Westside Story of Death, Denial
By Michael Cieply, a Los Angeles writer and the parent of
a Santa Monica High School freshman , Published Apr 14, 2002.
It's been chilling, like a riff from Stephen King, to watch the
comfortable Westside quietly bury a horror in its midst.
Not quite five months ago, a 15-year-old Santa Monica High School
sophomore named Deanna Maran was stabbed in the heart--"shanked,"
as one participant put it--during a party at an upscale Westwood
home. About a hundred kids had been in and out of the house that
evening. A quarter of them were from Santa Monica High, the rest
from some of the best private schools in Los Angeles. Kids at
the party say alcohol flowed freely. And law enforcement officials
say there wasn't a responsible adult in sight at the home of the
Milken Community High School student who hosted the bash.
Maran reprimanded another 15-year-old for breaking some potted
houseplants. The other girl left, returning with her 17-year-old
half-sister, Katrina Sarkissian, who murdered a pleading Maran
as a group of kids watched, screaming "Bitch fight!"
and cheering them on. Nobody stopped the assault, nor, apparently,
called 911 until after Maran briefly got up, staggered, and then
died. The next morning, in a weird coda, Sarkissian herself collapsed
in a West Los Angeles police station and died shortly after, having
overdosed on an antidepressant. And the process of forgetting
soon began. After talking with 37 witnesses, the Los Angeles District
Attorney's office moved against Sarkissian's sister two weeks
ago, filing just one count of battery and another of making an
unrelated "terrorist threat" against someone other than
Maran on a separate occasion. So light were the charges, they
didn't even get a line in The Times.
Rebecca Noblin, a deputy D.A. who's handling the case, says no
further action is likely, unless significant new information comes
to light. According to Noblin, an extensive investigation turned
up no firm evidence that anyone had pinned Maran to the ground,
despite reports to the contrary. Still, Maran's parents, apparently
clear-thinking people who raised five children according to a
strict code of personal responsibility, have been told by party-goers
that at least one girl held Deanna in a chokehold while she was
attacked and many others watched. "My daughter died as entertainment.
It [was] a spectator sport," says Harriet Maran, Deanna's
Police interviews, Noblin says, found nothing to support claims
that several college-age boys formed a line to keep younger kids
from breaking up the cat-fight. She dismisses as "rumors"
persistent talk about a group of college students who supposedly
scattered to the winds when Maran died.
As to questions about who supplied alcohol to the hundred or
so privileged youngsters, Noblin says "that hasn't been the
focus," though she supposes police could double back on the
issue if they chose. For her even to identify the party's host-family,
she says, would require a court order. The law's concern, first
and foremost, is to protect and rehabilitate youth, even when
they've crossed a hideous line.
"We're only supposed to prosecute people who are guilty.
We're not supposed to prosecute people because something horrible
has happened and people are frustrated," says Noblin, who
points out that the greatest crime in all of this is the general
lapse of parental responsibility. The Marans, who had taught their
children to resist rather than avoid inevitable temptations, are
considering litigation in connection with the incident, but aren't
convinced it will really fix anything.
On the prep-school circuit, administrators appear less than eager
to discuss how some of their meticulously tended young charges
went so badly wrong. Sarkissian's death certificate lists her
as a student at Harvard-Westlake, among the most rigorous and
prestigious of these schools. To know what pushed this presumably
bright young woman, said to be tattooed with the word "Princess"
on her back, toward homicidal mania would seem to be of more than
casual interest. Was it the drugs, or her parents' long-ago divorce,
or maybe the pressures to conform or to perform on a very fast
track that starts with the right preschool and runs through the
nightmare of college admission? Had she really been thrown out
of Harvard-Westlake and bounced around to other private schools
as some kids say? Did she once slit the nose of a girl at the
progressive Crossroads school, only to have the incident hushed
up? It's difficult to know what's become of the social culture
in these very private institutions. Harvard-Westlake's headmaster
didn't return telephone calls, nor was anyone available to offer
comment at Milken, a Jewish temple-affiliated school whose Web
site carries a quote: "The world stands on three things:
on Torah, Service of God, and Deeds of Loving Kindness."
One can only hope these good educators are teaching lessons about
the savagery of last November, rather than choosing to look away.
Students at Santa Monica High, for their part, have started a
Deanna Maran scholarship fund to promote nonviolence. Within days
of the murder, however, a teacher who spoke at Maran's memorial
service in the school's outdoor Greek Theater was already telling
those who had stood by while she was butchered that they must
not risk themselves by carrying a burden of guilt. This seemed
a frightening bit of advice--as if true guilt, a sense of responsibility
for something bad, had been demoted to the status of a negative
feeling that should have no place in these otherwise sunny lives.
By March, the school was ready to join in the general forgetting.
