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Friday, January 19, 2007

Update: teenager pleads not guilty in Lincoln-Sudbury slaying


A 16-year-old student pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges today after prosecutors accused him of stabbing a classmate to death inside a bathroom at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.

John Odgren appeared in Framingham District Court wearing a white hooded jump suit and black wire-rim glasses. His father stood motionless in the front row of the public gallery as his wife, dressed in a nurses uniformed, leaned against her husband.

Middlesex County prosecutor Daniel Bennett told the judge that Odgren attacked 15-year-old James Alenson inside a school bathroom with a long knife just after 7 a.m. Bennett alleged that Odgren stabbed Alenson twice and said the blade pieced the freshman's heart. Thirty minutes after the attack, Alenson was found in a hallway in a pool of blood without a pulse, Bennett said.

In the principal's office, Bennett said that Odgren told investigators: "I did it. I did it."

Odgren also pleaded not guilty to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and carrying a dangerous weapon on school grounds.

Outside court, defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro said Odgren had been under the care of doctors for psychological illnesses for years and took numerous medications.

"I know my client and his family feel for the victim and his family," Shapiro said.

Alenson, a freshman from Sudbury, was rushed to Emerson Hospital in Concord and pronounced dead at 8:12 a.m., said Bonnie Goldsmith, a hospital spokeswoman.

At a press conference earlier in the day, Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone Jr. would not discuss what investigators suspect may have motivated the stabbing.

"What we believe now is that this is an isolated incident between these two students," Leone said. "There is no thought or belief that anyone else is in danger at this time."

Dozens of parents rushed to the school on Lincoln Road where there are about 1,600 students. The school went on lock-down for the next few hours as students were brought to the gymnasium. At about 10 a.m., all the students were sent home for the day, according to an e-mail school officials sent to parents in Sudbury.

High school Superintendent and Principal John Ritchie said at the press conference that teachers and staff were "obviously heart broken dealing with this." As recently as Wednesday, the faculty had met with police from Sudbury and Lincoln to discuss the high school's emergency safety response plan.

"That didn't prevent this from happening," Ritchie said. "But it did help us have a sense of how to respond, how to be calm, how to reassure students, where to go, how to listen to announcements. For me, that's a small consolation right now obviously what we are dealing with is the heartbreak of this student dying."

The response drew praise from State Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll, who extended his condolence to the victim's family in what he called "everyone's worst nightmare."

"Fortunately, the school and local authorities were well prepared and responded immediately," Driscoll said. "As a result, no one else was injured, the school was put into temporary lockdown quickly, and the entire student body was sent home safely soon after."

Grief counselors will be available today and through the weekend for students at the high school, Leone said.

At the time of the stabbing, Dr. Robert Sackstein, a physician at Harvard Medical School, had just dropped off his two twins, who are both freshmen at the high school. Sackstein didn't know someone had been stabbed at the time and was frustrated because he said he could have offered some medical assistance.

Several hours later he got a frantic phone call from his wife and rushed back to the school to get his children.

"The fact that it happened in Sudbury, Massachusetts," Sackstein said, "means that it can happen anywhere."

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