A 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 mother.

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.

Requiem 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 High.

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.

Killer 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 party.

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 recovered.

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 pills.

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 time.

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 the event.

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.

Teen Suspect's Parents File Claim Over Her Death


Courts: Couple say detectives could have saved their daughter, arrested in the slaying of another girl stabbed at a Westside party.

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.

Stabbing 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.

Teen 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 the carpet.

Teen 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

Tragic 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

Suit 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 her mother.

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 never returned.



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