The article says that the boy's father, Gregory White, began serving his 18-month sentence on a federal weapons charge Wednesday, but he didn't realize he was committing a crime when he had the assault weapon his son used and other weapons at his house:
Greg White said he simply did not understand the law prior to being charged. He said he knew he was not suppose to "possess" weapons, but he thought that meant he was not to be found carrying or purchasing any weapons. The Whites said many of the guns in question were registered in Norma White's name and had been acquired haphazardly as family hand-me-downs.
That must be some family to be handing down assault rifles.
Lehr's article also goes into much of the same territory covered by the postings on the Justice for Juveniles website, including the bullying that Thomas White had to go through at Memorial:
Other kids subjected him to insults, racial slurs and even physical abuse.
His mother's half-Mexican heritage left him a target for those students in whom their families and the school system had failed to instill a sense of racial tolerance and sensitivity. They called him "a beaner." A locker was slammed on his head, his hand stomped on another time, his mother said.
Thomas didn't tell teachers or administrators about these incidents, she said. He's too shy and passive to complain, she said. And he felt it wouldn't have done any good, she said. He told her he had seen a teacher walk away from another student who tried to complain about being picked on.
It would be naive for me to say there are not teachers who ignore signs and complaints of bullying, but those teachers are few and far between and they are not the norm at Memorial Middle School or any other school in the Joplin R-8 School District (or at any of the other schools I covered during my 22 years as a working reporter).
I have noted before that Joplin teachers undergo training to deal with these situations, and what to look for. I can think of numerous incidents that have occurred at South in which administrators, teachers, and counselors have dealt with bullying, most of the time with positive results. Unfortunately, students are smart enough to do most of their bullying, of the mental, physical, and verbal varieties when adults are not in sight.
At South, our seventh grade science teacher Brent Thompson, heads the Peer Mediation program in which student leaders try to help resolve disputes before they escalate into something more serious.
Teachers work with counselors when we notice changes in student behavior to make sure that there is a caring adult to whom the students can talk. The South handbook, which is featured on the school's website, has procedures that can be used for complaints, but we don't sit and wait for a situation to reach that point.
The Juveniles for Justice website called me a liar a few days ago because I said we had policies in place to deal with bullying prior to the Memorial Middle School shooting. As evidence, they cited the "Just Tell It' program the school put into place after the shooting.
As usual, the group, which is also trying to push the fiction that Thomas Gregory White will serve life in prison if he is convicted in adult court, has its information wrong.
We had a policy in place, but any time an incident like this happens, whether it be at Memorial, another school in the Joplin R-8 School District or anywhere else in the U. S. for that matter, school officials re-examine their policies to make sure to see if there is some way in which they can be improved.
They looked at the situation after Memorial and determined the weak link was kids who were not passing along the information they knew. That is why the new program was put into place.
It's not a guarantee that a similar incident will never happen in Joplin again. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees here or anywhere else that our children will be 100 percent safe. But with "Just Tell It" and the recent decision by the Joplin City Council, in conjunction with the school district, to make sure each middle school and the high school has a police officer, should reassure students and parents.
I have sympathy for Thomas White. No one should be bullied; no one should be called racial epithets. And I will agree that his home life did not exactly prepare him to deal with his problems in a mature fashion. Most teens do not have access to assault weapons. That being said, I will reiterate, my sympathy is more with the victims of his actions. And please don't tell me that he didn't shoot anyone so that makes it all right. His gun jammed!
What Thomas White did was to put the people at Memorial (and elsewhere in the R-8 School District) in fear for their safety. A lot of people were harmed emotionally that day, nearly all of them people who never did any harm to Thomas White.
The dual jurisdiction mentioned in the Globe article appears to be the best way to go:
One sentencing option available to the adult court should Thomas be convicted is called dual jurisdiction. A state law enacted in 1995 allows local judges to suspend sentences given to certified juveniles in adult courts and place them in a dual-jurisdiction program the Division of Youth Services operates at Montgomery City.
If they do well at the secure, 40-bed center in Montgomery City and complete the programs in which they are placed, the adult sentences are never imposed. Youths sent there can continue their general education, enter vocational programming and receive group, individual or substance-abuse counseling and medical services.
Brent Buerck, senior program administrator for DYS, said dual-jurisdiction youths sent there have committed crimes ranging from burglary to second-degree murder.
Buerck said state law requires that certified juveniles sent to the program return to court when they are 17. At a hearing, a local judge decides if they should return to Montgomery City to complete programs there, be sent to the adult Department of Corrections or be placed on probation.
If Thomas White is convicted, that would seem to be the logical way to deal with his situation.