At its annual "Stairway of the Stars" musical extravaganza,
nobody even mentioned Deanna Maran, the pretty Czech-Filipino
honor student who should have been standing in the back row of
the chorus, adding her voice to a spirited performance of "The
Rhythm of Life" from "Sweet Charity."
"Kids want to pretend it never happened," shrugs Harriet.
"They're retreating from something ugly, and why wouldn't
they? Their best friend was killed in front of their eyes."
So we're trying, the lot of us, to make this go away. But it
isn't right. Not before we understand a great deal more about
what happened in Westwood last fall, and why.
for Deanna Maran
By Christopher Rhodes,, Santa
Monica High School , Published Apr 18, 2002.
In "A Westside Story of Death, Denial" (Opinion, April
14), about the murder of Deanna Maran, a Santa Monica High School
sophomore, Michael Cieply makes mention of an event called "Stairway
of the Stars." He takes issue with the seeming omission of
a mention of Deanna's death at the performance and insinuates that
she is being forgotten by the music department. Until that unfortunate
moment, the article was strong and raised many excellent points.
I am the choral director at Santa Monica High School, and Deanna
sang in my class. Her murder completely crushed us. A chair still
sits empty in class and her picture, with other student work,
still hangs on the bulletin board at the front of the class. We
are collecting money for a tree to be planted on campus that will
be dedicated to all students who have died while at Santa Monica
Two weeks before the Stairway concert we performed the entire
Mozart Requiem in a memorial concert. So, even though her death--or
the other six deaths we experienced last year--was not mentioned
at Stairway, none of these students has been forgotten. We also
did not mention Sept. 11.
Overdosed, Coroner Says
By By MARTHA GROVES, TIMES STAFF WRITER, Times researcher
Maloy Moore contributed to this report.
Autopsy: Authorities say Katrina Sarkissian took a large amount
of antidepressant pills after stabbing a girl to death at a Westside
Katrina Sarkissian, who stabbed a popular 15-year-old girl to
death at a Westside party in November, killed herself the next
day by taking a large dose of antidepressant tablets, the Los
Angeles coroner's office has concluded.
The ruling, released Friday, settles only one of many questions
lingering in the aftermath of an unchaperoned Saturday night teen
party that went wildly awry.
Police say many of the circumstances are not in dispute: About
30 teenagers gathered Nov. 17 at a home in an upscale Westside
neighborhood. Deanna Maran, a sophomore honors student who was
on Santa Monica High School's volleyball, water polo and track
teams, attempted to stop Sarkissian's younger half-sister from
damaging items in the backyard.
The chastised girl called Sarkissian to complain. When Sarkissian,
17, arrived about 10:30 p.m., another girl pinned Maran to the
ground at the front of the Thayer Avenue house.
Authorities said Sarkissian pummeled Maran and then stabbed her,
possibly with a T-shaped "punch" knife in which the
blade pops out between the user's fingers. No weapon was ever
According to other party-goers, Maran pleaded for Sarkissian
to stop hitting her, to no avail. Several teenagers loaded the
bleeding Maran into a car and drove her to Santa Monica Hospital,
where she was pronounced dead.
The next afternoon, Sarkissian, who sported a tattoo reading
"Princess" on her lower back, was called in for questioning
by Los Angeles police. But she collapsed and stopped breathing.
She died 3 1/2 hours later at UCLA Medical Center.
Some teens speculated that she had swallowed some sleeping pills
to calm her nerves before being questioned by police. But the
autopsy report leaves no doubt that Sarkissian was intent on suicide.
According to a test of a blood sample taken at the hospital, she
had an extraordinarily high concentration of nortriptyline and
died of "acute nortriptyline intoxication." The coroner's
office concluded that she might have taken as many as 43 75-mg
Nortriptyline is often prescribed to treat depression under the
brand names Pamelor and Aventyl.
The coroner's office also released its autopsy report on Maran,
confirming that she died of a stab wound. The report showed that
she had consumed some alcohol that night.
Still to be determined is whether Sarkissian's 15-year-old half-sister
or anyone else will face charges.
"We're trying to figure out what can we prove and what should
we do," said Alex Karkanen, a deputy district attorney in
the Inglewood Juvenile Office, which is investigating. "No
matter what we do, someone's going to go ballistic."
Noting that this case is "right up there on the top of the
difficulty scale," he said that the office is taking its
Police Det. Ron Phillips, supervisor of the homicide unit in
West Los Angeles, said investigators are also looking into the
possibility that another teenage girl played a part.
Family members of those involved said they remain perplexed by
Guilt and remorse continue to plague many of the students who
stood by, as well as those directly involved.
"All I care about now is my daughter's sanity," said
Matthew Bernstein, the father of Katrina's half-sister.
