"He was bullied so much in this case. He needs a chance at a life not to be thrown away for 50 years in an adult prison."
"I have written to (him) and I have talked to his dad at a child's rights conference, and believe me, (he) was bullied beyond reason and he is now paying for it with his life."
Those sounds like the type of quotes members of the national "grassroots organization" Justice for Juveniles have made during Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White's case in Joplin. Only those comments were made by group members supporting Charles "Andy" Williams, the 15-year-old killer who murdered two students and injured 13 others during a March 5, 2001, shooting spree at Santee High School.
This description of Williams' acts comes from the San Diego Union Tribune:
The boy's father told investigators that the long rifle revolver used in the shooting came from his locked gun cabinet, Lewis said.
"Long rifle" refers to the type of cheap, small-caliber ammunition used in such handguns.
The boy was believed to have brought as many as 40 rounds to school.
Deputies removed seven rifles – in addition to a computer hard drive and other evidence – Monday night from the apartment where Williams lived with his father.
The shooter first opened fire on two classmates in a boys' restroom, Lewis said. One was struck in the back of the head and died after he was taken to a local hospital. The other, who was shot just outside the bathroom, was struck in the back and was found dead lying on the grass between two buildings.
The shooter fired at least 30 rounds from the eight-round gun, shooting indiscriminately at students and adults as they came into view from the entrance to the restroom, Lewis said. There was no evidence that the boy had a speed-loader, a small mechanical device that holds a full load of bullets in position to make it easier to reload a revolver.
"Victims and witnesses at the scene all said he was mad at something," Lewis said. "They don't know if he was mad at the school, at students, at life, at home. He was an angry young man." Impact marks were found on the library, the administrative building, and several other nearby buildings, Lewis said. Bullet holes were found in a food cart, the cage surrounding a soft-drink machine and in a number of student backpacks discarded at the scene.
The evidence and comments from witnesses suggest that the teen was firing randomly at "anybody who was going by," Lewis said.
"Any student who went by there within his range, he was shooting at them," Lewis said.
The actions taken by Justice for Juveniles in connection with the Williams case are similar to what the organization has done in Thomas White's case:
-The organization has targeted an attorney, in the Joplin case, Chuck Lonardo, for criticism for the way he handled the early direction of White's defense.
-Little concern seems to be shown for the victims, or in the Memorial case, the potential victims, of the teenagers whose plights they lament.
-Justice for Juveniles leveled sharp criticisms at schools for not dealing with bullying problems, when, in fact, both Santee and Joplin have done a considerable amount to lessen bullying in the schools, even before the shooting incidents.
In both cases, and probably in others, the accusations brought against the school districts by Justice for Juveniles were made with little or no research and were largely based on hearsay "evidence" given by the shooters' parents.
Consider this passage from a March 8, 2001, article in the San Diego Union Tribune:
Santana High School did everything right: anonymous sign-in sheets for students to report threats, SWAT training for the principal, programs to help youngsters get along, including one called "Names can really hurt us."
A sheriff's deputy was assigned part-time to the school. Seven full-time campus supervisors roamed the grounds. Extra phones, radios and speakers were installed to spread word of trouble quickly across the 1,900-student campus.
Justice for Juveniles has continued the drumbeat against the Joplin R-8 School District ever since Thomas White was arrested.
On the organization's website, the district has been attacked for doing nothing to handle the bullying problem, when, in fact, bullying has been a district concern. A new program, "Just Tell It," was instituted after the Oct. 7, 2006, shooting, but other measures have already been in place for years. Teachers receive training in how to handle bullying situations and what to look for. A program has already been in place for students to confidentially tell teachers, counselors, or administrators about bullying problems, and the program has been publicized. At South Middle School (and perhaps at other district schools) we offer peer mediation, in which students themselves, under the guidance of a teacher help resolve differences.
Situations that could lead to bullying are kept to a minimum at Joplin R-8 schools through the dedication of teachers and administrators. The opportunities for many bullying incidents take place during the four-minute passing time between classes. Our teachers and administrators are out in the halls during that time. At South, they are also posted in the backlot prior to school and outside of the school in the time after school to watch for problems.
What Justice for Juveniles (and many others) seems to expect is unreasonable. There is absolutely no way any school is ever going to be able to eliminate bullying completely. Most students do not do it in front of teachers or administrators, and unfortunately, we can talk and talk about the need to report such incidents to a teacher, counselor, or administrator, but some students are simply unwilling to do so.
Does that mean we should just wring our hands and give up? Of course not. We keep trying and doing our best, not just because we want to prevent school shootings, but because we want school to be a safe and welcome place for the children.
Finally, there seems to be a willingness among those involved in Justice for Juveniles to completely believe anything the parents of these teenage shooters tell them. Some of those commenting on the organization's website were even unhappy that Thomas White's father, Greg White, was convicted and sent to prison for illegally owning the firearms that Thomas used during the Memorial shooting incident. One person commenting noted that Thomas' mother, Norma, told the judge the guns were her's and not her husband's.
I won't have any complaints if the Missouri Supreme Court sends Thomas White's case back to juvenile court, even though I totally agree with Judge David Mouton's ruling that White, 14, should be tried as an adult.
When I have expressed those feelings in the past, members of Justice for Juveniles have said they indicate that I have no business being a teacher since I obviously have no compassion for kids. To those people, I simply say this:
You can feel sympathy and compassion for Thomas Gregory White, Charles Andrew Williams and any other school shooter whose situation attracts your attention. My compassion is for the students who would never dream of picking up a gun.
(Photo of Andy Williams by San Diego Union Tribune)