LINCOLN — The 16-year-old girl wanted in the attack of a fellow student at Lincoln Pius X High School was arrested unharmed Tuesday morning south of Topeka, Kan.
Authorities in Woodson County, Kan., were responding to a call of someone with car trouble when they arrested Sarah Piccolo, a junior at Lincoln Pius X High School, said Officer Katie Flood. Piccolo was alone.
She was being detained at a juvenile facility in Kansas until authorities can arrange her return to Lincoln, Flood said. Piccolo was charged in adult court Tuesday with first-degree assault and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. The charges stem from an attack of a 17-year-old female student at Pius on Monday,
The arrest ended a tense wait for authorities and school officials who grew concerned after Piccolo did not contact family or friends in the hours since the incident. Authorities alleged she used an 8-inch survival knife and a hammer to carry out Monday's 9:45 a.m. assault before fleeing the school.
Piccolo had not been interviewed by investigators about the assault as of Tuesday morning, Flood said.
Meanwhile, Pius senior Ellen Kopetzky was released from the hospital after being treated for cuts to the face and hands and two blows to the head.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, her family expressed gratitude for the kindness shown in the wake of the attack.
The family also said they "are rejoicing that Sarah Piccolo has been found, and that she is safe. We are continuing our prayers for her and her family. We hope that she will be treated with respect, with charity, and with dignity.
"We pray especially that the Piccolo family will be supported by this community as we have been."
Kopetzky has told investigators that she walked into the bathroom following a visit to the guidance counselor's office and was immediately attacked. Kopetzky said the suspect had a knife and what she thought was a stick, which turned out to be a hammer, according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed Tuesday by police in Lancaster County Court.
“The victim said her attacker was swinging wildly at her with the knife and stick and did not say a word to her,” officer Joseph Yindrick wrote in the affidavit. “The victim screamed for help and a staff member came into the restroom and got her out to safety.”
After the attack, the suspect exited doors on the west side of the school and ran to the east side where she got into a car and drove away.
Kopetzky told the officer she didn't know her assailant's name, but recognized her as a junior at the school. She said she had no idea why she was targeted.
Investigators remained in the dark about a motive, saying rumors that Piccolo had developed a “hit list” of students have not been substantiated. They have found no personal connections between Piccolo and the victim.
“Her actions yesterday, based on descriptions from family and friends, were completely out of character for her,” Flood said Tuesday.
In a statement released late Monday, the Kopetzky family asked that Piccolo be treated with “respect and mercy.”
“We ask that you join us in prayer for Sarah Piccolo and her family,” the statement said.
After police announced that Piccolo had been found safe, Pius X Principal Tom Korta sent a message alerting parents.
He asked for continued prayers for Piccolo and Kopetzky and their families and urged continued respect for their privacy. Part of that, he said, includes refraining from speculation about motives and spreading rumors about the situation. He asked that parents share that message with their children.
“We give thanks to God for the safety of all who were involved in this incident, and pray for his continued peace and comfort as all who were impacted by this event continue to heal,” he wrote.
Piccolo was found in the same 1992 Buick Park Avenue she was seen driving as she left the school.
The car belongs to Piccolo's boyfriend, who was questioned early on by investigators. He told them he was shocked by the incident and he cooperated with police, Flood said.
Neither school officials nor police have any evidence that Piccolo has been the victim of bullying, Flood said.
She has not been in legal trouble in the past and had no record of disciplinary problems at school.
After the attack, school officials ordered teachers to lock the students in their classrooms. More than two dozen police, sheriff's deputies and state troopers rushed to the Lincoln's only Catholic high school.
Accompanied by a teacher who would be able to recognize Piccolo, officers searched each room three times, declaring the school clear about 11:30 a.m. Police also brought in a canine unit to assist the search.
“We were told a student was stabbed,” Pius senior Sydney Eddy said as she left the school about noon. “I would say it was rather nerve-racking. It was intense.”
As a precaution, additional public and parochial schools in east Lincoln were put on lockdown Monday.
Clusters of anxious parents and students who were away from campus during the attack waited across the street from Pius on Monday morning. Many of the outside students got text messages from friends who were locked in their classrooms.
“I'm kind of shocked,” senior Jeremy Sousek said. “I didn't expect this to happen at Pius.”
The school, with an enrollment of nearly 1,100 students in 9th through 12th grades, is in a middle-class neighborhood. But Monday morning, more than a dozen police cruisers and several emergency vehicles waited outside the school.
Also waiting was Trang Tran, who has two children at Pius. She said school officials' emails to parents about the incident included a request for them not to go to the school. But Tran drove to a nearby parking lot and recited the prayers that make up the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy on her rosary beads.
“I was scared for the kids,” she said. “Now I will just pray that everybody is OK.”
During a media briefing outside the school, Lincoln Police Capt. David Beggs said the school's security cameras showed the suspect leaving the school and the Pius property heading east.
Authorities recommended that the school remain in session the rest of the day. Some parents took their teenagers home early, but most of the students stayed in school, where police officers remained. Officers continued to be at the school Tuesday.
“The school's emergency response plan worked flawlessly,” said J.D. Flynn, communications director for the Diocese of Lincoln. “They got the kids in safe spaces as quickly as possible.”
The Rev. Jim Meysenburg, the school superintendent, said counselors from both the school and Catholic Social Services would be available to help students cope with the incident.
“We just ask for everyone to pray for the entire situation, everyone involved,” he said.
Husker football Coach Bo Pelini started his weekly press conference Monday by saying his thoughts were with Pius students, teachers and staff members.
“I speak for everybody (at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) — me personally, too: Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people over at Pius,” Pelini said.
“I know there was an incident over there today,” Pelini said. “I pray that whoever the victim was is OK. I pray for the people over there who are dealing with this situation.”
The school held a small prayer service Monday for students close to the victim.
Kopetzky was taken to Bryan Medical Center's west campus, where she underwent successful surgery and was listed in stable condition. She was resting Monday with her family, they said.
“By God's grace, Ellen will recover,” the statement said.
Pius senior Jacob Miller, 17, said he and Kopetzky are friends. He called her a kind, wonderful classmate.
“I don't know why anybody would be mad at her,” he said.
World-Herald staff writer Jay Withrow contributed to this report.
Correction: Sarah Piccolo's age was incorrect in a previous version of this story. Lincoln police supplied incorrect information.