HOLLYWOOD—A 15-year-old boy was arrested Thursday on suspicion of manslaughter for allegedly selling a fentanyl-laced drug to a pair of Bernstein High School students—one of whom died—while a 16-year-old boy was arrested for allegedly peddling drugs to a third student in nearby Lexington Park.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said the 15-year-old suspect allegedly sold the narcotic to two 15-year-old girls on the Bernstein campus, causing both of them to overdose. One of them, identified by the coroner's office as Melanie Ramos, died on the floor of a girls' bathroom on the campus Tuesday night.
The suspect was arrested Thursday morning in the Hollywood area. Moore said he lives with his grandmother, and police who searched their residence found other pills in his possession.
The second suspect, a 16-year-old boy, was not arrested in connection with Ramos' death, Moore said, but is believed to be associated with the 15- year-old suspect in that case. The chief said both suspects are students at APEX Academy charter school, located on the campus of Bernstein High School.
Neither suspect was identified due to their ages. Moore said there were four victims who suffered overdoses from a series of related drug sales -- which date back to Aug. 26 -- though the fourth victim was given Narcan and has not come forward. He added that the arrests happened swiftly because the surviving 15-year-old girl was able to help police identify who she purchased the drugs from.
At a news briefing Thursday at LAPD headquarters, city officials said that the suspects were likely part of a larger drug operation.
"These two individuals are simply transferring and soldiering this distribution," Moore said. "There is a drug operation behind this."
Mayor Eric Garcetti said that he was not "just interested in the final distributors of the pill that pedaled this death."
"We want to go up that chain, and anybody that's involved in the distribution of this, the manufacturing of this," Garcetti said. "Those who are enabling the dealers that allowed this to happen: This will not end well for you."
The 16-year-old suspect was being booked on suspicion of narcotics sales for allegedly selling drugs to the student at Lexington Park. Authorities said earlier that at least two students suffered apparent overdoses at Lexington Park Tuesday night, the same evening Ramos died at Bernstein High School.
According to police and Los Angeles Unified School District officials, the situation unfolded around 8 p.m. Tuesday, when a man went to Bernstein high, 1309 N. Wilton Place, in search of his stepdaughter, who had not returned from school.
He found his stepdaughter suffering from apparent overdose symptoms, although she was still conscious and was able to tell him that one of her friends was in a girls' bathroom, officials said. The man and a school employee found the other girl—Ramos—unresponsive in the bathroom, where she died. The other girl is still hospitalized.
Investigators subsequently learned of possibly two other overdoses involving students that occurred at nearby Lexington Park on Tuesday night. Police said one of those victims apparently received the anti-overdose medication Narcan at the scene and left, and has not come forward to police or been identified.
Moore said Ramos and her friend purchased at least one pill they thought was the pain killer Percocet from the 15-year-old suspect at Bernstein High School. The drug is believed to have been laced with the deadly synthetic drug fentanyl, although testing was still being performed to identify the narcotic, Moore said.
Classes have continued at Bernstein, although counselors have been available to students and staff.
Anyone with additional information was asked to contact West Bureau Homicide investigators at 213-382-9470 or 877-LAPD-24-7. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS.
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho went to Bernstein High Wednesday morning to meet with the dead girl's family. He lashed out at the scourge of drugs being sold to teen students at Lexington Park. He indicated that as many as six other students may have suffered from overdoses in recent weeks stemming from drugs purchased at the park.
"Lexington Park is two blocks away from this school," Carvalho said. "Meaning Lexington Park is two blocks away from literally hundreds of teenagers."
He decried the death of Ramos, a 15-year-old girl who "perished at this school on the coldness of a bathroom floor."
"That should not be the case, not in this school. Not in any school in Los Angeles or across our country," he said. "But that's the situation we're facing."
Lexington Park was closed Wednesday while the investigation unfolded.
At the briefing Thursday, Carvalho stressed that the community should not conclude that Bernstein High is a "bad school."
"No, Bernstein is a regular school, facing the same challenges as many other schools," Carvalho said.
Carvalho pledged to mount a "very, very aggressive awareness campaign" with parents and students to let them know of the potential deadly consequences of "just popping a pill" to "get a cheap high."
Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who represents Hollywood, said that "very, very bad adults" were responsible. O'Farrell also visited the school Wednesday, speaking with faculty and students whom he described as "grief-stricken and traumatized." He said it would take "weeks and months" for people affected to work through the tragedy.
"We're going to figure this one out," O'Farrell said. "But how many other tragedies do we not have our arms around because of the widespread distribution and access, and, really, inexpensive ability to have drugs laced with fentanyl?"