Student Works to Stem Violence Among Teens

By RONG-GONG LIN, II, Daily Cal Staff Writer

Sophomore To Hold Program In Response to Sister’s Death

When a popular 15-year-old was stabbed to death at a party in Los Angeles, her sister, a UC Berkeley student, was determined not to let the killing remain only a tragedy.

Claudia Maran, a sophomore majoring in mass communications, will return to her former high school in Santa Monica, Calif., to launch a peer education program.

The program would train students to teach fellow teen-agers the dangers of violence and warn about how a fight among high school students at a party can turn deadly.

By teaching others about the death of her sister—a straight-A student who was a member of her high school's water polo, volleyball and track teams—Maran says she will make something positive out of this violence.

"She set an example for many students at her high school, and a violent act is what extinguished her. I will use what remains of her spirit to spread the word of nonviolence as far as it can reach," Maran says.

At a Nov. 17 party at an upscale West Los Angeles neighborhood, Maran's sister Deanna confronted another 15-year-old girl, asking her to stop smashing flower pots and damaging a stairway banister. The party was not supervised by any parents.

Upset, the girl she confronted reportedly left and called her older sister, Katrina Sarkissian. When Sarkissian arrived, she allegedly stabbed Deanna in the heart as other teen-agers held her down. Deanna later died at the hospital.

Hours after Deanna passed away, Sarkissian died of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills while being held for police questioning.

No one initially knew Deanna was stabbed in the fight because the sharp object that was used was hidden. Seeming like an ordinary high school fight, it was cheered on by onlookers, eyewitnesses say.

For Maran, ensuring that other high school teen-agers and children learn about her sister's violent death is important, so they will be able to prevent violence from escalating into murder.

Her peer education program, which will be developed with students from Santa Monica High School, involves starting a club centering on nonviolence. It would create a curriculum that includes, for example, students performing skits on how to resolve violent situations.

Maran says he will be using the same tactics as when she headed her high school's peer AIDS education club.

"Analyze how (the situation) can lead to something violent, whether you get your friends to calm the other person down," Maran says. "If you're angry at someone, walk away or just work it out in an orderly manner. Fighting is not the answer ... the worst case is someone could die."

Deanna's death has reverberated throughout the UC Berkeley community, especially among students from the Los Angeles area. Santa Monica High School alone sends about 30 graduates to UC Berkeley every year.

To them, it was shocking that someone would bring a knife to a party. Few expect a high school fight to become deadly.

"You'll see a fight at a party, but (you don't expect) any sort of weaponry. I just couldn't imagine someone knifing someone," says Stephanie Lysaght, a UC Berkeley freshman who graduated from Santa Monica High School.

Much of the talk over Thanksgiving was about the death and shock in the Los Angeles area, they say. Maran is also publicizing the case to warn parents and other teen-agers about the risks of potential violence at these parties and for UC Berkeley students to warn their younger siblings about the danger.

Because of what she called poor media coverage immediately after the party, Maran contacted a Los Angeles television station and other outlets to tell the story, in hopes of educating people that fights at parties can turn fatal.

Deanna did the right thing by asking the girl at the party not to damage the house, and much of the fault obviously lies with the girl who stabbed Deanna, Maran says.

But there was one decision Deanna could have made—to walk away.

Parents, teachers, older siblings and others must be more aware of the threat of violence teen-agers can face at parties and need to learn from this experience, she says.

"When you're 15, you don't know to suck it up and say, 'It's OK.' You have this feeling all the kids have of invincibility," Maran says.

Fight for What’s Right

My childhood in Berkeley was remarkably peaceful until I began attending public school. A new fear entered my life freshman year at Berkeley High. Fights erupted every day in the courtyard. Sometimes security would be on the scene to break things up; other times the fights dissolved into bloody stompings.

A good friend of mine took part in many of these fights. He was a caring friend, but when somebody crossed his invisible boundaries, his personality flipped and his fists flew. It was grimly not surprising one Sunday morning when I woke up to a phone call announcing that my friend was in the hospital. The night before, he got in a fight after a party. Somebody pulled a knife and stabbed his head multiple times. His nose was almost sliced off, his jugular was partially severed, and he was on the brink of death.

Fortunately, he was in superb athletic shape and survived his injuries. I feel lucky he is still around. Berkeley High had too many kids who died young. My class alone had two boys who were killed by their gun-wielding peers.

The switch from Berkeley High to Cal was incredible. Strolling through the bowels of Doe Library for the first time, the beauty of the structure was overwhelming. Here was a glorious place to study. Compared to the 1970s-era carpeted walls of the Berkeley High library, this was academic heaven. Walking around campus, I noticed countless spots for relaxed contemplation. There were green lawns, wood benches, sofas, steps, nooks and crannies to settle down and let your mind wander. The threat of violence was completely absent.

Sometimes I forget about the other world that existed in my previous life in Berkeley. On Sunday night, when I met with Claudia Maran, a sophomore from Santa Monica, I was reminded of the tragic conditions that prevailed in high school. Claudia's younger sister Deanna was murdered two weeks ago in a senseless fight similar to the one that almost took my good friend's life.

Claudia's sister Deanna was at a party a week before Thanksgiving where a reckless girl was causing damage to the house. According to Claudia, Deanna could not simply watch as the girl broke a stair banister and flowerpots. She confronted her. The out-of-control girl called her older sister on her cell phone. While Deanna was waiting outside the house for a ride home before her midnight curfew, the older sister arrived and a violent melee ensued. Deanna was overwhelmed by three attackers, one of whom stabbed her in the heart with a sharp object. She was rushed to the hospital in the back seat of a friend's car and died shortly after. Claudia has reacted to her sister's death with remarkable ambition to create positive change. Next semester she is starting a peer-education group promoting nonviolence. What is striking about Claudia's disposition after this tragedy is her constant compassion for everyone else involved. When she returned to Santa Monica, she became an impromptu grief counselor for dozens of traumatized teenagers who unconsciously called her by her sister's name. Her parents, grief stricken by the loss of their daughter, have cloistered themselves in their somber home. She has filled in the gap of communication with detectives, the media, private investigators and lawyers who have descended on her family. On top of her leading role as family contact and counselor, she has returned to UC Berkeley to finish up her finals.

Claudia has proven in this time of strife that the qualities that got her into UC Berkeley transfer directly over to the game of life. She is hard-working and extremely focused and is using her exceptional capabilities to turn a terrible event into a catalyst for positive change.

Fighting for justice is a quality all Berkeley students, and indeed all humans, share at our best. During the holidays, we should celebrate the wonderful opportunity Berkeley has afforded us to fight for justice in the realm of ideas.

Claudia's message to her fellow Berkeley students as they return home after the semester: "Realize that your younger siblings idolize you. They copy your behavior, so you have to act with grace. Teach your siblings to fight for what's right with their minds."

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Ramadan Maburak, and good luck on your finals. Respond at

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