Laytonville slaying victim ‘was going to be an important person’

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Laytonville High School senior Teo Palmieri was a brilliant, creative boy headed toward a bright future when his life was cut short during an inexplicable, middle-of-the-night knife attack, allegedly by the close friend he had convinced his family to take in. The attack killed Palmieri’s father, critically injured his mother and uncle and sent shockwaves through the small town in northeastern Mendocino County.

Talen Barton, 19, Palmieri’s close friend, was arraigned Tuesday on multiple murder and attempted murder charges, along with numerous special allegations in connection with the deaths of Palmieri, 17, and his father, Coleman Palmieri, 52. Teo Palmieri’s mother, Cindy Norvell, 54, a beloved town physician, and her brother Theodore Norvell, who was visiting from Newfoundland, Canada, with his daughter, were critically wounded.

Barton is expected to enter a plea to the charges Aug. 4.

Barton and Palmieri both had attended Laytonville High School. When Barton, then 17, got into trouble for allegedly trying to hit his foster mother with a 15-pound hand weight, Palmieri lobbied his family to let Barton live with them.

They did, treating him like family and helping to get him into college after graduation. But Barton soon dropped out and returned to their home.

Both teens were said to be intelligent, but Palmieri was extraordinary, school officials said. He ran track, was a member of the school’s mock trial team, wrote poetry and participated in a monthly public radio talk show called “YouthSpeaksOut!”

“Teo was going to be an important person,” said Dan Roberts, who teaches poetry part-time at Laytonville High School and is the producer of “YouthSpeaksOut!” on KZYX radio station.

Palmieri and Barton were on three of the shows together, Roberts said.

Palmieri was smart, funny and mature beyond his age, he said.

“It was like talking to a 30-year-old,” Roberts said. “He was a gifted kid.”

Laytonville attorney Elina Agnoli, who coaches the school’s champion mock trial team, agreed.

“He was really aware, really creative in his thinking,” she said.

Palmieri could “think on his feet” and would have been a good attorney, if he’d had the chance and had chosen to do so.

“He was the type of kid who no matter what he did, would do well,” Agnoli said.

Palmieri was not only smart, but also witty, she said, and loved making people laugh by telling jokes.

He was competitive but made competition fun, she said.

“He was funny, good morale for the team,” Agnoli said.

She, like others in the tight-knit community, is reeling from the shocking attacks on Palmieri and his family.

“You can feel a pall over the town,” Agnoli said.

The motive for the stabbings remains unknown, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney said Tuesday.

“We don’t fully understand what his thought process was,” he said.

Barney said there was no known confrontation between the family and Barton prior to the attack, which occurred shortly after midnight as the family slept. But Barton reportedly had told another youth he wanted to kill someone, sheriff’s officials said.

Barton’s former foster mother, Denise Shields, has described him as intelligent but with a dark side she found frightening.

He had lived with his drug-addicted mother in a home that was physically and mentally abusive before becoming a ward of the state at the age of 7, Shields said.

Sheriff’s officials continue to seek explanations for the devastating attack. Barney asked that anyone with information contact the Sheriff’s Office.

The Laytonville community is struggling to come to terms with the horrific killings while rallying to support the survivors.

They’ve been contributing to a GoFundMe account at www.gofundme.com/zsrw2a4 that already has raised more than $17,000 for Norvell and her 14-year-old daughter, said Alison Pernell, who created the fund.

The community also “is sending a lot of love,” Agnoli said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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