Pride and Prejudice

Nobody can say why Loi Nguyen fell through the cracks. All they can say is they're sorry.

"Huddling" occurs when a large group of people surround a much-smaller group.

"It looked like everybody in the school, all the mean people, would surround the Asians to scare them, then walk away," Jonathan Duffy says. "Everybody was pissed."

One Asian student who requested anonymity says he saw an Anglo kid spit on an Asian during this time. Neither Asian complained to school officials.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, Loi's brother, Lan, came by Darla Sebenik's classroom at Mountain View. He told her it was important that she speak with Loi that night.

"I said I'd come over," Sebenik recalls. "He said, 'Just give him a call, okay?' 'Sure, Lan.' Then I grabbed him by the shoulders. 'Will you tell me what is going on with Loi?' He wouldn't."

Sebenik and Loi spoke by phone that evening.
"He just wouldn't tell me what was going on," Sebenik says. "I told him I'd call the school tomorrow and talk with someone. He said, 'Okay, Mrs. S. See you tomorrow.' But his words sounded so hollow to me. I was so worried about him."

Within a day, Loi Nguyen was dead.

Loi's Last Day
For Cecilia Ryan, the challenges that evolved on Thursday, September 24, were unparalleled.

"As much as some people in the community don't believe us, we haven't had incidents like this on this campus," says Ryan, Thunderbird's dean of discipline and attendance. "Yes, we've had allegations of racial and sexual harassment--we are a group of 1,780 teenagers; they fight and do things typical to any high school. But a tragedy of humongous proportions like this would become . . ."

Ryan doesn't fit the mold of a prototypical disciplinary principal. She is pleasant, calm and has a sense of humor. One component of her job is to keep the campus as safe as possible, and that became her prime concern that Thursday.

Darla Sebenik says she left a phone message at Thunderbird sometime before 8 a.m., asking for someone to call her about Loi Nguyen. School officials say they never got it.

Shortly after school started, someone saw Loi on campus. He was called to the office, where Ryan and fellow assistant principal Robert Shupp questioned him about the fight.

They did so in English, without an interpreter, principal Jennifer Johnson says, "because they determined he had sufficient sophistication to understand what was going on. I'm not trying to minimize the stress he or anyone in his position would have been feeling. But they needed to hear his side of the story."

Loi's story was simple: He hadn't been at the fight. But his alibi didn't bear up and, Ryan says, "Though he had been respectful and polite, this proved his credibility couldn't be trusted."

At some point, the principals asked Brandy Walmer, Joe Smith and Jonathan Duffy to do independent, face-to-face identifications of Loi. They did so, but two other Asian students Brandy had targeted earlier from the yearbook were allowed to return to class after they provided a plausible alibi for their whereabouts on Monday afternoon.

About 11 a.m., the school officials told Officer Dalton they were going to summarily suspend Loi, pending a district hearing on the assault allegations. Dalton's police report indicates that she brought Loi into her office at Thunderbird, where she read him his juvenile Miranda warnings.

Loi said he wanted to speak with an attorney. Dalton returned Loi to the school officials, who had decided to get the boy off campus as soon as possible.

"He had just been identified by three people as a person who caused physical injuries which had sent a kid to the hospital," Cecilia Ryan explains. "It had been reported to us that the Asians had been throwing gang signs and yelling slogans. I've got a kid in my office who everyone is looking for--the [non-Asian] victims, the victims' friends. I also had some very angry parents whose kids had had bodily harm done to them.

"First and foremost, I was very concerned about Loi's and the other Asian students' safety--I'd put my body between them and anyone who came on campus to get them. In my opinion, it was a reasonable option to take him home at that time, after we learned he didn't have anyone to pick him up."

Officer Dalton's police report paints a far different picture:
"When Ce Ryan advised me that she was concerned for her safety because of her belief that Loi is a gang member, I then agreed to transport both she and Loi in my marked police unit."

That certainly makes it sound as if Ryan's first concern was herself.
"I did not say to that officer that Loi was a gang member," she says, after reading Dalton's account for the first time. "I can't help what [Dalton] wrote, though it's so unfair and inaccurate. I had no previous information that Loi was in a gang, and didn't get any after the fight except from some non-Asian kids--and that wasn't specific. I had never taken a student home in my seven years as dean, and I didn't think it was the right thing for me to take him alone. The racial tensions on campus were worsening because people were sympathetic to Brandy. I thought I was delivering Loi to the bosom and safe haven of his family. I'm so sorry."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Phoenix Concert Tickets