LARGO — A former Carwise Middle School student apologized in court on Monday to the school resource officer he stabbed, telling him "you are a hero even to me."
After that, Officer Kenneth Fridlund accepted a handshake from 14-year-old Kenny Stoltman, who attacked him at the school earlier this year.
"I have no ill will toward Kenny at all," said Fridlund, who lost two pints of blood and required surgery after the attack. "It's by God's grace that myself and even Kenny are here."
Stoltman sounded a similar note. He read from a letter he had sent earlier to the officer, saying: "You saved my life, too."
The comments came at a court hearing in which Stoltman, dressed in orange detention clothing, pleaded guilty to juvenile charges of aggravated battery and battery on a School Board employee. He had previously been charged with attempted murder.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Jack Day ordered the boy to continue staying at a residential treatment center, and said he would be placed on probation if he shows progress.
Day said Stoltman's probation could last up to his 19th birthday, though officials don't believe it will last that long.
It all stemmed from an incident in April in which Stoltman took 11 bottles of gasoline and a knife to the Palm Harbor school, then stabbed Fridlund when the officer confronted him. He also tried to unholster Fridlund's gun.
Stoltman pleaded guilty in May to possession of firebombs and was ordered into the treatment center.
On Monday, Assistant State Attorney Joseph Walker, head of the juvenile division, said Stoltman was guilty of "a horrible event, inexcusable."
But he said the outcome of the case, which was based on recommendations from the state Department of Juvenile Justice, will ensure "Kenny Stoltman will be held accountable for what he has done, that Kenny Stoltman will be watched to make sure the community is safe and not in harm's way."
Stoltman's attorney, Barry Cohen, has said bullying at school led to the incident, and said school officials must do more to spot bullying. Stoltman said he understands bullying is not an excuse for what he did. He said he realizes now he should have reached out for help.
Stoltman was getting help Monday from members of his Oldsmar-based Boy Scout troop, who came to court in uniform. Stoltman's scoutmaster, John Ruckart, spoke highly of him.
While stressing that no one in the troop condones Stoltman's actions, he said "there is so much good in this young man" and that he believes Stoltman can become "a good citizen in this community."
Fridlund, a former St. Petersburg police officer, also shook hands with many of the Scouts after the hearing.