Community mourns Northeast Middle stabbing victim

By Abby Hoover

Manuel Guzman, 14, was described as helpful and upbeat, a welcoming presence with an infectious smile.

Guzman died Tuesday from injuries sustained when he was stabbed by another student in a bathroom at Northeast Middle School.

Tuesday morning just after 9 a.m., officers were called to Northeast Middle School in regard to a cutting call. Upon arrival, officers located Guzman suffering from apparent stab wounds inside a bathroom. Officers immediately began performing life saving measures, along with security inside the school. Guzman was transported to Children’s Mercy Hospital in life threatening condition after being stabbed multiple times, where he later died.

A subject of interest, a male student, was taken into custody and charged with First Degree Murder, Armed Criminal Action, and Unlawful Use of Weapons through the Jackson County Juvenile Court. Police have not shared a motive at this time.

The school was placed on lockdown, and the area immediately surrounding the school was shut down by KCPD traffic crews. Students were dismissed early and reunited with their families following the incident.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell informed Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) families Tuesday evening of the student’s death. He noted that staff worked quickly following the incident to ensure the safety and security of all students.

KCPS has counselors and clinicians in schools every day working with students on numerous support systems, positive behavior interventions and conflict resolution when needed.

“We continue to provide additional training, resources and support for our security officers, all through a trauma-informed lens,” Bedell wrote. “Today, that training helped our NEMS security officers work alongside our school staff to provide life-saving first-aid until paramedics could arrive.”

When the Northeast News spoke with Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell on Friday, he struggled to find the words for how he felt as both an administrator and a parent.

“I’m just taking everything one hour at a time, just processing, trying to understand all of this right now,” Bedell said. “I mean, that’s really it. I’m not the kind of superintendent – I’m not trying to be a superhero, and I’m not going to tell people I’m doing well when I’m not doing well. That’s just the flat honest truth.”

Bedell wants to assure guardians and students that the district will continue to always operate with safety first and foremost.

“I think our building administrators across this school district, faculty and staff, our teams, are in full position to do the job that they have been hired to do,” Bedell said. “I think the district will continue to operate with safety first and that’s always been our position.”

Bedell called the incident very unfortunate and devastating, and said the district is working with the Kansas City Police Department and KCPS security on the investigation.

“Look at our processes and procedures, and that’s the assurance that we can give to the community is KCPS is going to be diligent in doing that and assure safety,” Bedell said. “We know that there are two [security officers] assigned here. We have one that’s an SRO from KCPD and here we have an internal security officer. We do have the metal detectors and all of those things in place at our schools.”

KCPS high schools all have KCPS Security, plus KCPD School Resource Officers (SRO).  Those SROs are pushed into the middle schools as needed.

“We will continue to make sure that we have patrol and some of those additional supports over at the school as we continue to move through the healing process,” Bedell said.

The district has reached out to the family. Staff at the middle school have close connections to the family and were in constant communication last week.

Bedell said when incidents arise between students, teachers and staff are prepared to step in.

“We are working to make sure that all of our schools are 100% trauma informed schools, restorative justice schools, and the Northeast Middle School was one of those schools that was well out in front,” Bedell said. “The work we were doing with the Center for Conflict Resolution was moving along very well at Northeast Middle, and then the pandemic hit and that kind of slowed us up a little bit, but we have always had a commitment to all of our schools becoming trauma informed schools, and we have the resources to do so. So it’s just you know, we’re working through the training across the system.”

While staff, mentors and counselors are trained to prevent escalation, they can’t have eyes everywhere – especially with the widespread use of social media.

“We’re not scouring the social media world and trying to look for every little thing that’s on there, but one of the things we said to kids in the assembly yesterday, ‘If you all know that there’s something that’s bound to happen, I think everybody has a responsibility from a safety standpoint to let us know, to let authority know,’” Bedell said. “We don’t want to have these kinds of tragedies because we knew about it and we didn’t say anything. I think that students can also do a lot to help us because we don’t catch everything on social media. We just don’t.”

In Thursday’s assembly, Bedell focused on coming together as a family, and letting students know that everyone grieves differently and they’ll have the space to do that, with counseling services available.

“We didn’t want this to be something that divides us,” Bedell said. “We have to come together and utilize this to bring – just to come together as a community and to advocate that we all do our part to ensure that safety is the preeminent focus that we all have to have. We told the kids that we love them, and we just want to try to operate through compassion and love. We just have to get to a place where we can operate like that.”

