Suspect's motive in stabbing of Santa Rosa teacher a mystery

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


The 16-year-old high school student accused of stabbing his teacher in the head with a pencil Wednesday has been arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, but his motive remains a mystery, investigators said.

The boy, whose name has not been released by police because he is a juvenile, was taken into custody after an intense but brief search Wednesday afternoon. He is being held at juvenile hall.

"The kids (who) were in the classroom basically saw this (student) attacking the teacher all of a sudden, unprovoked," Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Dave Linscomb said. "As far as motive is concerned, it's unclear what it was."

The boy did not have a known history of violence before stabbing Tyler Ahlborn at the close of the lunch break Wednesday, police said. Police found no evidence the boy was intoxicated at the time.

Ahlborn teaches English, social studies and other subjects at the 70-student Midrose High School, an alternative school located on the Elsie Allen High School campus on Bellevue Avenue. He was stabbed multiple times with a mechanical pencil. The 33-year-old teacher sustained non-life-threatening injuries to his forehead, neck and forearm.

He was treated at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and released Wednesday.

"This is a hard man," said Alan Petty, a teacher and rugby coach at Elsie Allen High School who has known Ahlborn since he coached him as a Lobo rugby player.

"He is a tough human being," Petty said. "It's not going to dissuade him; he loves those kids. He'll be right back there."

Since graduating from UC Davis and becoming a teacher, Ahlborn had his sights set on teaching at Midrose, an alternative program housed on the Elsie Allen campus and designed to help students make up credits, Petty said.

"He truly believes in helping kids that really need to be helped," he said.

While the incident has shocked many in Sonoma County's largest school district, the act of violence is relatively rare, police said.

"As far as from the violent crime investigation aspect, it's very rare that a teacher would be attacked in such a way," Linscomb said. "In fact, I can't remember that happening."

The attack, which prompted a nearly two-hour lockdown at Midrose and the wider Elsie Allen campus, is isolated, said Sgt. John Snetsinger, who oversees the school resource officer program that assigns an officer to each of the five comprehensive high schools in Santa Rosa City Schools, as well as their feeder middle schools.

Snetsinger, who is not part of the team investigating the stabbing, said that all campuses experience "flare-ups and disturbances" but that the vast majority of problems can be handled on campus through school procedures and never become criminal police investigations.

"This appears to be an incident isolated to that student; it's not a school issue," he said. "Elsie Allen is just as safe as any campus."

Still, the incident has prompted calls for greater support for teachers in handling students who are aggressive or suffering from mental illness, said Andy Brennan, president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association.

"Teachers need to be trained in conflict management. We don't get that," he said. "As far as how to identify and deal with different students, especially students with mental health issues, the training is woefully inadequate."

Although he praised the way district officials have handled the incident, Brennan said Wednesday's violence has caused consternation among the district's teachers and staff.

"Teachers are going to feel insecure," he said. "They are going to say, 'Wow, here is a student who attacked a teacher.'"

The assault marks the first significant incident of violence against a teacher at the hands of a student in Sonoma County's largest school district since a rash of violence six years ago.

In a four-week span in 2009, Santa Rosa high school campuses suffered a spate of violence that led district officials to successfully seek five restraining orders to protect teachers from students. In those cases, the assaults included a student punching a teacher in the face, shoving, and threats to kill a teacher's family and blow up the school.

Nationally, about 4 percent of public school teachers reported they had been attacked physically during the 2007-08 school year and 7 percent were threatened with injury by a student, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which cited a 2012 school safety report.

A 2011 survey found that 80 percent of teachers reported being intimidated, harassed, assaulted or victimized at least once during the previous year.

Safety training is increasingly becoming a part of the curriculum for new teachers, according to Karen Ricketts, regional director of the Sonoma County Office of Education beginning teacher program.

"I do know that districts in Sonoma County do spend time on emergency preparation," she said.

"I still remain hopeful that our humanity is not becoming unraveled but we obviously see more violent situations in the classroom than we did years ago," she said.

This article includes information from the Associated Press. Staff Writer Julie Johnson can be reached at 521-5220 or Kerry Benefield can be reached at 526-8671, or on Twitter @benefield.

Please read our commenting policy
  • No profanity, abuse, racism, hate speech or personal attacks on others.
  • No spam or off-topic posts. Keep the conversation to the theme of the article.
  • No disinformation about current events. Claims of "Fake News" will be delayed for moderation
  • No name calling. "Orange Menace", "Libtards", etc. are not respectful.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine