LINCOLN — Jackie Hash knew she was looking at a runaway in the small-town motel in southern Kansas.
But she never imagined the sad, tired girl in the lobby was a fugitive wanted in Monday's school assault in Lincoln.
A cup of coffee, a tearful conversation and a dead car battery Tuesday morning helped persuade Sarah Piccolo to surrender to authorities 250 miles from home. Things might have played out differently had a 58-year-old motel manager not asked the 16-year-old girl what was wrong.
“She was so remorseful,” Hash said. “She had time to think about it, and she was scared and she was so sorry.”
On Wednesday, Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly said Piccolo waived her extradition hearing in Yates Center, Kan., meaning she will return to Lincoln to face felony assault and weapons charges. She has been charged as an adult in the knife and hammer attack of Pius X senior Ellen Kopetzky in a school bathroom.
Kopetzky, 17, suffered two hammer blows to the head as well as cuts to her face and hands. She underwent surgery at a Lincoln hospital Monday and was released the following day.
The attack prompted a two-hour lock down at Pius as police searched each classroom looking for the suspect. Authorities said Piccolo immediately fled the school and drove away in her boyfriend's 1992 Buick.
Sometime after 9 p.m. Monday, she checked into the Star Motel at the intersection of two highways in Yates Center. She paid for the room in cash.
The next morning, Hash asked the girl if she was a runaway as she turned in the key. When Piccolo said she was, Hash asked her to sit and gave her a cup of coffee.
They talked for half an hour, maybe a little longer. The girl was quiet, timid and well-mannered.
“Somebody had been mean to her,” Hash said. “I figured she was bullied, but I don't know that. She just said somebody had hurt her.”
Piccolo did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Hash stressed.
“I've been in the motel business for a long time. I know when somebody's been taking drugs.”
Piccolo said little about the incident in the school bathroom. She didn't say why Kopetzky was targeted, or even that she knew Kopetzky, Hash said. The victim has told police that she doesn't know why she was attacked.
When contacted Wednesday, the Rev. Jim Meysenburg, Pius' superintendent, said the school has no record of Piccolo being bullied at school.
“We pray that she was not,” he said “We make every reasonable attempt to ensure that students are treated with respect.”
As their conversation wound down, Hash encouraged Piccolo to call her parents, but the girl said she was afraid she would be in trouble. So Hash tried to persuade her to drive back north to Lincoln.
They walked out to the Buick, and Piccolo turned the key. It failed to start.
“This is God telling us you've got to figure out what to do,” Hash remembered saying.
Piccolo asked Hash to call police.
When she did, she gave the police operator the girl's name. Hash held Piccolo as they waited in the parking lot.
Within moments, multiple police cruisers arrived — quite a scene for the small-town motel.
Officers put the girl in the front seat of a cruiser and took her to a juvenile detention facility.
A day later, Hash said she received calls from strangers in Lincoln, thanking her for what she did. She also got a call of gratitude from Piccolo's parents.
Hash, who is not a mother, said she'll think about the sad, scared girl she met Tuesday for a long time. She'll worry about her.
“I would been proud to have had her for a daughter, because that's the kind of child she seemed to be. She made a wrong choice, but she's not a bad child.”
World-Herald staff writer Kevin Cole contributed to this report.