Tuesday, 18 June 2024

School, community deals with tragedy of teen's death

LOWER LAKE – A day after a stabbing claimed the life of one of its students and resulted in the arrest of another, Carlé High School's students and staff gathered to show support for the girls' families and each other, and begin the long healing process. {sidebar id=85}

Heather Valdez, 17, died Thursday afternoon after she was stabbed near her home in the area of Austin Drive near Mullen Avenue in Clearlake.

A short time later, Clearlake Police arrested 18-year-old Gabrielle Rachel Varney, who is being held in the Lake County Jail on a murder charge.

Both girls were juniors, completing their first year at Carlé High School in Lower Lake, a model continuation school which Principal Bill MacDougall called “a place of absolute peace.”

But that peace was shattered by Valdez's death Thursday.

“There's apparently been some type of feud between them for a couple of months,” said Lt. Mike Hermann of the Clearlake Police Department said of Valdez and Varney.

Both of the teens lived in the area where the incident is alleged to have taken place, said Hermann.

Hermann said Valdez and Varney got into an altercation. Varney allegedly had a knife on her and she pulled it out during the fight. She allegedly admitted to police that she stabbed Valdez.

People in the area saw bits and pieces of the incident, said Hermann. He said no one so far has claimed to have seen Valdez being stabbed, but they saw the fight and then saw her bleeding.

More students were interviewed Friday, and Hermann estimated the investigation shouldn't take long to complete.

Konocti Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Louise Nan said a four-member district grief crisis response team was deployed on Friday morning to work with students.

“We're working through the day,” said Nan, who added that it will be “quite a process” ahead for students and staff.

MacDougall, who next month will succeed Nan as the district's superintendent, said, “This is a tragedy not only for Carlé, our school district and our community, but it's absolutely devastated two families.”


Valdez and Varney had been friends, he said. “They were girlfriends, so there was that young girl tension that came on and off, but there was nothing that was way out of the ordinary that we could see.”

He added, “If there was anything physical, I never saw it.”

Students, however, have been bringing up incidents that they say took place between the girls as they open up to teachers and peers, he said.

MacDougall said many of his 10 staffers were on their way home when they got the news Thursday afternoon. The stabbing, according to police, took place just after 2 p.m.

All of the teachers came back to the school, where they assembled in MacDougall's office. He said at 6 p.m. he put out an automated call to notify students and their families of the tragedy. The staff remained together until about 7 p.m.

He said the first focus was to stop the rumors and get out the truth to students; the next step was to facilitate healing.

The school's annual field day had been planned for Friday, but that was canceled, MacDougall said.

Instead, when students arrived for school, they filled the school's central quad area with rose petals from the school rose bushes, and the 80 students, 10 staffers and the school's custodian came together – as a family – in a big circle, instinctively holding hands, to begin the healing process, MacDougall.

They shared stories of Valdez, who was a talented artist, said MacDougall.

Varney also is a good artist, and a member of the school's cadre of designers, said MacDougall.

They then shared a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi – which includes the words, “Make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon ...”

The school then moved into the rest of its day, said MacDougall, with the school psychologist taking some of the teens to the county park, and other students doing “the usual Carlé thing” – playing music and moving about their activities, but the air was much more somber.

MacDougall had to go to district negotiations, and when he came back after lunch, he could see the students had begun the process of healing and working through their understanding of what happened. But they still must move through the long grieving process.

The tragedy comes less than a week before Carlé High's graduation is scheduled to take place. MacDougall said commencement ceremonies will be held as scheduled beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 11.

As a community, the imperative is to bring happiness into the lives of its children, he explained.

The sense from the Carlé community, he added, is that “we have to make sure this never happens again.”

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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