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Family of Carwise student accused in officer's stabbing say he was bullied

Kenny Stoltman, 13, would wear his uniform to school.

Courtesy of Chris Mathews

Kenny Stoltman, 13, would wear his uniform to school.

OLDSMAR — Kenny Stoltman told his family he never meant to hurt anyone.

Surrounded by family in his hospital room Tuesday night, the 13-year-old sobbed and admitted he took gasoline to school but said he merely meant to scare the boys he believed were bullying him.

He claimed he didn't mean to stab school resource officer Kenneth Fridlund, who confronted him near the boys bathroom at Carwise Middle School Tuesday morning. He had an open knife in his hand but says he didn't intend to use it on the officer.

"He said the officer basically got stabbed when the officer grabbed him and pulled him to him," said his grandmother, Chris Mathews, 60, who has custody of the boy.

As the officer and another school staffer wrestled him to the ground, Kenny was sprayed in the face with Mace, he told his grandmother. Somehow, Fridlund was stabbed twice more.

But his family says Kenny told them that as he lay on the hallway floor, his main concern was not what would happen to him but the condition of the officer.

"He said, 'Please make sure he's okay. I'm sorry. I'm sorry,' " Mathews said Kenny told her.

• • •

Tuesday's violence was more than uncharacteristic for Kenny, shocked friends and family said. The boy is known for helping his neighbors and rose quickly through the ranks of the Boy Scouts.

"If you ask me, he's a role model for my kid and others. All these kids look up to him," said his Troop 64 Scoutmaster John Ruckart of Oldsmar.

Certificates detailing Kenny's Scouting accomplishments dot the wall over the sofa in the tidy mobile home in Oldsmar he shares with Mathews, her domestic partner, Carol Kolish, and his 18-year-old sister, Katrina Mathews.

Kenny wore his Boy Scout uniform to school on picture days and special occasions. He had 21 merit badges and had climbed to Life Scout, a top rank in Scouting, his family said.

But wearing the uniform to school apparently had a price. Kids picked on him for it, Mathews said. They derided him for being overweight.

On Tuesday, he quickly conceived a plan to make it stop.

"He said 'It just came in my head that morning that it was going to stop that day,' " Mathews said. "But he had no intention of doing anything else except scaring them."

Some could doubt that was his only intention.

He filled 11 12-ounce glass bottles with gasoline, stuffed them in a duffel bag and took them to school on the bus. He carried a lighter. He also brought a foldable pocket knife — one he purchased during a Boy Scout camping trip.

The plan went awry when a teacher noticed Kenny smelled like gasoline and alerted school staff. Fridlund, 55, a Pinellas County Schools police officer, came upon Kenny as he emerged from the bathroom where he had stashed the gasoline.

Fridlund suffered three stab wounds: to the shoulder, abdomen and arm. He had emergency surgery at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa and was reported to be in stable condition Wednesday.

Kenny was hospitalized for a mental health evaluation. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said he would be charged when he's released with one count of attempted murder and 11 counts of possession/manufacturing of firebombs.

• • •

Kenny had a rough start in life.

Until he was about 6, he lived with his abusive, alcoholic and drug addicted father in Oregon, Mathews said. His mother, who had moved to Florida, got custody of him after his father beat his girlfriend and sent her to the hospital, his family said.

Three months after Kenny left, his dad died from complications of severe alcohol abuse, according to his death certificate.

His mother, who is bipolar and self-medicated with drugs, wasn't much better, according to court documents and family members. With arrest warrants in Florida, Kenny's mother eventually fled the state.

"When she left the kids on my doorstep, the kids told her they wouldn't run with her because she was running from the police," Mathews said.

A judge awarded custody to Mathews, Kenny's maternal grandmother, in August 2007.

"He thanks me all the time for rescuing him and being here," Mathews said. "He's been through a lot."

Ruckart, the Scoutmaster, and his wife, Kathleen, have known Kenny for about seven years. Both said they never saw a hint of violence.

"If somebody came to me on Monday and said they could see into the future and that Kenny would do something like this ... I'd say they were nuts and I'd bet them a million dollars," Ruckart said.

• • •

Mathews said Kenny provided investigators with the names of a handful of boys who were targeting him. A detective told Mathews that some children had admitted they bullied him, she said. Late Wednesday, a Sheriff's Office spokesman could not be reached for comment on that issue.

Carwise Principal Garrison Linder did not return a call and e-mail seeking comment about the bullying allegations.

Joan Reubens, the district's bullying prevention specialist, said through district spokeswoman Andrea Zahn that Carwise Middle "has always addressed any reported incident of bullying and intervened appropriately."

Carwise is one of 34 schools in the district that participates in the "Olweus bullying prevention program," a research-based program that involves everyone in the school, including teachers and support staff.

But the Ruckarts say they know all too well about bullying at the school.

They removed their son from Carwise halfway through his sixth-grade year because of it, they said. He's now homeschooled.

Mathews said she does not condone her grandson's actions, even if he was being bullied. But she believes the situation might have been avoided altogether if the bullying had been addressed.

"We are aware this is serious. It is unacceptable," she said. "Kenny and all of us are saddened by the attack on the officer. That was not premeditated in any way. He was scared and he reacted."

Family of Carwise student accused in officer's stabbing say he was bullied 04/06/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 11:36pm]
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