Real Danger, or Cry for Help?

Pekin School Board Must Decide if Teen's Actions Warrant Expulsion

By Phil Luciano, News Columnist
Peoria Journal Star
Sunday, June 3, 2007

The school board for Pekin Grade School District 108 has tough questions to consider Monday night.

Did a student at Edison Junior High School boast legitimate plans to kill himself and at least three other classmates? Or was he merely indulging in private fantasies as a way to relieve stress from years of bullying?

The answers will help the board vote whether to expel the 14-year-old - a decision that could remove him from the student body at Pekin Community High School next year.

The student's parents understand the initial alarm by school administrators and fellow parents regarding the teen's written plans: an at-home journal of meticulous, hand-written lists, procedures and drawings regarding pipe bombs, gunfire and other mayhem at Edison. Indeed, the Journal Star's close examination of the boy's journal - heretofore kept under wraps by the school and police - reveal reverential references to Adolf Hitler and the Columbine killers.

The teen has been suspended from Edison since the journal came to light nearly four weeks ago. But the boy and his parents (who had known nothing about the journal until notified by police) call the journal pure escapism by a youth ravaged by anxiety and depression - yet one who poses no threat to anyone.

Still, the parents fear that media accounts might have poisoned the school board from making an objective decision about expulsion.

His stepmother says, "The only thing that is out there is, 'Here is this monster who was going to kill these kids.' "

The bespectacled boy stands 5 feet 8 inches and weighs maybe 180 pounds. At the awkward age of 14, his frame is a mix of pudginess set across a broad chest and wide shoulders. He could grow into the physique of Winnie the Pooh or an NFL defensive tackle.

Since fourth grade, some classmates have teased him about flab, while others made fun of his glasses. As he got older, some students pointed to his lack of a girlfriend and called him gay.

In the fourth grade at Washington Intermediate School, the taunting became excruciating. So the boy told school administrators that he was being bullied, he says.

But nothing happened, he says.

Citing privacy laws, District 108 Superintendent Don White declined to talk about the boy's history in the Pekin schools. The administration has said it had known of no reports of bullying involving the boy this year at Edison.

In general, White says that bullied victims and their parents might inadvertently think bullying complaints go unheeded. Punishments can range from reprimands to suspension, depending on the severity and repetition of bullying. However, White says, privacy laws prohibit administrators from sharing news of discipline with bullied victims and their parents.

Thus, sometimes students feel their complaints fall on deaf ears, so they do not report subsequent bullying.

In any event, after fourth grade the Pekin boy never again complained to school officials about bullying. Sometimes, the boy would share his feelings with his family. His father would tell him to "stand up to them, don't let it bother you, go to teachers."

None of that happened. Inside, the boy began to boil.

But he never showed anger. The boy has no police record and never put up his dukes. Furthermore, he pulled mostly A's and B's in school.

"He never got into trouble," says his mother. "He likes the teachers. He likes going to school."

Further, he likes most of his classmates. And he likes the members of his church youth group.

But this year he began to hate three of his classmates at Edison. Their constant barrage of insults began to tear him up as the school year progressed into 2007.

He says he tried to deal with his anger and resentment in a peaceful way: by writing in his journal. And that is where the trouble started.

The boy's parents are divorced, but both have remarried. He splits his time about equally between both households, both of which he finds to his liking.

At his mother's home, he kept a spiral-notebook journal under his mattress. Much of the entries reflect two of his recent interests: Hitler and Columbine. Over the past few months, he read much about both subjects, usually on the Internet.

"I was interested in Adolph Hitler and the good things he could have done with his power," the teen says. "Instead, he did bad things."

His father says his son's research on Hitler was purely academic. He calls his son "the least racist person I know."

As for Columbine, the boy says he happened on a download of a movie based on the massacre. The movie includes rudimentary information on how to make pipe bombs.

When he began to write his journal earlier this year, he leaned on his newfound knowledge of Hitler and Columbine. He calls his writings and doodles a doorway to an alternate reality that allowed him to cope with the school bullying and to mentally strike back at his three tormentors.

He matter-of-factly describes it as "basically a plan of retaliation against kids who were causing me grief at school." Still, he repeatedly says that he never intended on acting on his musings - except, perhaps, killing himself.

No one, not even his parents, knew about the journal.

Copylefted 2007 by the Peoria Journal Star under the terms given in the Creative Commons NC/ND License 2.5
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