Days before he was fatally attacked at his middle school in September, 13-year-old Diego Stolz told an administrator that he was being bullied by other students.
But Landmark Middle School officials did nothing, and the boy was assaulted and killed by the same classmates at the Moreno Valley campus, according to an attorney for the victim’s family.
A legal claim against Moreno Valley Unified School District was filed last Friday by Juan and Felipe Salcedo, Diego’s aunt and uncle who raised him from the age of 1 following his mother’s death.
On Tuesday, attorney Dave Ring announced the claim, a precursor to a wrongful death lawsuit.
The claim alleges Diego and his adult cousin Jazmin sought help from Landmark’s assistant principal on Sept. 13, one day after he was targeted by bullies and “verbally and physically” harassed.
The bullies were a group of boys who had previously been friends with Diego, then – for unknown reasons – turned on him during the seventh grade, according to Ring.
Diego met with the assistant principal alone for 20 minutes. When the meeting was over, she told Jazmin the bullies would be suspended for three days, beginning Sept. 16, and that their class schedules would be changed, according to the claim.
She also told Diego he could miss school that day, a Friday, and return Monday, the document states.
“He was so relieved that he had talked to someone,” Jazmin said, trying to hold back tears as she spoke at a news conference Tuesday. “We were on our drive back home, and I turned around and I told him, ‘I’m always going to defend you. You know that, right?’ And he nodded his head, ‘I know.’”
Thinking the school was going to handle and take care of the situation, Diego enjoyed the rest of the weekend, according to Ring.
But when Diego came back to school Monday, the same boys were still there, he said.
At lunch that day, Diego was confronted, attacked and knocked down by two boys, cellphone video of the incident showed. He hit his head on a pillar when he went down.
Diego was pronounced clinically dead nine days later and removed from life support.
“That’s what’s unbelievably devastating to this family, that this could have been prevented,” Ring said. “It could have been prevented if this school took bullying seriously.”
At the news conference, Ring told reporters that he doesn’t believe school officials ever talked to the bullies after Diego reported the Sept. 12 incident, which was also brought to the assistant principal’s attention by a teacher.
“My information is that the assistant principal did absolutely nothing with that information, ever,” Ring said.
In a statement to KTLA, Moreno Valley school district spokeswoman Anahi Velasco said the district doesn’t believe it is legally liable for Diego’s death.
“The two boys who attacked and killed Diego are responsible for this death,” she wrote in an email.
Velasco also addressed allegations that the district did nothing to prevent Diego from being bullied.
“Bullying in schools is a national issue. This issue constitutes a shared responsibility amongst parents, students, school district personnel, community leaders and law enforcement,” she wrote. “Together, we need to send a resounding message these behaviors will not be tolerated in our schools. Keeping kids safe in schools is a high priority at MVUSD.”
Diego’s aunt and uncle are seeking $100 million, according to the claim. In addition to monetary damages, they also want policy changes within the school district to prevent such incidents from happening again.
In the wake of Diego’s death, other students and parents complained to KTLA of bullying being an ongoing problem at Landmark and other schools; they alleged the district has done little to stop it.
Meanwhile, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office has charged two 13-year-old boys with voluntary manslaughter and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury in connection to Diego’s death.
The DA’s office has not named the boys due to their ages.
KTLA’s Steve Bien contributed to this story.