I’m supposed to be an education reporter, not a crime reporter, but lately there hasn’t been much of a distinction.
Today I reported on a tragedy that unfolded at a market near Youth Empowerment School in the East Oakland hills — which, according to the school principal, is about to close (not merge into the Castlemont campus, as originally planned).
On Tuesday morning, a 14-year-old YES freshman cut school and, police said, got into a violent struggle with the 57-year-old owner of Oak Knoll Market over bottles of vodka he was trying to steal. When the boy fled, the owner followed in his car; he hadn’t driven a block before he fell unconscious and died, possibly of a heart attack.
The boy has been charged with murder and robbery. The charging DA explained that if someone dies during a violent crime, the offender is responsible for the death, even if it wasn’t intended, under the felony murder rule statute.
Gina Hill, the school principal, said she was heartbroken. She and some of her students left some flowers and a card near the store to express their condolences.
“I’m hoping it’s a moment that students can learn from — that there are consequences to their actions,” she said.
Security is a challenge at the 165-student school. Not only is the campus huge, but YES shares it with an independent study program in which students come and go throughout the day. Until recently, according to spokesman Troy Flint, the school’s support staff consisted of two people — the principal and a security officer. (Now there is another officer, as well.)
Hill said she spends more of her time walking around the campus, making sure kids are in class and not cutting school, than she does in the classroom. Since they can’t lock the exit doors because of the independent study program, she said, “It really is about the footwork.”
In Cha Ho, the wife of the late market owner, told another Tribune reporter that she and her husband had frequent problems with high school students. The 14-year-old boy had been banned from the store because of the trouble he had caused in the past, according to police, but he decided to come back again on Tuesday.
Hill said her student leaders went classroom to classroom with a team of counselors dispatched from the district, to share the news of Kang’s death and their classmates’ involvement. She said they seemed shocked and confused.
“I think they’re a little bit bewildered about how death was the result of this situation,” she said.