Pearl High School shooting
|Pearl High School shooting|
|Location||Pearl, Mississippi, United States|
|Date||October 1, 1997 (UTC-6)|
|School shooting, spree killing, matricide|
|Deaths||2 (at the school) and perpetrator's mother (at home); 3 total|
|Defender||Joel Myrick (Assistant Principal and U.S. Army Reserve Commander) armed with Colt 1911 .45 auto |
The Pearl High School shooting was a school shooting that took place on October 1, 1997 at Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi in Greater Jackson. The gunman, 16-year-old Luke Woodham (born February 5, 1981), killed two students and injured seven others at his high school. Before the shooting at Pearl High School began, Woodham stabbed and bludgeoned his mother to death in her home.
The incident began in the morning of October 1, 1997 when Luke Woodham fatally stabbed and bludgeoned his mother, Mary Ann Woodham, as she prepared for a morning jog. At his trial, Woodham claimed that he could not remember killing his mother.
Woodham then drove his mother's Toyota Tercel to Pearl High School. Wearing a trench coat to hide his rifle when he entered the school, Woodham fatally shot Lydia Kaye Dew and Christina Menefee, his former girlfriend, then went on to wound seven others.
The school's assistant principal, Joel Myrick, retrieved a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol from his truck and, spotting Woodham attempting to flee the parking lot after the shooting, shouted for him to stop. Realizing what Woodham was doing, another student used his own vehicle to block Woodham's path, at which point Woodham attempted to get around the obstruction by driving his mother's car onto a grass verge, only to end up getting stuck in the grass. Seizing his opportunity, Myrick ordered Woodham out of the car at gunpoint and detained him until police arrived at the scene.
Minutes before he started the shooting, Woodham had given the following message to his friend Justin Sledge:
I am not insane, I am angry. I killed because people like me are mistreated every day. I did this to show society, push us and we will push back. ... All throughout my life, I was ridiculed, always beaten, always hated. Can you, society, truly blame me for what I do? Yes, you will. ... It was not a cry for attention, it was not a cry for help. It was a scream in sheer agony saying that if you can't pry your eyes open, if I can't do it through pacifism, if I can't show you through the displaying of intelligence, then I will do it with a bullet.
During the subsequent investigation, Woodham's journal was examined by police. In it, he detailed how he and a friend had tortured his dog Sparkle to death, several months prior to the shooting:
I will never forget the howl she made. It sounded almost human. We laughed and hit her hard.
On October 8, 1997, Grant Boyette, Delbert Shaw, Donald Brooks, Wesley Brownell, Daniel Thompson and Justin Sledge were arrested in suspicion of conspiring with Woodham to commit the shooting. During his trial, Woodham claimed to have gotten ideas of committing the murders by being involved with a Satanic cult. Woodham admitted to being a Satanist, and claimed that his friend Grant Boyette invited Woodham to join a Satanic group known as "The Kroth." He claimed that Boyette told him that he had "potential to do something great." Woodham said that Boyette promised him that he could get his ex-girlfriend back through black magic.
David, I receive your sermons through the mail. I am one of the school shooters. I'm the one they blame for starting it all off. On October 1, 1997, I went into Pearl High School and killed two students and wounded seven. I also killed my mother before this. After I came to jail I got saved. If there is any way that I can help your ministry, I would love to. Maybe I could give you my testimony. I’ll do anything to help. I look forward to your sermons each month…
Trials and incarceration
There were separate trials for the murder of Woodham's mother and the school shooting. Woodham's lawyer argued at both trials that Woodham was insane at the time of the killings. Jurors rejected Woodham's insanity defense at his first trial for the murder of his mother, and he was sentenced to life in prison on June 5, 1998. His second trial took place on June 12, and he was found guilty of two counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder, with the jurors once again rejecting the insanity defense. He was given two life sentences for the murders and seven 20-year sentences for his attempted murder convictions. He is currently serving three life terms plus an additional 140 years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2046, when he is 65 years old.
Conspiracy charges were filed against Delbert Shaw, Donald Brooks, Wesley Brownell, Daniel Thompson, Grant Boyette and Justin Sledge, accusing them of taking part in a conspiracy to assist Woodham in the murders; however, the charges against Shaw, Brooks, and Brownell were dropped by Judge Robert Goza "at the request of District Attorney John Kitchens, who said Mississippi's conspiracy law would make proving the accusations difficult." The case of Daniel Thompson was transferred to youth court because he was 15 years old at the time.
Less than three days after his last conviction, Woodham was removed from the Forrest County Jail in Hattiesburg. On June 15, 1998, Woodham entered the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) system in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Rankin County. While at CMCF Woodham underwent evaluation so he could be assigned to a permanent facility. Several weeks later, he was moved into the Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP) in Sunflower County. As of 2014 Woodham is incarcerated in Unit 29 of MSP as MDOC #R4682. His location last changed on October 15, 2014.
Grant Boyette and Justin Sledge still faced two counts each of being an accessory to commit murder. Boyette was convicted and sentenced to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman boot camp for six months and five years of supervised probation.
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