PROVO — As classmates he injured in a violent attack told a judge of their healing and forgiveness, the 16-year-old boy who attempted to kill them said he was in disbelief at their mercy.
"I'm sorry to my victims, to my family, to my community. What I've done is terrible beyond description," Luke Dollahite, shackled and hanging his head, quietly said as he was sentenced to prison Thursday. "The mercy and kindness I've been shown, I don't deserve it. It makes me feel grateful."
Following the hearing, Dollahite's attorney, Mike Esplin, said Dollahite's brief statement shows the progress he has made since a hearing in April when some of the boys he stabbed or assaulted spoke in juvenile court.
"That has helped my client to understand the effect of his acts more than he did before that, to hear these people explain how it affected their lives," Esplin said.
After hearing Dollahite's statement in court, 17-year-old Alvin Densley said he felt encouraged to see his attacker express his remorse personally, rather than through someone else.
"I had always just been told from second-hand sources that he was sorry," Densley said. "I enjoyed hearing his apology and being able to know that he did feel something and he does care, and that gives me a little bit of faith in him. It gives me closure to know that he's serving his time and that he's in a good place right now. I hope he can stay there."
Dollahite faced five charges of attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, for stabbing four classmates, including Densley, and attacking a fifth with a bo staff in November. He admitted to four of the counts in juvenile court earlier this year, then pleaded guilty to the final charge, the one linked to Densley, as an adult.
Dollahite was sentenced to at least 10 years and up to life in prison, which will follow his time in custody in a juvenile facility, potentially until he reaches age 21. Fourth District Judge Christine Johnson granted Dollahite credit for the time he serves in the juvenile system.
As she handed down the sentence, Johnson told Dollahite that no amount of remorse can return the five victims and their families to the lives they had before the attack.
"You have pushed people off course in their lives," Johnson said, noting that for many, it will take years to return. "These are strong people, forgiving people, and people who are in a good position to heal, and I am gratified to see that."
Deputy Utah County Attorney Sam Pead said the deal balances justice and mercy, allowing Dollahite to receive treatment and care in the juvenile system before completing his sentence in prison.
If he is rehabilitated, Pead said, Dollahite will have an option to be released from prison and lead a productive life. But if he does not make progress to the point that he can safely rejoin society, the Board of Pardons and Parole can choose to keep Dollahite behind bars.
As teachers backed him into a corner, Dollahite stabbed himself in the neck. All his victims survived.
Dollahite was diagnosed after his arrest with personality disorders and persistent depression, according to court documents filed as part of the plea deal. His parents have said in court they were unaware of the mental illness that fueled their son's attack.
Prior to the incident, school district officials said, Dollahite was a straight-A student and had no prior disciplinary issues. The boy had been home-schooled and enrolled at Mountain View in August, according to the district.
As he addressed the judge Thursday, Densley described how Dollahite came up behind him and stabbed him in the neck, dropping him to the floor, then returned after stabbing another boy to continue attacking him. Densley said he played dead as Dollahite repeatedly stabbed him, hoping the attack would stop.
When he reached the hospital, Densley was informed his right arm had been permanently damaged, costing him much of its mobility.
"At first I was devastated, but then I realized I was lucky to even be in that hospital room," Densley said Thursday.
Densley's parents, Bruce and Megan Densley, also spoke, saying that subsequent surgeries have done much to repair that damage but the boy's brain has yet to relearn how to communicate with his arm. They both expressed their sympathy for Dollahite and his parents, who were caught unaware by the teen's depression and mental illness.
Following the hearing, Bruce Densley said that for him and his family, forgiveness has not been a single moment, but a continual process.
"That's who we are, we don't hold on to anger and hurtful feelings because it only makes us miserable," Bruce Densley said. "But (anger) comes back, and it hurts, and it's hard, but I get back to the good place again and the anger and frustration goes away. I really feel great sorrow for the pain (Dollahite) went through and didn't voice it."
Another of the boys stabbed in the attack said Thursday he is left with the memory of Dollahite's expression of inexplicable anger as he stabbed him, and confusion about why he did it.
"During the time I was in the hospital, I just couldn't understand why anyone would do this to any of us. We were just in high school," the teen said.
The mother of a third boy, who was hit over the head with a bo staff, spoke on behalf of her son, saying the teen has chosen not to follow the case as he tries to move on. Though her son struggles with anxiety, demonstrated through his habit of always finding "a way out" of any room he finds himself in, the woman said through tears she feels no anger toward Dollahite or his family.
"My hope is they can work through this and still be a family," she said.