his name was “Demetri.”
The CPS worker said she’d asked the guidance counselor if Estevez could be given home instruction. The guidance counselor told her no; according to the report, the reason was that “Noel was physically able to attend school; he simply did not do so.”
Meanwhile, another school social worker said she’d worked with both boys. Crump had “social isolation issues,” she said, and spoke a few times about getting into fights outside of school. Estevez never mentioned Crump to her, and never reported being bullied or harassed, she said. Yet a second school social worker, concerned about Estevez’s absences, fielded a phone call from Estevez’s aunt. She told him that she’d spoken with the teenager’s mother, who said he was absent because he was “being bullied and is very upset.” The social worker told the aunt to have Estevez’s mother come to the school the following day. She didn’t show up.
SCI says they’ve been unable to establish that any bullying or harassment of Estevez by Crump took place at the school. But, they add, “That is not to say that no bullying took place elsewhere.”
The report makes it painfully clear that a slew of case workers, counselors, and school safety agents at the school interacted with both Estevez and Crump, and that the Estevez family had some contact with city social workers as well as police. But somehow, the tensions between the two boys never caught the attention of all the right people at the right time. Estevez brought a kitchen knife to school that June morning. Soon after classes let out, Crump was dead. Estevez is being held at Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, three miles or so from his old school.
The full SCI report is on the following page.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 16, 2014