Saturday, June 23, 2007

Parents: Memorial Middle School shooter is just a regular kid

The parents of Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White believe their son should be remanded to the juvenile courts and say that he is just "a regular boy," according to reporter Jeff Lehr's article in the Sunday Joplin Globe.

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.


Anonymous said...

When I see a child who, whether based on his/her parents upbringing/lack of upbringing or physical or mental disabilities, it's sort of painful. That isn't to say he should just be given a pass. Still if there's something there that can be salvaged and turned into a good law-abiding adult we should try.

The option you lay out in your last several paragraphs sounds reasonable to me. I hope it works. His father, on the other hand, should go straight to jail. If he isn't smart enough to understand the meaning of the word "possession" he should not be out running around in the general public.

I'm probably going to make people angry, but I can't think of one good reason to own an assault rifle unless you're a member of the police or army and using them in those capacities.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and excellent comment.

Ender said...

He won't have a chance if duel-juristiction is used. I mean seriously having an adult record ruins people. He wants to work with helping kids (as in being a psycatrist) when he is an adult. Would you trust anyone with a record working with your son or daughter?

Seriously he is not going to be released before he is 18 and most likely will be released around then either way. The question you must ask is do you want him to have a future or not?

Ender said...

P.S. Don't you think that if he is sent to a place where the worst of the worst are sent (where he will be one of the youngest and he is already small for his age) is a bad idea? I mean do you really want him to learn to be a better criminal? Do you really want him to be abused and tourtured more? Can you really justify sending him there over the Boys and Girls Town? I would really like to see you try.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first poster, only the police and army should have assault weapons.

Adolf Hitler

Anonymous said...


The last poster has lost all touch with reality.

Hitler in favor of gun control? He violated the treaty of Versailles because someone told him he couldn't have enough guns.

Anonymous said...

The kids father must be an idiot. His mother, going along with the father, must not be real bright either!! Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law. Some people take the law seriously and others like the White's obviously do not.

The kid brought a weapon into the school for goodness sake!! What do you think he was doing bringing it for show and tell?? Give us a break. IF he ends up in adult prison then he and his parents put him there... not us and not the system. His actions need to not be tolerated just because he is a kid. He has a brain hopefully ..... he should try doing other than his parents and use it wisely. He needs to pay for his actions and his parents need to see that it is what they have instilled in him that got him in the bind he is in.

anonymous stated:
He wants to work with helping kids (as in being a psycatrist) when he is an adult. Would you trust anyone with a record working with your son or daughter?
Hell no I wouldn't want him working my children after what he has done. record or not. That makes more sense to give him an adult record, in my opinion,so we can all save more of our children from him.

Anonymous said...

Hitler violated the treaty of Versailles by rearming the German army not the German people.

The German people were effectively disarmed by the Weimar Republic in response to the social unrest following World War I. When Hitler took power he further restricted the possession of militarily useful weapons and forbade trade in weapons without a government-issued license. (See, The Nazi Weapons Law (or "Waffengesetz") passed on March 18, 1938).

So, I reiterate my position that Hitler would agree with the premise that only the army and police need to posses assault weapons.

If you think that position is out of touch with reality then please point me to a historical citation that supports the premise that Hitler was pro citizen ownership of firearms.

Anonymous said...

Hitler is irrelevant. He's dead and times have changed greatly.

I suspect what lies behind your statement is the rather naive and kooky notion that you think that you can defend yourself and the nation from an oppressive military whether foreign or native with nothing more than a rifle. I had never heard this particular mix of paranoia and Walter Mitty until I moved to Missouri.

Anyway, reality is an assault rifle isn't going to be enough to defend yourself against a modern, state of the art armed and determined military.

You can't use an assault rifle on something you plan to eat because there ain't gonna be enough left after you shoot it. I repeat, the only logical, justifiable use for an assault rifle is in the military or the police force.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but we are seriously talking about pulling out of Iraq (as we did Viet-Nam) because we are confronted with insurgents armed with noting more then assault rifles and homemade bombs. So who is really being naive?

If you wish to trust the Army and Police to protect your freedom then be my guest, I would prefer to trust the Constitution. Also, you are free to think history is irrelevant, just remember what they say about those who ignore history’s lessons.

