Given the seriousness of the situation, which included potential firebombs and the stabbing of a school resource officer, it would have been easy for Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Jack Day to sentence 14-year-old Kenny Stoltman this week to a lengthy stay behind bars. That would not have served the teenager or the public well in the long run. With the victim's support and with Stoltman accepting responsibility for his actions, the judge ordered a more thoughtful approach.
The Carwise Middle School student was arrested in April after he was confronted in a school bathroom by resource Officer Kenneth Fridlund. On the cusp of becoming an Eagle Scout, Stoltman had brought 11 bottles of gasoline and a knife to school. As the student and the officer grappled, Fridlund was stabbed three times before Stoltman could be subdued by school employees. The officer lost two pints of blood in the assault but never lost his grip on his attacker.
A month after the incident, a remorseful Stoltman pleaded guilty to the firebomb charges and earlier this week pleaded guilty to the attack on Fridlund. He apologized to the officer, who likely prevented a catastrophic loss of life at Carwise, and called him his "hero." Day ordered the teen to remain in a residential treatment center to be followed by probation if he demonstrates progress. The sentence is measured, fair and affords Stoltman a pathway to rebuild his life and look forward to a future.
This tragic story of a bright young teen snapping in a paroxysm of violence also sheds a spotlight on school bullying. Stoltman claimed that eventually drove him to seek revenge against his fellow students, who had taunted him over his association with the Boy Scouts.
The Kenny Stoltman story should be another wake-up call to teachers and school administrators to pay greater heed to the danger signs of students under the stress of bullying. Were it not for the heroic actions of Officer Fridlund last April, the outcome of Stoltman's outburst at Carwise Middle School could have been far worse.
There may be some critics who will accuse Day of being too lenient in his sentencing of Stoltman. But if Officer Fridlund is supportive of Day's ruling and was willing to shake the hand of his attacker in court, the rest of the community should be willing to accept Stoltman's reasonable sentence and his opportunity for a second chance.