Thomas White, a 13 year old seventh grader at Memorial Middle School in Joplin, came to school on Oct. 9th of this year with an semi-automatic rifle. He fired a shot into the ceiling and attempted to continue firing at Principal Stephen Gilbreth as Gilbreth escorted him out of the building. Due to the brave intervention of the Principal, and the jamming of the rifle, a tragedy was narrowly averted.
Gregory White, 44, father of Thomas is a convicted felon, and has pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition. From a report in the Joplin Globe:
"The boy is believed to have obtained the gun from a locked gun cabinet in his parents' bedroom and to have carried it to school, possibly concealed under a trench coat. Joplin police found four more rifles, two shotguns, a pistol and various ammunition in the home of Greg and Norma White after the shooting incident.
The boy was charged with first-degree assault, armed criminal action and making a terrorist threat, and he remains in the custody of juvenile authorities. He also was charged with an escape attempt in the first week of his detention."
Reporter Michelle Pippin, www.joplindaily.com, interviewed Thomas White's mother in the 11/17/06 edition.
Norma White, mother of the seventh-grade boy accused of entering Memorial Middle School on Oct. 9 with a rifle, said she wishes now she had done more to help her son when he came home with complaints, and even injuries from other students. She said her son's complaints of bullying began when he entered the sixth grade, and continued - in fact, escalated - into his seventh-grade year."He came home once limping; he had been kicked by an older kid in the halls," she recalled. "He came home once with a huge welt on his head from someone slamming his locker door on his head when they passed him in the hall. His hand was injured once too."He did suffer from bullying. He would come home crying, begging us not to send him back to school."
White spoke to his teachers about the problem only a couple of times - during parent-teacher conferences - but never made a formal complaint to the administration. She said she advised her son to tell his teachers, but he often insisted nothing would be done about it.
Norma White offered the same advice to students and parents."If an adult was bullied this way when they went to work every day - with people throwing things at them, hitting them - how long would they deal with it before they quit or snapped?" she asked. "There are a lot of kids under this kind of pressure, and I wonder how many parents don't know it. We have to ask ourselves, 'Is my kid being bullied? Is my kid a bully?
"It could be your kid."
I've been following this story in The Turner Report, and spent a couple of hours during the middle of a sleepless night contemplating the fate of this boy following his certification to stand trial as an adult. He has pleaded not guilty, but if convicted he will serve a lengthy sentence in prison. He will grow up and come to maturity in the company of hardened criminals. The abuse he suffered at the hands of school yard bullies will seem insignificant in comparison to what he will be subjected to in prison. Young prisoners are usually subjected to repeated rape and sexual abuse; and if they snitch on their abusers they suffer violent retribution.
Thomas White will emerge from prison, if that is his fate, in a few years to reclaim his place in society. What kind of man will he become in the time period of his imprisonment? Will we have exacted the proper amount of retribution for his trangression?
If this seventh grader had been sentenced as a juvenile, he could be held until his eighteenth birthday, and hopefully would finish his high school education and receive counseling to turn his life around. The punishment of spending those teen years removed from society seems suitably harsh, and if he were transformed at the end of such a sentence, we would all be benefited.
As it stands, I fear for his future and ours, as they are intertwined and cannot be separated.