Sarah Piccolo sat sobbing in a motel hours from home, telling a 60-year-old stranger that students had bullied her, she regretted what happened and she wanted to kill herself.
Piccolo had spent Monday night at the Star Motel in Yates Center, Kan., a 250-mile drive from Lincoln, and when she went to turn her key into Jackie Hash on Tuesday morning, the motel's manager asked whether she was a runaway. Piccolo said yes, so Hash ushered her to an onsite apartment and the two talked for about a half-hour.
“She was so remorseful,” Hash said. “I think she was just so tired of people being mean to her.
“Somebody had to really hurt her feelings really, really bad for her to do this.”
Piccolo said she wanted to commit suicide after she left the apartment, but Hash told the teenager she wouldn't let her.
“I said, ‘Oh, hell no. You're stuck here till you die of old age.”
So Piccolo asked Hash to call police, ending a 24-hour search that started Monday morning when the 16-year-old Lincoln Pius X junior allegedly slashed the face of 17-year-old senior Ellen Kopetzky and struck her twice with a hammer inside the school.
Yates Center Police Chief Lyle Kee came to the motel, which sits at the crossroads of two U.S. highways in southeast Kansas, and at about 10 in the morning, found Piccolo and a gray 1992 Buick Park Avenue with a dead battery.
Kee asked Piccolo for identification and ran her name after she gave him her school ID. She came up wanted.
“She was very nice,” Kee said. “Her demeanor was polite, cooperative.”
Hash said Piccolo didn't say whether it was Kopetzky or someone else who bullied her.
Pius X officials have no records of Kopetzky or Piccolo bullying anyone and none showing Piccolo was bullied, said JD Flynn, spokesman for the Diocese of Lincoln.
“She has good friendships and a good reputation at Pius,” Flynn said of Piccolo.
Her grandmother, June Piccolo, said she was happy that her granddaughter had been found.
“I'm tickled to death,” she said.
Charged with two felonies, Piccolo will remain at a juvenile detention facility in Kansas until Lancaster County sheriff's deputies go down and bring her back, Lincoln Police Officer Katie Flood said.
First, Piccolo will appear in a Woodson County courtroom and either fight or waive extradition back home, Lancaster County Chief Deputy Jeff Bliemeister said.
If she agrees to come back, deputies will retrieve her quickly -- possibly by the end of the week -- so Lincoln police investigators can interview her, Bliemeister said.
If she fights, Lancaster County prosecutors will have to ask for a governor's warrant, and getting Piccolo back could take significantly longer, he added.
Meanwhile, Kopetzky was released Tuesday from Bryan West Campus.
"Our family is happy to report that our daughter Ellen has returned home to continue her recovery," her parents said in a statement. "We're overwhelmed by the kindness of our community in this difficult moment."
Kopetzky was hit two times in the head with a claw hammer and cut around her mouth and chin and on her hands, Flood said Tuesday morning. Her family said she underwent surgery Monday.
They also said Piccolo being found safe was an answer to prayers.
"We hope that she will be treated with respect, with charity, and with dignity. We pray especially that the Piccolo family will be supported by this community as we have been."
Piccolo was charged in adult court with first-degree assault and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony.
In an affidavit for her arrest, Lincoln Police Officer Joseph Yindrick said Kopetzky had been in her guidance counselor's office, then walked across the hall to use the bathroom near the main office. When she walked in, Yindrick said, she immediately was attacked.
"The victim said her attacker was swinging wildly at her with the knife and stick and did not say a word to her," he said in the affidavit.
Her screams for help led a school staff member to go in and get her to safety, Yindrick said.
Police later found a hunting-style knife with an 8-inch serrated blade and a hammer in the bathroom, but Piccolo was gone.
Kopetzky told police she didn't know her attacker's name but recognized her as a junior. Police said the staff member identified her as Piccolo.
When told Tuesday that Piccolo had been found, Pius X Principal Tom Korta sent a message to parents: "We are pleased to share with you that the police just informed us that Sarah Piccolo has been found. She is safe and in police custody."
"... First and foremost I ask that you continue to pray for Sarah Piccolo and her family, as well as for Ellen Kopetzky and her family. I ask you to continue to respect both families' requests for privacy. Part of respecting their privacy is refraining from speculation about motives and/or spreading gossip and rumors about the situation. Please help us in delivering that message to your kids as well."
Korta also reiterated Tuesday that there is no evidence of a so-called hit list as was rumored Monday.
"Apparently the (police) department has been contacted by several parents expressing concern over this list. This is a great lesson for our students about how gossip and rumors can truly hurt others."
Counselors from Pius X and from Catholic Social Services were available to students, he said.
Neither police nor school officials have been able to find any sort of connection between Piccolo and Kopetzky as friends, teammates, members of a club, rivals for a boy or anything else.
"We still don't know the motivation for the assault," Flood said.
She said Piccolo was driving her boyfriend's car, and he was as shocked as everyone else about the attack.
"Her actions, based on talking with friends and family, were completely out of character," Flood said.
Before Monday, police had had no contact with Piccolo.
The assault at about 9:45 a.m. Monday sparked an armed search at Pius X and lockdowns at other schools in the east part of town.
Lincoln Police Capt. Jim Davidsaver said Monday the attack was the most severe he has seen at a Lincoln school during his 27 years on the force.
Such an assault was not in keeping with the quiet, timid teen who sat on her couch Tuesday morning, Hash said.
“You could hardly hear her talk.”
Hash said she urged Piccolo to call her parents and let them know she was safe and not hurt, but she worried “mommy and daddy” would be angry.
After Kee took Piccolo away, Hash spoke with her father, John.
“She was the best little girl I ever met,” Hash said. “I don't know what happened.
“All I can do is just cry.”