Daniel Marsh earned straight A’s in school, and he enjoyed attending classes. But Holmes Junior High School was, for the most part, an unpleasant place for him, according to a close friend of the Davis teen arrested this week on suspicion of killing an elderly couple.
“It was horrible. They basically tortured him,” the friend said of youths who frequently teased the shy, quiet Marsh over his appearance — his short stature, his weight and his pale skin. “He hated going to school, to a place where kids bullied him.”
While the abuse was mostly verbal, occasionally it turned physical, with kids throwing rocks and trash at the boy on school grounds, the friend recalled in an interview Thursday. No one intervened, and Marsh didn’t report the bullying, because “if you go against the popular people, your life is hell, basically.”
Depressed and anorexic, Marsh spent some time in a psychiatric facility during this past school year, just a few months before the murders, according to the friend. At first, he seemed better upon his return.
“He came back smiling and everything, but then he went back into a depressed state.”
The friend, who said she was a target of bullying herself, spoke on condition of anonymity, saying she fears possible repercussions from Marsh’s friends in retaliation for speaking out.
When she heard about Marsh’s arrest Monday on suspicion of fatally stabbing Davis residents Oliver “Chip” Northup, 87, and his wife Claudia Maupin, 76, “I was like, whoa,” the friend said. “I could see him doing something like that, but I didn’t think he actually would.”
Marsh, 16, is being charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances alleging multiple murders, heinous and depraved murder, lying in wait and torture. He pleaded not guilty to the charges during his arraignment Wednesday in Yolo Superior Court.
“We are dismayed to hear this report since we take great care to create a positive school climate and to monitor student behavior,” said Pam Mari, executive director of student services and secondary programs for the Davis Joint Unified School District, in response to the bullying allegations. “We cannot comment further but we do take these matters seriously and will conduct our own investigation.”
The friend said Marsh underwent a change in image as he transitioned from junior high to Davis High School, wearing dark clothing, growing out his hair, experimenting with marijuana and conducting rituals that she perceived as “satanist.”
“He decided to go bad-ass, do the whole punk thing,” she said. But while the transformation earned Marsh more friends, he still harbored a great deal of anger and depression.
The friend said Marsh already was fighting those demons when, at age 12, he was honored by the American Red Cross of Yolo County for saving his father Bill Marsh’s life as he suffered from a heart attack at the wheel of his car.
By then, Marsh was receiving part of his education through the Davis School for Independent Study, an alternative learning program offered by the Davis school district that allows students to conduct some — or all — of their studies at home, an arrangement Marsh sought out because of the constant bullying, his friend said.
Marsh’s parents had ended their marriage by that point, “but it was never about the divorce,” she said of the boy’s troubles. He was more affected by his parents’ respective health problems — including his mother Sheri Hosking’s battle with cancer — and “he was always stressed out.”
Both parents have declined to be interviewed by The Enterprise.
There were no obvious red flags during the four years that Marsh received martial arts instruction from Baciarini’s Martial Arts in Davis, where according to owner and chief instructor Richard Baciarini, the boy would have learned techniques to defend himself both physically and mentally.
“That’s my chief aim, to empower people to be confident and live their best lives through martial arts,” Baciarini said. When it comes to issues such as bullying, the program teaches students “to deal with it in a professional and positive way. Do you believe what they’re saying and let it get to you, or know that they’re just trying to get a reaction?”
Although it’s been several years since Marsh walked through Baciarini’s doors, the owner remembers him as an “average student, quiet, polite and respectful.”
“I’m still kind of in disbelief that this happened,” Baciarini said of Marsh’s arrest. “I have no idea what motives would have driven him to where he is now.”
“It’s just tragic, because I know all of these people, and Oliver was just a really great guy,” said Marsh’s friend, who recalled seeing both Northup and Marsh at the same party celebrating a historic Davis structure several years ago, though it’s not clear whether they interacted. “They (Northup and Maupin) were very nice, smart people, and they liked to enjoy life.”
Marsh’s next court date is July 2. He remains held without bail at Yolo County Juvenile Hall.
Although Marsh is believed to be the sole suspect in the slayings, Davis police say they are continuing their investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department at 530-747-5400.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene. Enterprise staff writer Anne Ternus-Bellamy contributed to this report.