Bedell said he hasn’t seen a rise in violence or conflict at Northeast Middle School this year.

“The events of April 12, 2022, at Northeast Middle School (NEMS) are tragic in so many ways and are having an effect on the NEMS students and staff as well as those in other schools, central office, and indeed your school board,” a letter from the KCPS board reads. “We want our KCPS family, especially the families directly involved with the loss of our eighth grade student, to understand that we know you’re hurting right now… Our students are smart, thoughtful and have their entire lives in front of them. The best thing we can do right now is to model for them how to handle this tragedy and the associated trauma with care, compassion, and in the best interest of our community.”

Former KCPD Social Worker Trena Miller met Manny in 2018 when she was working in East Patrol.

“Officer [Greg] Smith and I had actually gone over to his street for another family and Manny was out on his patio deck part of his house and he’s like, ‘Hey, can I help you?’” Miller recalled.

The family Miller was helping was from Uganda, and their boys were very good friends and neighbors with Manny.

Miller invested a lot of her personal time outside of work with the boys on that block, and Manny was always out there.

“I would go over after work and we would play basketball and one of my favorite things about Manny is when I first started playing basketball, I would hit the rim and he would put his hands on his hips and kind of look at me and go, ‘Whoa, that’s pretty good for a girl!’” Miller said. “Then the more I got to practice with the boys after work, I started making hoops. I would make a hoop and then I would look at Manny and I’d be like, ‘How’s that for a girl?’”

Miller said he always had a smile on his face, and knew no stranger.

“His smile was infectious,” Miller said. “If any of the kids in the neighborhood came over, he was always talking to them, inviting them around to play. He just never singled anybody out. He was very much a hugger. He loved to help people come up and, you know, hug him and he always asked a lot of questions to the police officers: what do you guys do? and what do you think about this? He was always inquisitive.”

Manny and his neighbors joined Miller and her husband for a Sporting KC soccer game a few years ago, as a treat.

“He absolutely loved that, and then his mom would invite us to come out to these personal soccer games and watch Manny play and we would go out and support Manny just on his own personal team,” Miller said. 

They spent many holidays together, Miller making sure everyone had dinners and gifts.

“He is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful kid,” Miller said. “Just watching him grow up over the time that I’ve known him for the last four years has just been… it’s been a blessing.”

He was an only child being raised by a single mother.

“I’ve been working in the mental health field for 24 plus years now, and she has got to take the cake on the Mother of the Year,” Miller said of Manny’s mom. “Her focus was always on Manny. Everything she did, she did it with Manny at the forefront. She would work two jobs to try to support herself with Manny. She moved just so Manny could have his own bedroom and his own space. Everything she did was for Manny. Those two were thick as thieves, I mean, he loved, loved, loved his mom.”

They were all each other could ever talk about, and Miller would often find them sitting next to each other, his arm thrown around her or his around him.

“They were very close, but I tell you, I’ve been in touch with countless families through the history of what I’ve done for work, and I’ve never seen a mom like her ever,” Miller said. “I’ve talked to her every day. I just cannot tell you how wonderful she is as a mom, and this is going to hit her hard – it has hit her hard – I mean, that’s her life, her whole world revolves around Manny. What does she do now? How does she even start over?”

Manny was always upbeat, he never met a stranger, he was a hugger, and because he was such a welcoming presence, people were drawn to him, Miller recalls.

The last time Miller saw Manny was in November. Although she’s left her position at the police department, they’ve kept in touch.

In her position with the police department, Miller has toured middle schools and talked with principals at times. She responded to Northeast Middle School at the request of administration a few times to address a children’s need. Often, if a student or their parents had a concern with working with the police department, she would accompany officers to help with those situations.

“Just a great kid. I just can’t – I mean, he was just one of a kind and he just didn’t fit the normal mold for a 14-year-old boy,” Miller said. “I mean, he was just different. Just loving and caring.”

A GoFundMe has been set up to take some of the financial burden off of the family.

“Manuel Guzman’s life was cut short tragically,” Juan Guzman, a family member, said on the GoFundMe page. “The family is absolutely devastated by his tragic passing and is struggling to find the funds to cover the funeral expenses… We are staying strong and will continue to fight for justice, not only for Manny, but for all children just like him. We hope to take a stand in making changes to prevent this from ever happening to another parent or guardian, ever again.”

Link to Manuel’s GoFundMe: www.gofundme.com/f/memorial-gift-for-manuel-guzman

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