Pearl High School shooting
|Pearl High School shooting|
|Part of mass shootings in the United States|
|Location||500 Pirate Cove|
Pearl, Mississippi, U.S.
|Date||October 1, 1997 (UTC-6)|
|School shooting, spree killing, matricide|
|Deaths||3 (2 at the school and 1 at the perpetrator's home)|
|Defender||Joel Myrick (Assistant Principal and U.S. Army Reserve major) armed with Colt 1911 .45 auto |
|Verdict||Life prison + 140 years|
The Pearl High School shooting was a school shooting that occurred on October 1, 1997 at Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi, United States. The gunman, 16-year-old 11th grade student Luke Woodham (born February 5, 1981), killed two students and injured seven others at the school after killing his mother at their home earlier that morning.
The incident began on the morning of Wednesday, 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. Mary Ann Woodham died 20 minutes later from blood loss.
Woodham then drove his mother's Toyota Tercel to Pearl High School. Wearing a trench coat to conceal the rifle he was carrying, Woodham entered the school and gave a manifesto to Justin Sledge. Sledge, intuiting what was about to happen, grabbed a few friends to hide in the library while the shooting took place. Woodham then 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.
Religious and esoteric involvement
Less than a week after the shooting, police arrested six other students, charging them with conspiracy to commit murder. Justin Sledge had gone on a local news report and read from the notebooks of writings given to him just before the shooting. Minutes before Woodham started the shooting, he had given the following message to 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.
Further examination of the notebooks revealed an account of when Woodham 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.
Prior to the shootings, Woodham had met Grant Boyette, another of the six charged with conspiracy to murder, and supposedly accepted an invitation to join a group Boyette had formed and called "the Kroth". During the summer of 1997, the supposed members of the Kroth allegedly made plans to terrorize Pearl High School. The plans ultimately involved Woodham entering the school and opening fire. The indictments claimed that Boyette and Sledge met several times with Woodham to convince him ``that murder was a viable means of accomplishing the purposes and goals of the shared belief system.''
The day after the shooting, Justin Sledge "fanned the community’s fears by pinning a note to the door of the school that said the Kroth’s numbers were diminished but the group was still strong." He then disrupted a prayer vigil held to mourn the dead students, for which he received a suspension from the school district. Dr. Justin Sledge currently denies membership in the Kroth and says his comments at the memorial were mischaracterized but still "clearly inappropriate". However, at the time, Justin Sledge went on a local TV news program to read aloud from the manifesto given to him by Woodham. Reading emphatically from Woodham's writings, Justin Sledge declared that, “[Luke] says that the world has shit on him for the final time. He is not spoiled or lazy, for murder is not weak and slow-witted. Murder is gutsy and daring," 
On October 8, 1997, Justin Sledge, Grant Boyette, and the other supposed members of the Kroth were arrested on 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 Justin Sledge and Grant Boyette. Woodham admitted to being a Satanist, and claimed that Grant Boyette had invited him to join "The Kroth." He claimed that Grant Boyette had told him he had "potential to do something great," and 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 against the members of the Kroth who were minors 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." Grant Boyette, who was 18 at the time, was convicted and sentenced to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman boot camp for six months and five years of supervised probation.
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.
In 2003 Justin Sledge pleaded guilty to federal charges of having purchased an illegal and untraceable machine gun online. Dr. Sledge's involvement in the shooting was addressed at sentencing. "I think we're dealing with a brilliant mind. I hope we're not dealing with an (sic) Hannibal Lecter," Judge Barbour said of Sledge, to which U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton replied, "That's what concerns me. He has the ability to manipulate...He was a lot closer to Luke Woodham than he led the court to believe. That's what's disturbing to me."
As of 2022, Dr. James Justin Sledge hosts the YouTube channel Esoterica."
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