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updated: 8/16/2011 10:48 AM

Isolation: The constant for Angel Facio

Elgin teen describes emotions on the day he stabbed teacher

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  • Prison photo of Angel Facio, convicted of attempted murder in the stabbing of Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilbert.

      Prison photo of Angel Facio, convicted of attempted murder in the stabbing of Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilbert.

 
 

He was about to snap.

He didn't know when, or how.

In the months leading up to his knife attack on Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilbert, Angel Facio says, he'd felt angrier and angrier.

He worried more and more about his two younger brothers, ages 14 and 5.

His parents, Angel Sr. and Sinthia, were arguing constantly.

"I would always try to leave the house, anytime, even when they weren't fighting," Facio said. "I would know if they were in the same room together they'd pretty much fight."

The family's Elgin home was heading toward foreclosure. His mother, who has not responded to repeated requests for comment, was in and out of jail on cocaine charges, snorting, at times, as much as $200 a day, according to court testimony. Facio's mom's boyfriend had been living with the family, along with his dad, following the boyfriend's parole for a murder conviction.

More than three years later, from inside a prison in Eastern Illinois, Facio talks publicly for the first time about the days and weeks that led to the moment when he violently stabbed his teacher.

Facio spends his days in isolation in his cell, thinking. He was a coward to do what he did, he says now.

Back then, Facio says he felt like he was on his own. He felt alone and angry. His problems seemed insurmountable as he slipped through the cracks without intervention by parents, counselors or teachers.

At 16, Facio hadn't yet learned to drive and had few places to go. Still, he says, he tried to get out of the house on foot whenever he could, bringing his brothers with him.

They'd often walk the few blocks from home to Elgin's Gail Borden Library, where he'd read for hours. He joined Elgin High's chess club, coached by guidance counselor Patrick McCarthy. He tried to join the science club.

The distractions didn't work.

Facio attacked Gilbert, he says now, instead of facing his problems.

"I felt like I didn't have no control over my hands," he said. "It was like somebody else was using them."

He says he planned to slit her throat. But Gilbert had a silver necklace on that day. It got in his way.

"I saw that it hit the necklace," he said of the knife.

Facio threw himself on Gilbert, pinning her to the ground.

"I had the knife in one hand and she had the hand around my wrist (with the knife). She had her other hand on my chest telling me to stop."

He didn't.

They struggled, and Facio soon had Gilbert face down on the floor.

Facio stabbed Gilbert in the head, neck and eye, at least seven times. He says he clearly remembers the location of the first four puncture wounds.

Gilbert screamed. And then Facio recalls Mike Gannon, a math teacher in the classroom next door, burst into the room, screaming, "You get off her!"

Just as he did, Facio says, the knife blade broke from its handle when he struck the back of Gilbert's head with force.

The handle hit the carpeting. There was blood all over Gilbert. His clothes. The classroom. But Facio says he didn't notice.

Gannon ordered Facio to sit in a nearby desk, as he pushed the room's emergency button to call for help.

Facio could have run.

He didn't. He still doesn't know why.

When Alan Flota, the school's assistant principal, came moments later to talk to him about the attack, Facio said: "I tried to tell a lie at first. I tried to say I'd received a message at a phone booth to (kill someone)."

He wasn't thinking clearly.

"I can remember I was like, 'Man, what the (expletive) did I do?' I couldn't believe it."

Gilbert was rushed to Sherman Hospital in Elgin and then transferred to a higher-level trauma center for emergency surgery. Two weeks later, she lost her right eye and later endured multiple reconstructive surgeries and fittings for a prosthetic replacement.

After the attack, Facio was handcuffed and taken to the Elgin Police Department, where juvenile officers took pictures of his bloodstained clothes and asked him questions.

He says he didn't say a word to them.

His mother, Sinthia, arrived, Facio says. She was crying and asking him why he'd done such a thing. "She asked me, but I didn't tell her," he said.

She seemed sad, he recalls, sad he was being sent away, but not mad at him.

His mother was the one who broke the news to her son that he was being taken away to the Arthur J. Audy Juvenile Detention Center on South Hamilton Avenue in Chicago.

As soon as he arrived there, Facio says, he asked if he could go to confession. The resident chaplain agreed to call a priest who met him in the center's auditorium.

"I grew up going to confession," he said. "But when I stabbed Ms. Gilbert, I stepped away from the church."

Facio was charged with attempted murder.

State's Attorney Kevin Frey argued to transfer the case to adult court, but Judge Paul Stralka, citing Facio's chaotic home life, kept the case in juvenile court.

"The facts in this case are horrific," Stralka said in explaining his decision in April 2008. "It's clear the minor intended the attack to incur the attention of his bickering parents."

Stralka is on medical leave and could not comment for this story. Facio did not suffer physical abuse at home, Stralka said then, "but his parents were at best neglectful while seeking to fulfill their own desires."

Stralka also said Elgin High officials might have been able to prevent the attack.

Facio's chess coach, McCarthy, also a school guidance counselor, found the teen's personal journal months before the attack. Facio's journal described his parents fighting, his mother's drug use and his own thoughts of suicide, Stralka noted in court. McCarthy encouraged Facio's mother to read the journal and get help for her son. She later said she'd been unwilling to violate her son's privacy.

Stralka pointed to other signs as well. Just a week before the attack on Gilbert, Facio was issued a school citation for writing profanities on another student's face.

"It's unfortunate this unusual conduct had not incurred a school investigation," Stralka said in court.

Facio had no criminal convictions, but the judge did allow information from two pending Kane County cases to influence his decision. Facio had turned to violence twice before -- sexually assaulting an 8-year-old neighbor in August, and just a few weeks before the stabbing, attempting to abduct a 13-year-old Larson Middle School student. But the investigation into those crimes was moving slowly and school officials were unaware of them.

"I was out there for five months. They didn't come talk to me," Facio said from prison.

Aside from one-word responses to the judge's questions, Facio never spoke during five months of court appearances until his June sentencing in Rolling Meadows.

"I am very sorry. I wish to make it up to her but I don't know how," he read mechanically off a handwritten note in court that day. "While I'm locked up, I'm getting all the help I can."

Gilbert came to court that day for the first and only time. A few feet away from Facio, she wept.

Facio is sorry, he insists from the Lawrence Correctional Center interview room.

"Do you think Ms. Gilbert's going to read this newspaper?" he asked.

Probably when he gets out, he says, he'd like to go see her.

"If I could, I would say it to her face, I'm sorry."

Coming Wednesday: Angel Facio talks about life in prison and what he might have done had he gotten more help.

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