When 13-year-old Diego Stolz met with middle school officials to report being bullied by classmates, the teen and his family were hopeful for a resolution.
“He was so relieved that he had talked to someone,” Stolz’s cousin Jazmin said at a news conference Tuesday. “We were on our drive back home, and I turned around and I told him, ‘I’m always going to defend you. You know that, right?’ And he nodded his head, ‘I know.'”
Less than two weeks later, Diego was killed in a brutal attack by school bullies.
On Tuesday, Diego’s family held a press conference announcing that they were filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the Moreno Valley Unified School District, accusing the district of failing to adequately respond to Diego’s complaint
“That’s what’s unbelievably devastating to this family, that this could have been prevented,” the family’s attorney, Dave Ring, said. “It could have been prevented if this school took bullying seriously.”
Ring said Diego’s bullies were childhood friends of his who, for unknown reasons, began bullying him in seventh grade. Two 13-year-old boys have been charged with voluntary manslaughter and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.
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According to the suit, when Diego reported being “verbally and physically” bullied by the group of boys to Landmark Middle School’s vice principal on Sept. 13, he was told he could take off the following day of school, a Friday, and return Monday. In the interim, the boys would be suspended for three days, beginning that Monday, and would have their class schedules changed.
But when he returned to school that Monday, Sept. 16, the boys were still there, the suit alleges.
During lunch that day Diego was brutally attacked by his bullies. Cellphone video taken of the attack shows Diego hitting his head on a pillar. Nine days later he was pronounced clinically dead and taken off of life support.
In a statement to local station KTLA, Moreno Valley school district spokeswoman Anahi Velasco denied the district did anything improper.
“The two boys who attacked and killed Diego are responsible for this death,” Velasco wrote in an email to the station.
“Bullying in schools is a national issue. This issue constitutes a shared responsibility amongst parents, students, school district personnel, community leaders and law enforcement,” she said. “Together, we need to send a resounding message these behaviors will not be tolerated in our schools. Keeping kids safe in schools is a high priority at MVUSD.”
During a vigil for Diego, other students and their families shared similar complaints about bullying and accused the district of not taking appropriate action.
The school district did not immediately return PEOPLE’s calls for comment Wednesday.