MOUNT HOPE — The 14-year-old boy charged with stabbing a classmate to death outside their middle school Wednesday in a dispute over a stolen cellphone struggled with mental health issues and had attempted suicide, sources said.
The fatal confrontation occurred just a day after Noel Estevez returned to I.S. 117 Joseph H. Wade middle school, at 1865 Morris Ave., after being released from psychiatric care, according to the sources.
Around 3 p.m., Estevez confronted the victim, Timothy Crump, 14, over a cellphone that had been stolen last month, sources said. But investigators and the suspect's neighbors disagreed about who had owned the phone.
Crump had been suspended from the school on Dec. 16 for knocking out a classmate's teeth during a fight, according to the sources. He was not allowed to come back for the rest of the academic year.
The circumstances of that fight were not immediately clear.
On Wednesday afternoon, Estevez's argument with Crump turned physical, and Crump, who still hung around the school a lot, got the better of the suspect, punching him several times in the face, the sources said.
At some point, Estevez allegedly pulled out a 6-inch kitchen knife and stabbed Crump three times in the chest, piercing his heart and lungs, sources and the medical examiner said.
"They were fighting. One took out a knife and stabbed the other one," said witness Juan Perez, 18.
"People started screaming."
Crump, who lived in Longwood, was pronounced dead at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital at 3:30 p.m., officials said. Estevez, who was Facebook friends with the victim, was arrested on charges of murder and manslaughter, police said.
The two had been locked in a dispute since April and then, in May, the cellphone was stolen, sources said.
From May 28 to June 11, Estevez was in psychiatric care at Bronx-Lebanon because he was suicidal and suffering mood disorders, records and sources said.
The same day that he was released his mother, Maria Estevez, 52, who also goes by Angie, was arrested for arranging a crack deal using an undercover officer's cellphone, according to a criminal complaint. Marisol Perez, 44, a family friend, was also arrested in the incident.
It was not immediately clear why or how Noel was cleared to go back to school. On his Facebook page, he posted about a breakup with his girlfriend and the death of his brother, who died in his sleep in May 2013, according to a family friend.
"i miss my big brother r.i.p bro," he wrote on May 4, 2013. "Your gone from the world but not from our hearts."
"His brother passed away last year in his sleep. It changed him a lot. He was really saddened about it. He did counseling, but he would still cry. He said his brother did everything for him. He never got over it," Milagros said.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, speaking at P.S. 5 in Inwood Thursday, called the Wednesday stabbing a "tragedy."
She declined to comment on the specifics of the case, citing a police investigation, but said, "the reality is this is something that shouldn't happen. It certainly shouldn't happen to 14-year-olds.
According to neighbors, a group of boys had been tormenting Estevez, breaking into his apartment building to urinate on his front door, leaving the 14-year-old despondent and withdrawn, neighbors said.
"They started constantly harassing him. They would come up and write on his door. They would throw rocks at the window," said family friend Milagros Arroyo, 25.
"He's been the victim of bullying for the last three months. They were threatening him and making fun of his mom," she added.
But it was not clear if Crump was among the group. Sources also said there was no indication that bullying played a role in the fatal stabbing, although Estevez had been harassed.
Estevez, who neighbors said had a stutter, had grown frightened and reclusive, often receding into his tidy room to pore over the Japanese comics that he liked to read, neighbors said.
"He was a really good student. His grades were in the 80s and 90s, but he had a speech impediment and ADHD," said Arroyo, who is also Perez's daughter.
"He would sit here with us and say, 'Mom, I don't want to go to school. They're gonna hurt me,'" the family friend recalled.
A Department of Education spokeswoman declined to discuss Wednesday's stabbing or the history between the two boys, referring all inquiries to the NYPD.
A police spokesman said his department had no criminal history with either boy.
Students at Wade rated the school a 6.2 out of 10 for "safety and respect" in the most recent Department of Education survey last year.
Most students said they felt safe inside and immediately outside the school, but 46 percent of students said their classmates harassed or bullied other students some of the time, according to the survey.
Another 37 percent of students said bullying happened most or all of the time.
Additional reporting by Nigel Chiwaya and Ben Fractenberg.