Suspect's Parents File Claim Over Her Death
By By MARTHA GROVES, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Courts: Couple say detectives could have saved their daughter,
arrested in the slaying of another girl stabbed at a Westside
The parents of a girl who authorities say fatally stabbed another
teenager at a Westside party last year have filed a wrongful death
claim against Los Angeles police, alleging that detectives doomed
their daughter by failing to seek medical help immediately after
she collapsed while in custody.
The 17-year-old girl, Katrina Ava Sarkissian, was being questioned
by police on Nov. 18 when she passed out at the West Los Angeles
police station. She had been taken there on a murder warrant in
connection with the fatal stabbing the night before of Deanna
Maran, 15, a Santa Monica High School sophomore.
An autopsy revealed that Sarkissian had taken an overdose of
antidepressant capsules before she left her Brentwood home with
detectives. The claim alleges that she would have survived had
the two detectives who were questioning her immediately summoned
paramedics. The claim was filed Friday in the city clerk's office
in downtown Los Angeles on behalf of the girl's divorced parents,
Angelique Sarkissian Bernstein and Sarkis Sarkissian.
The LAPD had no comment. Officials with the city attorney's office
said it they had not yet seen the claim.
The claim is the first public response from Sarkissian's parents
in a case that has attracted widespread media attention. A state-imposed,
six-month deadline for making a claim was looming.
"There was a deadline that had to be observed, or their
rights would be lost," said Gary S. Casselman, their attorney.
The claim does not specify a damage amount.
Last month, Sarkissian's 15-year-old half sister was arraigned
on a battery charge in Juvenile Court. It was her scuffle with
Maran that triggered the stabbing.
According to the claim, Sarkissian and her half sister were taken
into custody at about 1:55 p.m. at their home. By that time, Sarkissian
had already ingested what an autopsy revealed to be about 43 capsules,
at 75 milligrams each, of nortriptyline, a prescription antidepressant--twice
the average fatal dose.
The girls arrived at the police station no later than 2:15 p.m.
Sarkissian told Dets. Jim Hays and Kirby Carranza she felt sleepy.
No later than 2:30 p.m., the claim said, the girl collapsed. Hays
and Carranza, who are also named in the claim, tried to revive
her.Sarkissian's sibling, handcuffed nearby, begged the detectives
to summon help, the claim said. Instead, they asked, "How
long do your sister's seizures last?" The girl responded
that her sister did not have seizures.
At an unknown time, paramedics arrived, but, the claim said,
Hays and Carranza told them to wait while they finished paperwork
connected with the case.
Sometime before 3:05 p.m., the paramedics loaded Sarkissian into
an ambulance. They arrived at UCLA Medical Center about 3:15 p.m.,
where she was pronounced dead just past 5:30 p.m.
Other legal actions in the case are expected.
"We anticipate filing a civil lawsuit not later than next
week against all of those whom we believe to be responsible for
the death of Deanna Maran," said Anthony Glassman, an attorney
for Ilja and Harriet Maran, Deanna's parents. Glassman said the
Maran family is considering suing Sarkissian's parents and the
owners of the home where the unchaperoned party was held.
Suspect's Death a Suicide, Coroner Rules
Katrina Eva Sarkissian, who allegedly stabbed a popular 15-year-old
girl to death at a Westside party in November, killed herself
the next day by taking a large dose of antidepressant tablets,
the Los Angeles coroner's office has concluded.
Deanna Maran, a sophomore honors student, attempted to stop Sarkissian's
younger half-sister from damaging items in the backyard.
The chastised girl called Sarkissian to complain. When Sarkissian,
17, arrived, another girl pinned Maran to the ground at the front
of a Thayer Avenue house. Authorities said Sarkissian pummeled
Maran and then stabbed her.
The next day, Sarkissian was called in for questioning by police,
but she collapsed, stopped breathing and died 3 1/2 hours later.
Anger Erupts in Violence
By Kim Saylors, Los Angeles
I was so saddened by the story about Deanna Maran, the Santa Monica
High School student who was fatally stabbed at a party (Nov. 21).
My heart goes out to the Maran family. I wish I could say it also
shocked me. The story brought back some painful memories. When
my son was a senior at Santa Monica High School, he was severely
beaten about the head and body at a party in Malibu. He was left
for dead by his predators. When friends found him, unconscious,
he was airlifted to UCLA. I received the phone call at 3 a.m
The beating was unprovoked; his assailants were angry with him
and his friends for some reason no one even remembers, and he
was jumped. Fortunately for my son, he survived. It's my feeling
that high schools should have anger-management classes and counseling
for students. Santa Monica High offered very little to those involved
in my son's situation. In fact, it was pretty much swept under
Fatally Stabbed at Party
By Stephen C. Ross, Santa Monica
It is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I have just dropped my
son off at Santa Monica High following our usual exchanges of,
"Bye, I love you." "Bye, I love you, too."
