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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Custodian sues over suicide cleanup

A custodian at Lakeside High School is suing the Nine Mile Falls School District for making her clean up the bloody mess left after a 16-year-old boy shot himself in the head inside the school in 2004.

Debbie Rothwell is seeking unspecified damages for the infliction of emotional and physical distress from the incident during which Skyler Cullitan brought a gun to school and killed himself.

In her complaint filed Tuesday in Spokane County Superior Court, Rothwell claims she was directed to “clean and dump everything.”

Rothwell’s lawsuit says she finished cleaning the school about 4:15 a.m., and was then required to return to school in the morning to serve cookies and coffee to distraught students, staff and parents, as well as to guard the school gates.

“It’s really been disturbing to her because she still has to work in that building where she had to clean up the remains,” said Bill Powell, Rothwell’s attorney. She has asked to be transferred from the building but has been denied, Powell said.

The suit also alleges that Rothwell was told to clean up soot in the school’s entryway after law enforcement detonated a “bomb” found in the suicide victim’s backpack at the school that day.

Nine Mile Falls School District Superintendent Michael Green said Thursday he could not comment on the litigation, but did say the suspicious device found in the boy’s backpack was not a bomb.

“It turned out to be a science experiment,” Green said.

It was detonated by law enforcement as a precaution, he said. Neither the existence of a suspicious device nor its detonation was made public at the time.The complaint also says that Stevens County sheriff’s detectives – named in the suit along with Sheriff Craig Thayer – allowed her to pick up Cullitan’s backpack after she was told to start cleaning, even though authorities believed there was a suspicious device inside.

When she discovered that fact later, Rothwell was “shocked and frightened,” the suit alleges.