The teenager suspected of killing an 86-year-old woman Wednesday at the Highlands High School track was led into a courtroom holding cell Friday afternoon hours after authorities named him as their prime suspect in the shocking beating death.
Neven Butler, 18, faced Sacramento Superior Court Judge Richard Sueyoshi on suspicion of a Wednesday afternoon assault along with elder abuse on a 92-year-old woman in the Arden Arcade neighborhood. Investigators later tied him to the deadly attack at the school that same morning. Flanked by deputies in the holding cell, Butler listened as Sueyoshi read the allegations against him.
Prosecutors alleged that Butler inflicted great bodily injury and “unjustifiable physical pain” upon the 92-year-old beaten in the attack, which came just hours after Fusako Petrus’ death at Highlands High School.
On Friday afternoon, Sacramento County sheriff’s officials announced Butler’s arrest on suspicion of murder and sexual assault in the killing of Petrus as well as sexual assault on the friend who accompanied Petrus on her early morning walk at the track.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Sheriff’s officials said Petrus’ walking partner, 61, was attacked first at about 6 a.m. When Petrus tried to help her friend fend off the assault, the attacker set upon her before scaling a nearby fence and running away. The woman with Petrus was treated for her injuries at the scene.
Butler was arrested without incident hours later about 12 miles away in the 2200 block of Northrup Avenue, at the spot where he allegedly attacked the 92-year-old. The woman suffered injuries to her face and was transported to a hospital where she received treatment.
A makeshift memorial of flowers and candles decorated the fence and sidewalk Friday outside of Petrus’ pale yellow house on a street of modest ranch homes not far from the former McClellan Air Force Base, now a business park. Petrus, neighbors said, used her walking stick to try to fend off her friend’s attacker. Petrus, who has lived alone on the street since her husband died about 20 years ago, was tiny, they said, but had an outsized spirit and heart.
“This lady had more compassion than you can imagine,” said Julia Ortiz, who has known Petrus for more than four decades. She helped look after a neighbor who had multiple sclerosis, Ortiz said. She pulled garbage cans in and out and brought food for disabled neighbors. She still drove and cooked her meals.
“She had so much energy,”said Ortiz. “She just flew around. You’d never know she was 86.”
Each morning at around 6, Petrus walked the high school track, sometimes recruiting neighbors to join her, often wearing a lighted headband.
Ortiz said she was relieved on Friday to learn that her neighbor’s alleged killer had been caught. “You want to feel safe in your own neighborhood,” she said. “Fusako was so helpful, loving, caring. How could anyone hurt a sweet old lady?”
Butler had attended Highlands High School from August 2015 to December 2016 and was a junior, Twin Rivers Unified School District spokeswoman Zenobia Gerald said Friday.
A district news release said he dropped out of the school. He played on the school’s football team in the 2015 to 2016 season and also participated in track and field, Gerald said.
“Our immediate concern is with the victims and their families,” said a Twin Rivers news release. “They face a long road of grieving and will need the support of the entire community.”
Before his time at Highlands High, Butler was enrolled at Oakmont High School from August 2013 to the middle of February 2015, said Brad Basham, the executive director for personnel services at the Roseville Joint Union High School District. Basham said school records indicate Butler left the district after that time.
Matthew Tibbats of Roseville and Citrus Heights resident Robert Hills said they’ve both known Butler since the fourth grade, when the three attended George Sargeant Elementary School in Roseville.
The boys remained friends when they moved on to Warren T. Eich Middle School and later at Oakmont High school. Growing up, Butler was known as a class clown who didn’t take his studies seriously, Hills said.
Tibbats said he and Butler continued to hang out about once a month and talked on the phone occasionally even after Butler left the Roseville area to live in North Highlands.
“I know that in North Highlands, he didn’t really kick it with any of the kids out there,” Tibbats said. “I’m just really shocked. ... He’s one of my best friends.”
Investigators are still seeking a motive in a killing that sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Tony Turnbull called “extremely violent.” Butler returns to Sueyoshi’s courtroom Monday where is expected to be arraigned in Petrus’ killing.
“We understand additional charges may be filed,” said Butler’s court-appointed attorney Linda Parisi.