‘We lost so much’: Family of teen stabbed at KC school objects to killer’s plea deal
In the two months before 14-year-old Manuel “Manny” Guzman was killed in the bathroom of Northeast Middle School, he had been feeling depressed, according to his mother.
She never understood why.
Then, after he died on April 12, 2022, many of his friends and former peers told Vicenta Guzman her Manny had been their therapist: listening to their problems, consoling them and offering guidance.
“I was like ‘wow’ these kids are going through so much... He started to feel like he had to help them all one way or another,” Vicenta Guzman said.
With tears rolling down her cheeks, she stood across from the Family Justice Center on Friday afternoon surrounded by family members with photographs and picket signs — each desperate to see justice for their beloved 14-year-old and disappointed so few in Guzman’s community had joined their protest.
Less than a dozen people stood beside Vicenta Guzman an hour into the rally. Many were family members.
On the eve of the one-year-anniversary of the teen’s death, the 15-year-old boy charged with Manuel Guzman’s murder took a guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter. The charge is a class B felony under Missouri law, but less severe than his initial charges of first-degree murder, armed criminal action and unlawful weapon use.
“We lost so much during this process with my child. And for them to just accuse him of manslaughter. I disagree,” she said.
‘A safer community’
Carina Guzman, Manuel Guzman’s aunt, who stood with her two young boys, explained that the plea made her and the rest of the family angry.
“For some reason they dropped two charges and helped a criminal,” she said.
She alleged that texts and SnapChat messages between her nephew’s peers showed the 15-year-old had been planning the murder for a full month before the attack.
Juan Guzman, Manuel Guzman’s uncle, stood by the family, holding up a poster with pictures of the 14-year-old as a young child and through to his adolescence.
“I’m heartbroken,” he said.
He also attended Northeast Middle School as a teen, and feels the excessive violence needs to change.
“Hopefully no one has to go through this anymore and I hope schools on the security side will be more careful.”
Vicenta Guzman said she was not allowed to comment on the school’s safety and referred any related questions to her attorney.
She hopes her son’s death will lead to a call to action to prevent violence. Her son’s killing was the first of four homicides in Kansas City in less than 24 hours last year. The violence led Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas to declare the city would commit federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act toward funding anti-violence prevention programs across the city.
Guzman also said she was disappointed with the way the case was prosecuted and would like to see changes made to juvenile criminal justice laws, but did not specify which changes she’d most like to see.
“I feel like the system is letting not only me, but a lot of people down,” she said. “For me to stand here, I’m not only fighting for justice for my son, but a safer community.”
Valerie Hartman, a public information officer for Jackson County, said the 15-year-old would be in court on May 17 for a dispositional hearing where the judge would make a final decision “regarding his treatment.” He remains in the Juvenile Detention Center.
Vicenta Guzman said she has felt lost since her son’s death.
She replays the moments with her son she almost shared: the summer trip they had planned to see his uncle or the football try-out he almost attended for a spot playing with another high school out-of-state.
She announced Friday that the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime offered her therapy services, and that she’s looking forward to getting help. Two representatives from the organization stood by her side.
“Its been a violent year,” said Brittany Scarborough, a representative with the group. “But there’s a lot of ways for people to get help.”
Guzman explained that many others in her situation often discount the good that therapy can do. Indeed, for awhile, she had put off getting counseling herself.
“Its hard to admit because you want to be that strong mom,” she said.
But after learning about the guidance her Manny had offered his own friends, she decided to get help herself; hoping to show other grieving parents that its alright to seek support.
“I figured I would get better for him,” she said. “I’m strong and I made it this far.”