Perhaps they are just a little slow in getting around to it, but after creating such a fuss during the months after Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White was arrested, the folks at Justice for Juveniles have not said a word following the 16-year-old's sentencing Friday in Jasper County Circuit Court on two counts of assault and one count of armed criminal action.
Had it not been for the whining and the prolonged efforts to have White reclassified as a juvenile this case would have been settled a long time ago and probably with the same results- a 10-year sentence, the opportunity to go into a dual jurisdiction program, and an opportunity to continue his education and reclaim his life.
Justice for Juveniles blamed everyone except Thomas White for the October 2006 incident in which he took an assault weapon to Memorial Middle School, opened fire into a ceiling, and then attempted to kill Principal Steve Gilbreth. If the weapon had not jammed, it was quite possible we would have had a Columbine on our hands, but that made no difference to members of this dedicated organization. It must be comforting to be sure that you are right and everyone else is wrong.
Gilbreth and the teachers at Memorial Middle School were branded as uncaring educators who fostered a culture of bullying and were unsympathetic to the problems White was having at the school.
To Justice for Juveniles, the Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney's office was consumed with hate for Thomas White, something which is far from the truth.
And anyone who disagreed with the organization was branded as uncaring and evil. In their zeal to protect a young man who fully intended to wreak mayhem on his fellow students and blaze a bloody trail through his school, they even took the time to target me.
Members of their organization were encouraged to write Joplin School District officials to have me removed from the classroom because I wrote that I had far more sympathy for the potential victims of Thomas White than I had for him.
One member, Cari Barichello wrote:
Well if Mr. Turner is reading, hello MAN! You being a teacher and obviously so against child advocacy may accept that you are in the wrong profession. Not to mention that since it has been established that Thomas was a bullied child in the school system, you being a teacher show no ethics at all....no matter what school you "Randy" are employed with.
I would hope that other teachers and school officials do not follow his guidelines and footsteps in the slandering of children. If my child were in his school and district, I would be second guessing his ability to teach and mentor any child HE DEEMS FIT FOR SOCIETY OR NOT!
This is what I wrote in the June 5, 2007, Turner Report, in response to this group, and I feel the same way today:
For these people, who have never set foot in a Joplin school, to make such ready assurances that I am not fit to teach or for that matter to claim to know exactly what happened in Memorial Middle School, is the height of arrogance.
The members of Justice for Juveniles claim to be advocates for children, and I have no reason to doubt them, but someone needs to be an advocate for the children who were not involved in this shooting or any other episode of school violence, the children who would never dream of taking a weapon to their school and murdering their classmates.
On the day Thomas Gregory White took an assault weapon to Memorial Middle School, the one shot he was able to get off was a shot that echoed across the Joplin R-8 School District.
These out-of-state advocates did not have to deal with the fear that innocent kids, not just the ones at Memorial, but those at South and North middle schools had to face. I cannot imagine what the teachers, administrators, and students at Memorial went through. I hope I never have to go through such an ordeal. But as any teacher who was at South Middle School can tell you, the fear that was felt at Memorial that day, was also felt at South. "How can this happen here?" I had more than one eighth grader ask. I had no answers, at least none that could relieve their fears.
And please do not give me this nonsense that has been parroted about by Justice for Juveniles about how Thomas White was bullied and nothing was ever done about it. Their posts make it appear that no policy was ever in place in the Joplin R-8 School District until after Thomas White fired his rifle into the ceiling. In fact, the school district has had a bullying policy in effect for as long as I have been here (four years) and I am sure that the policy was in place long before I arrived. All teachers go through training to know what to look for and how to deal with bullying.
I do not know the extent of the bullying that Thomas White suffered, but I do know that teachers are constantly on the lookout for bullying and if any complaints were ever made, the situation was addressed.
Perhaps, as the Justice for Juveniles members have said, trying and convicting Thomas White as an adult will not serve as a deterrent to others who might think about taking a gun into a school.
Maybe it is enough that it will reassure students who would never dream of doing such a thing that someone is looking out for their interests.
I hope that someday Thomas White will become a productive member of society. That process would have started long ago if not for the self-righteous dilettantes of Justice for Juveniles.
(Photo by Ron Graber)