PALM HARBOR — A seventh-grader at Carwise Middle School brought gasoline to school Tuesday morning, then stabbed a school resource officer in the abdomen when he was confronted, authorities said.
Investigators said the boy, who has not been identified, stabbed Kenneth Fridlund, a Pinellas County Schools police officer, three times without warning when Fridlund went to the bathroom just before the start of classes to check on a report of a boy smelling like gasoline.
The 55-year-old officer was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he underwent emergency surgery.
The student was taken into custody, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. No one else was injured. Authorities found 11 12-ounce glass bottles of gasoline hidden in a bathroom stall.
The boy told investigators he brought the gas to school to scare some students who he claimed were bullying him, the Sheriff's Office said. He said he didn't intend to harm anyone and didn't plan on setting the school on fire. However, he did have a lighter on him.
The boy was taken to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation. When he's released, he'll be charged with one count of attempted murder and 11 counts of possession/manufacturing of firebombs and booked into the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center. Authorities said they'll release his name at that time.
Investigators said the boy brought the bottles to school in a duffel bag, then went to class, where a teacher noticed he smelled like gas. The boy said he had accidentally had spilled some gas on himself at home and asked to use the restroom to clean up. After he left the room, the teacher alerted other school staffers.
Fridlund, joined by another staffer who wasn't identified, went to the restroom when he heard the teacher's concern and began to question the boy about it. Without provocation, deputies said, the boy stabbed him.
As Fridlund and the other employee struggled to get the knife, the boy stabbed the officer twice more — once in the shoulder and once in the arm — before they overpowered him, deputies said.
Fridlund, who spent nearly three decades with the St. Petersburg Police Department before joining the campus police, is expected to make a full recovery.
"He did 29 years working the streets of St. Petersburg, and he was never even hurt," said longtime friend and retired St. Petersburg Detective Neil Fraley. "He got into tussles and all those things, just got minor scrapes and bruises. You never expect these kinds of things to happen when you're working, especially in a middle school."
More than a dozen friends with the St. Petersburg police stopped by the hospital to visit with Fridlund and his wife and daughter. The officer spoke to his wife before going into surgery and was in good spirits afterward.
"He wakes up and jokes with us a little," Fraley said. "Then he goes back to sleep."
The attack was just the latest blow in what has been a difficult year for the St. Petersburg Police Department. The agency suffered its first casualties in 30 years when Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz were fatally shot while trying to serve a warrant in January. Officer David Crawford was shot and killed while investigating a prowler 28 days later. On Saturday, officers attended the funeral of retired Officer Roberto Rolon, who was accidentally electrocuted at his Safety Harbor home.
Fridlund, a 1974 Boca Ciega High graduate, joined the St. Petersburg department in 1978. He was commended in 1996 for talking a suicidal person off the top of the Pier. One of his supervisors once called him "the most personable member of this agency."
In 1985, he shot a burglary suspect who attacked him, which the department found to be justified.
Fridlund retired from St. Petersburg in 2007. He joined Pinellas County schools police in 2008 and has been at Carwise for two years.
Students there said Fridlund has a great personality and likes to tease them.
"He comes by our lunch table all the time and he, like, tells jokes and everything. He'll mess around with us," said 12-year-old Nathan Crane. "It was really freaky because he's a really cool guy."
Students said they remained in their first-period classes all day, except for lunchtime when they were escorted by teachers to the cafeteria.
But it didn't take long for rumors about the incident to reach them, they said. On the heels of last week's devastating storms, many students first thought a tornado was bearing down on their school.
"When we saw the cops all over the place, we knew it wasn't the weather," said Nathan, a sixth-grader.
Some students got text messages from family members alerting them to the stabbing. Soon, rumors were swirling that the boy had planned more destruction.
Several students said they smelled gasoline in the building. Megan Dubuc, 13, noticed it when she went to her locker, just a few feet away from the boy's locker. "It smelled like a bus," she said.
Several students said the boy wore a Boy Scout uniform to school every day.
The school was put on lockdown, and parents were notified of the incident by automated message. Investigators wouldn't release students or staff members until they finished doing interviews. Tom Gavin, police chief of Pinellas schools, couldn't recall another incident where an armed student attacked a school resource officer.
The incident at Carwise was a particularly violent episode at a school known as one of the district's safest, falling at or near the bottom in numbers of arrests and suspensions.
"It's like the best school. I've never had any problems there at all," Megan said "But it's not going to be the same without our police officer, our SRO."
Times staff writer Ron Matus and news researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.