P.S., If you think Missouri is filled with kooks perhaps you would feel better moving back to the USSR.

Anonymous said...

Hitler is irrelevant to this argument. As far as the Iraq argument, that doesn't work either because I think there are still a few lines that "we" haven't been willing to cross over there. I tend to think "we" wouldn't show the same restraint while crushing a homegrown rebellion.

I assume you plan to shoot people with your trusty assault rifle who you think/hope will be American enough to not shoot back at you? And the old USSR ad hominem attack?

(rolling my eyes) Yeah. Right. Whatever.

Anonymous said...

Just so you understand what an ad hominem attack is, it is where you attack an argument with a personal assault rather then logic, for instance saying something like: “I had never heard this particular mix of paranoia and Walter Mitty until I moved to Missouri.”

Maybe you could point to any of my posts where I said: (a) the government is oppressive, or (b) that I advocate a violent rebellion. If so then the above comment would have meaning if not it is a meaningless comment.

In fact, since I am 41 years old and just moved to Missouri six years ago it is really not a shot at me at all. Along the same lines I do not own, nor have I ever owned a rifle, assault or otherwise.

Ergo, you made the ad hominem attack, whereas I simply made a retort to your witty comment.

Your argument was, and is, that only the Army and Police should have weapons, that argument is at odds with the beliefs of the Founding Fathers but it is consistent with the beliefs of the USSR and Nazi Germany. Deal with it.

Moreover, your argument is at odds with the facts of this particular case (if your argument is that we would be protected from such incidents by outlawing private ownership of weapons). The shooter in this case was not someone who legally brought an assault rifle to school. Rather, the law already forbids juveniles from buying assault rifles and it certainly does not allow one to bring such items to school and then point them at people and pull the trigger. In addition, in this case the boy’s father was not even legally allowed to possess firearms. Nevertheless, the boy’s criminal father possessed firearms and the criminal boy took the gun somewhere he shouldn’t have and done something with it that he shouldn’t have done. On the other hand, while I don’t own any rifles, I do own a pistol (legally) and thus far I have never taken it to a school nor pointed it at anybody.

In other words, criminal people do criminal things and law-abiding people, such as myself, do not. Hence, your theories would do nothing to stop criminals, but it would stop law-abiding people from possessing firearms legally.

Anonymous said...

You people kill me. You're like children playing in a brightly colored room with too many pretty things to look at to stay focused on any one particular thing. Hitler? Iraq? What does ANY of this have to do with Thomas White?
The question (if I might remind) is whether or not this boy, who has been shown by psychologists to have mental and learning disabilities - should be tried as an adult and face a life sentence in an adult prison. Regardless of whether ANYONE should own an assault rifle (which, by the way, is their constitutional right - for now) is irrelevent. The boys father should NOT have had the gun in his possession, and had he not, this would't have happened. If the school or his parents had adequately protected him from those who harrassed and assaulted him (which, the last time I check, are both crimes against others under our constitution, as well), this would have never happened. His father is now serving an 18-month prison sentence for his failure to live by the law; his mother is certainly paying a price for her failures, now haveing lost a son and her husband in one fail swoop. In what manner is the school district paying for its failure? And Randy, please don't spout any nonsense about the district's new "Just Tell It Program," which we all know is a program designed to encourage kids to tell someone if they hear rumors of someone intending to bring a gun to school, or some other impending catastrophic incident, and has NOTHING to do with combatting the bullying that got this community into this situation to begin with.
Try to keep it on track, folks. I know how tempting it is to display your vast knowledge of historical wars but what does that have to do with anything, really?

Anonymous said...

To the last anonymous poster:
So the kid has psychological and learning disabilty problems.......that isn't our fault or the schools fault. The true measure of knowing when someone has learned the lesson is when they admit they alone are responsible for their actions....not one of us could make me bring a gun to school. If he didn't go home and tell mommy and daddy what was happening, or tell the school what was happening then again it is no ones fault but his own actions.....or lack of.(if he indeed was I am finding this as another attempt to blame someone other than himself) Come on......get a grip and quit trying to blame someone other than the kid who brought the gun to school and shot the gun in school and most likely would have shot someone at school IF the gun hadn't jammed.