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Petaluma police arrest suspect in fatal SSU stabbing

Petaluma police have arrested a 19‑year‑old Santa Rosa man suspected of stabbing to death an acquaintance during a fight at a Sonoma State University dorm apartment Sunday night.

Tyler J. Bratton was arrested on suspicion of killing a 26‑year‑old Sonoma County resident — neither were students at the college, Petaluma police Lt. Tim Lyons said Monday during a press conference outside the campus police station.

Bratton was booked into the Sonoma County Jail and being held without bail.

The victim’s name wasn’t released as of mid Monday afternoon pending notification of family, Lyons said.

The two men were on campus visiting friends when the fight broke out at the apartment, Lyons said. At least one resident of the apartment witnessed it, but police are seeking others who may have been there at the time, he said.

“This is not a random act,” he said. “Everybody involved knew each other.”

Sunday’s stabbing happened on the eve of finals week for the spring semester. A 911 call alerted Sonoma State police at 5:53 p.m. of a stabbing at a freshman dorm apartment in the Sauvignon Village, on the southwest end of the college campus. Initial dispatch reports indicated someone had a hand wound.

Sonoma State officers arrived to find a man outside the Alicante apartment building, blood drops and small pocketknife‑style blade nearby, Lyons said. Bratton’s hands were bagged by police to protect any evidence on them.

The victim was found amidst a bloody scene in an upstairs apartment bedroom. He was declared dead at 6:06 p.m. Police haven’t said how many times he was stabbed, deferring to results of Tuesday’s scheduled autopsy.

Cotati and Rohnert Park police also responded Sunday night as the homicide scene was protected, witnesses sought and students corralled into their apartments. At 7:25 p.m. Petaluma police were asked to take over the investigation as it has more resources for a homicide investigation, Lyons said.

Bratton was kept at the Rohnert Park police station overnight as the investigation progressed. He was questioned by detectives after evidence and information were processed and sorted and by mid-morning was taken to jail.

On Monday, officers and detectives finished interviewing the female student who was as the apartment during the stabbing, Lyons said. More interviews were underway of some students who had been in the dorm area at the time. Detectives also were seeking search warrants, including for cellphones.

“We have two people of interest we’re trying to track down,” Lyons said, referring to people who could have information to help the investigation.

During the morning press conference, Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki expressed sorrow for the death and emphasized that the school was open and finals were underway. Grief counseling remained available to students and staff, she said.

“All of us at Sonoma State are shocked and saddened by this tragic event. Our hearts go out to all who’ve been impacted,” Sakaki said. “Our focus today will be continuing to make sure the needs of our students and our campus community are met.”

The Alicante dorm building was cordoned off Sunday. Displaced students were offered lodging that night at area hotels, but all declined, finding space with friends and family, SSU spokesman Paul Gullixson said.

Monday morning all of the dorms reopened except the one where the stabbing occurred. “Campus life is going on as usual,” Gullixson said.

Students facing tests while struggling with the violence were being told to contact professors, Gullixson said.

This is the second violent death connected to the Rohnert Park college since late 2016 when the body of Kirk Kimberly, 18, was found in a shallow grave in a wooded area on the edge of campus. Kimberly’s body, stabbed multiple times, was found by a landscape worker on Nov. 2, 2016. He’d last been seen in mid October, riding his bike from his Cotati home.

The killing, still under investigation by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, remains unsolved.