LAS VEGAS — As students at a Las Vegas high school headed home, an emergency message came over the intercom: A defibrillator was needed near a classroom.
A nurse rushed over. A team of teachers attempted CPR. It wasn’t until the next day that social studies teacher Ruben de Silva learned what had happened – a student standing in for a friend was put on life support after being brutally beaten by 10 peers in a nearby alley.
It was a devastating episode for Rancho High School, a predominantly minority school in East Las Vegas. Some students walked out of class when they heard that Jonathan Lewis Jr., 17, would not survive the head injury and other injuries he suffered in the Nov. 1 attack, De Silva said.
A cell phone video of the attack has been widely shared on social media, causing great grief.
In the weeks that followed, a small memorial rose in a trash-strewn alley bordered by apartment buildings and a sober life. Students, faculty and staff are grappling with how a confrontation over a stolen vape pen and a pair of wireless headphones escalated.
“The trauma, quite frankly, goes beyond the young man’s family,” said psychology professor Isaac Baron, a councilman in neighboring North Las Vegas. “It’s going to run deep and there’s no magic wand to solve this.”
Police and prosecutors say nine of the 10 teenage students involved in the caning have been arrested. The four were formally charged as adults with second-degree murder on Tuesday while the other students await separate trials.
A room was set up on campus with social workers and counselors to listen to the woes of students and staff. De Silva, a graduate of Rancho, sent students there when he learned his classmate had been removed from life support.
“It’s very difficult to understand something like this, where you have a fight that turns into a brutal beating of a student by other Rancho students,” de Silva told The Associated Press. Guilty – or both.”
At a vigil in the alley Tuesday night, dozens gathered to remember Lewis, placing long-stemmed white roses where police say he was attacked. A school photo of the young man placed on the table with the candle looked back at the crowd.
As the group thinned out, Luis’ mother, Melissa Reddy, was standing near a stack of roses and crying when 16-year-old Arturo Herrera approached. Herrera, wiping away tears, said he was her son’s friend.
Reddy, who remained speechless at the vigil, pulled Herrera into a hug and the two cried into each other’s shoulders.
Herrera’s mother, Maggie Willard, said her son has missed several days of school since learning of Lewis’ death. She said he left the house for the first time in more than a week before he woke up.
“It took a lot for him to come out, but I told him he needed closure and this was a way to get it,” Willard said. “He did well. I’m proud of him because he leaves everything behind.
Information about the case was initially sparse. The school held a moment of silence during announcements the morning after the beating. Principal Darlene Delgado told a staff meeting that she could not elaborate on Lewis’ condition, but said the police department’s homicide unit was investigating, De Silva recalled.
The teachers gasped.
Detectives say Lewis walked to the alley with a friend after school, but don’t believe he was the target. Police homicide Lt. Jason Johansen said cellphone video shows Lewis taking off his shirt to prepare for a fight, then 10 students “immediately attack him, drag him to the ground, kick, punch and stomp on him.”
After the fight, Johansen said, a man who found Lewis badly beaten and passed out took him back to campus, where school staff called 911 to try to help the student.
Baron, who has taught high school for nearly 30 years, said her colleagues who tried to help “took it too hard.” He said they never left Lewis’ side after first responders arrived.
“If you’re a teacher you’re a merchant of faith,” he told the AP. “But it’s something that really hits at the core of who we are. We always hope that our students will graduate and go on to productive lives. If we didn’t think that way, I know I wouldn’t be working.
On Tuesday night, Lewis’ friends described him as a caring boy who kept to himself but spoke up when it mattered.
Students Andrew Cabrera and Luis Valenzuela said they weren’t surprised when they heard Luis stood up for a friend when he was attacked.
“That sounded like him,” Cabrera said near the memorial site in the alley, where bouquets, candles and rose petals lay around a stuffed animal with a note calling Lewis a hero.
It read, “Thank you for standing up for your beliefs.”