Authorities say the 18-year-old student accused of stabbing a classmate to death and seriously injuring another during history class told police he bought the knife online for protection and had been harassed since the school year started.
The boys Abel Cedeno is accused of attacking at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife hadn't bothered him before he bought the knife, until Wednesday morning's third-period history class, when they started tossing broken bits of pencils and paper at his head, authorities said.
A student in the class, Frankie Santiago, told News 4 that 15-year-old Matthew McCree had been trying to throw a crumpled piece of paper into the trash can when it hit Cedeno, angering him.
Cedeno snapped, students said. He excused himself to go to the bathroom, and when he came back, he pulled out a switchblade and started fighting and slashing at them, police said. McCree was killed and 16-year-old Ariane Laboy was seriously wounded.
Santiago said of McCree: "My friend got up, went to him -- Abel had taken out his switchblade -- and I tried to stop my friend from going to him, and he stabbed him. No hesitation."
He added, "You can't accuse someone of bullying when there is no evidence to support it."
McCree was stabbed just once, but it was a deep wound, said Santiago.
"Everybody just stood back. A few of them were holding Matthew. A few of them were holding towels on the wound," witness Jomarlyn Colon, 16, told the Daily News. "All the kids were crying and screaming."
While school safety agents raced to the room and the teachers and students tried to stop the bleeding, a counselor confronted Cedeno in the hallway and he handed over the blade, police said.
Cedeno was charged Thursday with murder and weapon possession. The Legal Aid Society, which was representing him, said its lawyers were talking with Cedeno and his family, "reviewing the facts and circumstances of this case including the long history of bullying and intimidation Abel has endured."
Cedeno told police that he bought the switchblade online for protection and had been harassed at least since the school year began. But he didn't specify why, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said Thursday.
Cedeno appeared before a judge for the first time Thursday. His family dodged news cameras in court, but a close family friend, Savannah Hornback, spoke on their behalf.
"He was constantly tortured at school, and I guess he felt no other way out than to resort to the means that he did," said Hornback.
"We send our condolences," she added. "The family is very sorry that it had to come to this."
Hornback said Cedeno has been bullied at at least three separate schools.
"He came home crying, I know that he has also sought professional help outside of school in regards to the matter," said Hornback. "The school was made aware, but there was no reaction from the school, so I guess he took matters into his own hands, unfortunately."
NYPD officials said Cedeno never mentioned that when he was questioned by detectives.
"Not so far as we know, he did not reach out to anybody at the school," said Chief of Detectives Bob Boyce. "If it did, he did not tell us."
Cedeno is set to return to court October 3.
Yanique Heatley, 18, a student at the school, told reporters that Cedeno was "different from the other guys."
"He likes Nicki Minaj, stuff from H&M. He likes Kylie Jenner," she said.
"He usually gets bullied a lot," said Asia Jones, 18. She said fellow students bothered Cedeno in the hall and "talk crap to him."
"He's nice," she said. "He's sensitive. He has a good heart."
On his Instagram page, Cedeno posted pictures and videos of himself vamping with flowers in his hair, strutting down a street and singing along with female rappers.
"I thought I was cute," he posted in the caption of one video.
Police said Cedeno had not gone to school officials before with any complaints of harassment. The teen's mother was stuck in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, and it wasn't clear if she even knew her son had been arrested. He was being held without bail.
"He's a good kid," Norma Perez, 69, a family friend, told the Daily News. "I just know he's not like that."
New York City schools have had anti-bullying campaigns in place for years, and school officials say instances of bullying or harassment are dealt with firmly.
It was the first homicide inside a New York City school since 1993, when a 15-year-old student stabbed a classmate to death at a junior high school in Manhattan. That killing came during a stretch that saw four students killed in public schools in 12 months - violence that prompted schools to start installing metal detectors. Cedeno's school was not one of them; police said there hadn't been a need for them.
City officials and parents have debated for years whether the school system should be installing more metal detectors or taking them away because of the stigma of attending a school deemed unsafe enough to require a weapons check.
"After yesterday's incident, of course we're going to evaluate what goes on throughout the school system," Police Commissioner James O'Neill said Thursday. "Our goal, of course, is to keep the children as safe as possible."
Deadly violence inside city school buildings is rare, though there has been violence outside, on school property. In 2014, a fight between two 14-year-old boys ended with one stabbed to death outside a different Bronx school.
"It's unacceptable to ever lose a child to violence in a school building," Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday.
He, along with Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, went to the Urban Assembly school Thursday morning to greet and reassure students as they were dropped off. Additional security and screening measures were also implemented, and extra grief and guidance counselors were on hand.
There are 1,100 students who attend the schools in the building; P.S. 67, which has grades pre-K through five, is on the second floor.
Last year, police responded to 14 separate incidents at Urban Assembly High School. Four of them resulted in arrests, two for assault.