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  • Writer's pictureRobin Lyons

Life Behind Bars

Before the well-known Columbine High School shooting, there were other equally horrific school shootings. This true crime happened one year before the Columbine shooting.

From an early age, this school shooter suffered academically, didn’t fit in, and got into trouble. His teachers considered him to be immature and lacked in his physical and emotional development. After being held back in elementary school, the school administration placed him in a special education program.

At high school, classmates thought him to be weird. He talked about guns, making bombs, committing acts of violence, and killing people. They’d caught him throwing rocks at cars from a highway overpass and shoplifting.

When he was a teenager, he showed signs of being a paranoid schizophrenic. His parents enrolled him in an anger management program and had his mental health evaluated. He continued to live with untreated schizophrenia.

Also, from a young age, he showed an interest in firearms and explosives. His father enrolled him in a gun safety course, and when he was 15, bought him his first handgun.

The day prior to the shooting, a friend sold the teen a stolen handgun. When the father of a student realized someone had stolen his gun, he reported it to the authorities. The authorities learned that the teen possibly had possession of the handgun.

While the authorities questioned the future school shooter about the stolen handgun, he told them he had it and that they could find it in his locker at the school. Because he had a firearm on school grounds, they suspended him, and he faced expulsion.

That afternoon, he shot his father, a schoolteacher, once in the back of his head. Hours later, he shot his mother, also a schoolteacher, twice in the back of her head, three times in her face, and once in her heart.

The next day, he went to the school armed with two hunting knives, two handguns, one rifle, and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Upon entering an outdoor area, he shot and killed a student. Then as he entered the cafeteria where approximately 300 students had gathered, he opened fire. He killed another student and injured 25.

He would’ve harmed more, but when he tried to reload his weapon, students tackled him and held him down until the authorities arrived. (He shot another student during the scuffle)

Prior to jury selection for his trial, he pleaded guilty to 26 counts of attempted murder and four counts of murder. The state judge sentenced the 15-year-old to over 111 years without the possibility of parole. The United States is the only country that allows juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole—not all states still allow this. Here, the school shooter was the first juvenile to be given a life sentence in the state where the crime occurred. #schoolshooting #mentalillness

At the sentencing, the judge said,

"To me, this was a clear statement that the protection of society in general was to be of more importance than the possible reformation or rehabilitation of any individual defendant."

In his 25 years behind bars, he’s earned his GED, has a college degree in global studies, and is a certified yoga instructor.

He spent his first 10 years in a juvenile facility. He’s filed and lost appeals. Now, he’s put his faith in a Youth Justice organization to work on his behalf. They’ve filed a petition requesting a murder review hearing to make parole possible. Their reasoning is based on him being a 15-year-old undiagnosed schizophrenic at the time of his criminal act. The state’s Supreme Court will consider their petition.

His sister, six years older, visits him in prison. In an interview, she said, she believes they should give her brother a chance to positively affect the world. He was never a monster to her. She also acknowledged he suffers from serious mental illness and that they have been successfully treating him for years.

As you can imagine, most, if not all, the families of the victims he killed and the victims still living with the memories want him to stay in prison until his dying day.

One parent reportedly said,

“I don't think he will ever be safe to put back in society. If medicine is the answer for him, I say he can have it in jail. But who is to say that he will take it, if let out?”

Source: State Court of Appeals, HuffPost, Wikipedia, PBS Frontline, Statesman Journal

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