A 17-year-old student entered a West Baltimore high school science classroom and turned it into a bloody crime scene Tuesday, police said, stabbing a schoolmate multiple times in front of their peers.
The stabbing, which police said left the victim "fighting for his life," took place at the Renaissance Academy at 1301 McCulloh St.
The victim, a junior at the school, was in critical condition Tuesday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, according to T.J. Smith, the Police Department's chief spokesman. The boy was not identified, and officials at Shock Trauma directed all questions to police.
The suspect, a sophomore at the school who also was not identified, fled the scene but was taken into custody near his home in the 800 block of Vine St., Smith said.
The school has had a tumultuous month. Last week, a student involved in an altercation was found to have a loaded handgun. On Nov. 10, the school won a reprieve from a district plan to close its doors at the end of the year — a decision schools CEO Gregory Thornton said he is now reconsidering.
Police responded to Renaissance about noon, shortly after the victim was stabbed in a third-floor classroom, Smith said.
No other students in the classroom were injured, he said. Those in the classroom when the stabbing occurred are "considered witnesses in this criminal investigation."
The case was handed over to the Baltimore Police Department because of the severity of the student's injuries, Smith said. City school police asked the department to step in.
It was not immediately clear what led to the stabbing, Smith said, and no weapon had been found.
"More important … is the health of the victim at this time," Smith said.
Renaissance Academy is one of several city schools that saw its permanent school police officer reassigned this year amid a debate about whether officers should be allowed to carry their weapons in school buildings.
School police officers, who had been in individual schools for decades, were redeployed to cover several campuses in assigned areas of the city. The city school police officer assigned to Renaissance now rotates through three other schools in the area, school officials said.
Officials said Renaissance has metal detectors, and investigators are trying to determine how the student got the knife into the school.
Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of the city school police union, said the incident was a painful reminder of the purpose school police serve.
"Our officers are praying for a speedy recovery of the student," Boatwright said. "But we're renewing our position that our officer needs to be in our schools with all assigned equipment to stop a threat."
Thornton said such incidents of violence have a "traumatic impact on children," and counseling will be provided to help the school's students process the incident.
Classes at Renaissance Academy and Booker T. Washington Middle School, which shares the building, were suspended for Wednesday, school officials said.
Officials said members of the Booker T. Washington school community are invited to Union Baptist Church and members of the Renaissance Academy community are invited to Douglas Memorial Church on Wednesday, where counselors and staff will be available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"For trauma to occur right in the place where they thought they were safe, there's a lot of work and healing and crisis intervention we have to do as a community," said the Rev. Alvin Hathaway Sr. of Union Baptist Church, who said he found "a staff and students in shock and horror over what happened" when he got there Tuesday.
Hathaway also met with Thornton about the need for school officials and community leaders to figure out how to "reduce tensions that are boiling in the community, so they don't spill over into the schools."
Sylvester Palmer, who moved across the street from Renaissance last week, said it took him days to realize that it was a school. The drab brick building, he said, "looks like a prison."
Palmer sat on his porch Tuesday and watched as staff called for an ambulance, he said. He said he watched as they brought the teen out on a stretcher.
"It's just crazy," Palmer said. "Things happen — but they're just kids."
Palmer said he saw city police try to calm students down as some started crying outside the school after dismissal.
As a result of recent incidents, Thornton said, he may revisit a decision he made this month to keep the school open. He had proposed to close the school at the end of the academic year but reversed that decision amid an outcry from community leaders and school partners, who vowed to help it improve.
Renaissance is the only high school in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood. Two-thirds of the student body is male, and many of the youths have had brushes with the law, struggle with homelessness and come from violent neighborhoods.
"We saw a lot of promise," Thornton said Tuesday, standing outside the school. "At this point in time, I think I need to go back and do a lot of rethinking. I'm not giving up on the school by a long shot. There are too many great kids here, and we're going to figure it out."
One of the school's major supporters is the University of Maryland School of Social Work, which joined in protesting its planned closure. The university secured $720,000 in federal funding to help turn the school around, part of its Promise Heights revitalization initiative for that neighborhood.
Hallie Atwater, who serves as community schools coordinator for Renaissance Academy, said events like Tuesday's stabbing "are devastating to us because we work so hard to combat the external forces to create a safe space for students to learn and grow.
"In times like this, I think about how many systems and people have failed them before they ever walk through the school's doors," Atwater said.
Renaissance was highlighted nationally and locally for rallying around its student body amid the April unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray.
Gray, 25, was arrested in West Baltimore — a little over a mile from the school — on April 12 and subsequently suffered a severe spinal cord injury in the back of a police transport van. His death a week later sparked citywide protests against police brutality, and his funeral April 27 was followed by a period of rioting, looting and arson.
City Councilman Eric T. Costello, who represents the district where Renaissance is located, called Thornton's suggestion that he would reconsider his decision to keep the school open "premature and reactive."
"What they should be focusing on is giving Renaissance the resources that they need to provide a safe environment for these kids," Costello said. "There are people that are invested in the school and the success of those kids. There are a lot of people invested in that."
The last time a student was killed at a city school was in November 2008, when 15-year-old Markel Williams was found stabbed to death at William H. Lemmel Middle School. A fellow student was convicted and sentenced to 50 years, with all but 20 years suspended.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.