School Bars Tankleff; Knife Threat Alleged
By Carolyn Colwell and Jenny Abdo
Staff Writer

October 13, 1988

Martin Tankleff, the Belle Terre youth charged with killing his parents last month, will not be rejoining his classmates at Port Jefferson High School [CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, the name of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson was incorrectly stated in yesterday's editions in a story about Martin Tankleff. (Pg. 2 NS 10/14/88)] because of allegations that he threatened a student last spring with a knife, the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office said yesterday.

Tankleff's attorney and an attorney for the other boy involved, however, last night characterized the incident as horseplay that law enforcement officials have blown out of proportion.

As the news emerged yesterday, Tankleff, 17, was attending funeral services for his father, Seymour. Shari Rother, Martin's sister, compared their father to a star that lights up the dark sky. He was all things to their family, she said, a close friend to her husband and the kind of parent her brother, accused of murdering her mother and assaulting her father, tried to emulate.

Rother's eulogy, at I.J. Morris funeral home in Dix Hills, came five weeks after her mother, Arlene, was buried in a cemetery 2 miles away. Martin Tankleff, free on $1 million bond, sat a few feet away from where she stood, their father's brown casket by her side.

But all Rother could talk about, standing before about 100 mourners inside the dimly lit funeral home, was how life used to be. That world was one far from police investigations and murder charges.

She found enough strength to deliver a three-minute eulogy. "The thought I want to leave you with is this: If you look up on a starlit night, you will see my father watching over you."

As she spoke, law enforcement officials continued to investigate her brother. Assistant District Attorney Edward Jablonski said he recently met with the district superintendent and was advised that Tankleff's school would not permit him to return.

"They informed us if he chose to come back, they will not permit it, because of the knifing incident last spring . . . coupled with the charges against him," Jablonski said.

The incident occurred May 26 in a hallway outside Tankleff's reading class, a police source said. Tankleff allegedly pulled a switchblade knife on a friend of his and said, "I ought to kill you." Tankleff allegedly was angry because his friend had started to go out with Tankleff's date from the junior prom. Tankleff and the youth had double-dated at the prom, the police source said. Possession of a switchblade is a misdemeanor.

School officials did not report the incident at the time and did not discipline Tankleff, except to take the knife and call his father, the police source said.

School officials have refused to confirm or deny the incident or their decision involving Tankleff's return to school. "It is the school's policy not to discuss student matters with the press," said Bill Johnson, the district's attorney. Assistant Superintendent Christine Lombardi said Tankleff would receive home tutoring, possibly as soon as Monday.

Tankleff began living with Rother and her family in Port Jefferson after his release Tuesday from Suffolk County Jail, said his attorney, Bob Gottlieb. Although Tankleff faces another murder charge since his father died last Thursday, Gottlieb has said that should not affect his client's bail.

Paul Gianelli, the attorney representing the youth Tankleff allegedly threatened, confirmed last night that the knife incident occurred last spring and that police questioned his client on Tuesday. But, he added, "my client was not threatened by him [Tankleff] and he felt that it was a joke and that essentially is it. And he feels that it is a lot about nothing."

Gottlieb said last night that the fact that law enforcement and school officials have begun taking the incident seriously "does Marty Tankleff an incredible disservice. Let them deal with this case and not throw up a lot of phony smoke screens." Gottlieb also said school officials did not want Tankleff to return to school because they feared disruptive media attention.

Through it all, Tankleff's family has remained supportive of him. At the funeral home yesterday, the mourners were weeping by the time Rother left the podium. She clutched her brother's arm, and the two filed out of the chapel. Under their breaths, friends mentioned the things Rother did not say. "It's so sad," a mourner said, while another added, "No one would possibly believe this could happened."

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