There is a chill in the air, and as I stop at an intersection
on Pico, I glance to my left and see the set-up of what will be
a Christmas tree lot. And as I think of Thanksgiving and the prospect
of Christmas trees, my eyes well with tears.
Saturday night (Nov. 17) a young girl named Deanna Maran was
murdered in Westwood. I am thinking of her last words you reported,
"Please just listen to my side of the story!" (Nov.
21). And I am thinking of her family and how even when incomprehensible
things happen, the world goes on. Christmas tree lots go up--another
day begins. I did not know Deanna or her family, but I feel changed
by what happened and somehow connected to the Marans because this
senseless and horrific death could have been inflicted upon any
of our children. I am so sorry for the death of their daughter.
By every account, Deanna was a pretty wonderful young woman. I
cannot know their pain and their loss but am profoundly touched
by it. Elizabeth Strand, Santa Monica
A simple fact may have prevented the tragic death of Santa Monica
High School student Deanna Maran: Teenagers should not have unsupervised
parties. Stephen C. Ross, Santa Monica
Indifference to Teen's Slaying
The community's treatment of 15-year-old Deanna Maran's murder,
recounted by Michael Cieply (Opinion, April 14), is a tragic reminder
of the nihilistic apathy that pervades our society. Indifference
to violence and human suffering defies socioeconomic categorization.
And here the pain is being furthered by elite institutions claiming
superior moral status and wealthy adult parents, of which surely
a large number hold powerful positions in the community. In light
of tragedies like Maran's and the recent Catholic Church scandals,
should we be looking to our nation's elite for moral leadership?
--E. Martin Estrada, Huntington Beach
If "the law's concern, first and foremost, is to protect
and rehabilitate youth," the law has evidently failed miserably
in both respects. So too have the schools and communities involved.
If a teacher at Santa Monica High School told students who stood
by and did nothing while Deanna Maran was being murdered that
they must not risk themselves by carrying a burden of guilt, who--what--will
they be when they are adults? What will those who participated
in the murder and got off scot-free be? Has anyone been encouraged
to do the right thing about what happened? Has anyone discussed
what is the right thing to do? Has anyone guided these students
about how to deal with a burden of guilt constructively, rather
than burying it in their subconscious? "The only thing necessary
for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"--Edmund
Burke. The students involved may have become "good men"
(and women). Instead they've been encouraged to let evil triumph.
Will anyone really be surprised when they let evil triumph again?
--Loren Reichman, Los Angeles
Do we tolerate terrorism in Los Angeles? With a group encouraging
Maran's murderer, it was just like a classic lynching. Since the
deputy district attorney has no plans to pursue the case, it conveys
the idea that we allow people to get away with murder. Maybe I
should move to Europe, where violence is not tolerated as it is
here. --Rod Nelson, La Mirada
Settled in Slaying at Party
By Martha Groves, Times Staff Writer
The mother of a 17-year-old girl who police say killed a Santa
Monica High School sophomore at a party two years ago has settled
a lawsuit by the victim's parents rather than face a jury trial.
Angelique Bernstein's insurance company, Allstate, will pay $300,000
to Harriet and Ilja Maran, the parents of Deanna Maran. The 15-year-old
athlete was fatally stabbed at an unsupervised Westwood party
in November 2001.
The Marans sued Bernstein and her ex-husband, Sarkis Sarkissian,
in Santa Monica Superior Court in May 2002, alleging that the
parents should have known that their daughter Katrina Sarkissian
was emotionally unstable and dangerous.
The day after the party, Katrina took an overdose of a prescription
antidepressant, collapsed during LAPD questioning and was pronounced
dead that afternoon.
Anthony Michael Glassman, an attorney for the Marans, said they
plan to continue their effort to bring Sarkis Sarkissian to trial.
Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz threw out the suit against
him last week, saying he had no opportunity to control his daughter's
behavior the evening of Nov. 17, 2001, when Deanna Maran was attacked
in front of dozens of guests.
Glassman said he plans to appeal the dismissal on grounds that
Sarkissian was just as responsible as his ex-wife.
The judge also ruled that Bernstein should stand trial before
a jury beginning Dec. 15, prompting Bernstein to settle rather
than face "a trial in front of a jury or an outrageous demand,"
said Paul V. Ash, her attorney. Allstate will pay the settlement
under Bernstein's homeowners policy.
Lefkowitz's ruling portrays Katrina as a troubled adolescent
who abused drugs and alcohol. Beginning in eighth grade, the judge
wrote, the girl began missing classes and having "confrontational
episodes" with other students.
Court papers say Katrina had also had physical altercations with
In January 1999, Katrina's parents admitted her to a therapeutic
residential school in Utah. She tried to run away.
Despite school officials' recommendation that she stay at least
nine months, her parents took her home on a pass that June and