Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Fate of Thomas White

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,, 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.


Blue Girl, Red State said...

This madness has gone too far. I could get into the neuro-science of it all - and i am imminently qualified to do so. Put plainly, the kid isn't completely wired yet. Think about your own behavior in 7th grade. Impulsive much?

The issue is so complex. There is the impulsive nature of children, and 7th graders are children.

There is the bullying. High school classes should be limited to a maximum class size of 15 and middle school and elementary should have a maximum 10:1 student/teacher ratio. When teachers can pay proper attention to students and give individual attention, the inadequacies of the bullies can be palliated and the tormented...aren't.

We need a mechanism to restore common sense. These kids can't be placed in adult prisons. It's...Kafkaesque.

Thanks for staying on top of this issue.

If you want any input on the science aspect just email me. I have a degree in Neuro-Physiology and at the time I earned it, it was a branch of psychology. And I taught high-school science for two years. I don't go back to school until the 17th, so i'll do some homework.

Randy said...

Twenty years ago, I might have been in total agreement about the lunacy of trying a 13-year-old as an adult, but we live in an age in which 13-year-olds do things that could not have been imagined only a few short years ago. Only an accident of fate kept Thomas White from killing who knows how many people that day at Memorial Middle School. What appears at first glance to be an overreaction may be the only way society has to deal with this kind of problem. While I realize trying him as an adult is not a cureall for society's problems, at least it shows me that the problem is being taken seriously from a judicial standpoint. And who knows, maybe it will discourage some other troubled teen from taking a gun into a school.

Betty B. said...

Blue Girl,

I have seen the science and feel it is compelling. I would be happy to post a brief summary. I would expect that science will be used somehow in the defense of this crime, if his attorney is worth a damn.

Betty B. said...


I can only imagine the fear this event caused within the teachers, students and parents in the Joplin School system. But, what if the boy is acquitted? And if he is convicted, how will you convey the horror of what he goes through to next year's crop of 7th graders?

How many guns are readily available in the homes of Joplin students? I would bet a huge number. I view his parents as holding the guilt for this situation. Too bad both of them will not be charged. The father will receive punishment for illegally possessing guns, but the mother knowingly raised her son in that environment.

Furyious said...

People forget too easily that children are the products of the society in which they are raised. Not only was Thomas White raised in a home with a man who was a convicted criminal, not only was he raised by a woman who brought him under that kind of influence, he was also raised in a society in which violence is often seen as a game. He was raised in a society in which violent retribution is seen as preferable alternative to peaceful negotiation.
I do not support censorship, but one must wonder what people expect when their children are exposed to violent, graphic movies, television programming, video games, and music all performed or enhanced by their favorite stars/heroes.
One must wonder that our kids are being taught to distrust those who are different from themselves (see profiling by police and airport security), and are taught to be intolerant of everything and everyone that doesn't fit into the perfect mold.
I was a bullied child. My nephew was a bullied child. It's a painful long lasting trauma that too few people take seriously. They forget that as adults if you are bullied you have a recourse by law. As a child, if you "tattle" you may find yourself not only at further risk of torment, but as I have seen very clearly, you can become labeled by teachers and adminstration. They come to believe YOU are the problem.
I feel sorry for this boy. Prosecutors are being overzealous and should be seeking help for the child, THE CHILD.
I wonder what punishment his tormentors will suffer? None. I wonder who THEIR next victim will be?

MrsThurstonHowell said...

This is a late post, but I hope you and yours will take a minute to read it. Last legislative session my state rep-Sara Lampe from Springfield-introduced a bill to address bullying in public schools. The bill stalled somewhere, but Sara has told me that she will re-introduce it this session and she thinks it has a good chance to pass. I am going to send her a letter in the next few days with a couple of suggestions that I have.

Blue Girl-your comment about school class size and the relationship to bullying-excellent!

Periodically check Rep Lampe on the MO General Assembly website for introduction of the bill-and if you support it, pressure your legislators!