On Oct. 1, 1997, a 16-year-old high school student passed the following note onto a fellow student. It read, “I am not insane, I am angry. I killed because people like me are mistreated every day. I did this to show society, push us and we will push back. ... All throughout my life, I was ridiculed, always beaten, always hated. Can you, society, truly blame me for what I do? Yes, you will. ... It was not a cry for attention, it was not a cry for help. It was a scream in sheer agony saying that if you can't pry your eyes open, if I can't do it through pacifism, if I can't show you through the displaying of intelligence, then I will do it with a bullet.”
The passing of that note happened just before Pearl High School student Luke Woodham killed two students and injured seven others at the school after killing his mother at her home earlier that morning.
Most around here feel that could never happen in Lee County. No one thought it could happen in Pearl either.
Two recent social media threats have caught the attention of law enforcement and educators alike.
One threat came Friday, Aug. 16, via social media and contained the following language, “we will be shooting up Okolona and Shannon Schools also, don’t go to a party or game tonight or you WILL DIE.”
The second threat came Sunday, Aug. 18. It was also made via social media and contained the following language, “just know we will be shooting up Nettleton School Monday.”
“We take every threat very seriously. When someone makes a threat to harm individuals or disrupt a school setting, we have too,” Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said. “If you make a threat, it’s taken as if it’s actually going to happen.”
The threats were quickly neutralized and the teens involved were taken into custody.
It was determined a 17-year-old made the threat at Shannon, and a 12-year-old at Nettleton.
“Both individuals who made the threats, which were totally separate, were arrested, charged and brought before youth court,” Johnson said. “There were multiple people involved. Both threats were sent through an electronic device. They were both sent through some type of social media site. The messages were both sent to a group of people.”
The sheriff’s department interviewed over 20 persons who were connected in some way to this case. Many of those involved seemed to think they were helping by spreading the word, through social media, about the original threats.
“It is not recommended you share a post, like this, on your site nor should you send it to other people,” Johnson said. “The thing to do is to report it to law enforcement or to the school.
“Both of these (threats) were sent to the media by someone. You know what that does. It really creates a problem. Also those who share a post or send it could get caught up in the criminal part of this because their actions have also disrupted a school setting.”
Many school threats - after the fact turn out to be a joke, to get attention or publicity.
“It’s hard to predict what someone will do. But when someone says they are going to ‘shoot up the school’ — we have to take it as fact. Your mind set, as an officer, has to be — this is going to happen,” Johnson said.
After the Pearl High School incident, the State of Mississippi made it a capital crime if a murder is committed on the property of a school.
In 2010, Woodham made a request to Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, asking for clemency; however, his request was rejected. He is currently serving three life terms plus an additional 140 years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2046, when he is 65 years old.
Publisher’s note: Next week The Courier will look at what the schools and law enforcement are doing to make sure students stay safe.