Teens' alleged plot to kill students stuns Southern town

October 09, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PEARL, Miss. -- Clearly the seven students were friends. Perhaps they even qualified as a clique, with at least some of them sharing an unusual interest in Nietzsche and Latin. Now the police in this suburb east of Jackson have charged that the students were also co-conspirators in a mysterious plot to murder fellow students at Pearl High School.

Monday night and Tuesday morning, the police arrested six students, plucking some of them from their first-period classes, and charged them with conspiracy to commit murder. The arrests came less than a week after an Oct. 1 rampage in which Luke Woodham, a 16-year-old student, is accused of walking into the school's airy, skylit commons and firing round after round from a hunting rifle. Woodham is charged with killing two students, including a former girlfriend, and wounding seven.

The police later discovered that Woodham's mother, Mary Ann Woodham, 50, had been stabbed to death with a butcher knife earlier that morning in the home she shared with her son. Woodham has been charged with her murder as well.

Just as the memorial services and vigils had ended here, this town of 22,000 was stunned again by the arrests of Woodham's six friends.

The police have said little about the nature of the reported conspiracy, except that they are convinced that it existed.

"We felt strongly enough that we were willing to pursue the charges," Chief W. E. Slade of the Pearl Police Department said in an interview.

Affidavits filed by a police detective assert that the six students were involved in a conspiracy to kill students at the school.

They have been identified as Marshall Grant Boyette Jr., 18; Donald P. Brooks II, 17; Wesley Brownell, 17; Delbert Shaw, 16; Justin Sledge, 16; and Daniel Thompson, 16.

Brooks and Boyette are also charged with conspiring in May to kill Brooks' father, Donald Brooks Sr. Apparently, no such effort was ever made, and the younger Brooks' lawyer, James Bell, said yesterday that his client's father "stands by him and doesn't believe the charge."

The six students charged this week all remain in jail in lieu of $1 million bail for each conspiracy count against them. Woodham is being held without bail. All have been charged as adults. All are current students at Pearl High except for Boyette, a former Pearl student who attended Hinds Community College.

Both Slade and Arthur Jernigan Jr., a lawyer for the Pearl Public School District, said yesterday that police were advised to investigate Woodham's friends by students and parents after last week's killings. Some students referred to the accused students as "the group," Jernigan said.

William Dodson, the superintendent of the Pearl public schools, said none of the students had been reported for previous discipline problems. "They were higher than average intelligence students," Dodson said.

One of the students came to the attention of the authorities almost immediately after the shootings. Sledge said Woodham, upon arriving at the school Oct. 1, gave him notebooks of writings that seemed to include an explanation for the killings.

Sledge provided copies of one page from the notebooks to several reporters.

"I am not insane," the page reads. "I am angry. I am not spoiled or lazy, for murder is not weak and slow-witted. Murder is gutsy and daring. I killed because people like me are mistreated every day. I did this to show society, 'Push us and we will push back.' "

The page ended with a passage from Nietzsche that asked, "How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?"

After the shootings, Woodham, who worked at a Domino's pizza franchise, was captured by an assistant principal, Joel Myrick, while trying to leave the school in his mother's car. Myrick, an Army reservist who sprinted after Woodham, said the student's first words concerned the principal's recent pizza order.

Myrick, who was armed with his own automatic handgun, said that after he forced Woodham to lie on the ground, and had his foot on Woodham's neck, the student's first words were, "Oh, Mr. Myrick, I'm the one that gave you the discount on the pizza the other night."

"I said, 'What? Why did you do this to my kids?' " Myrick continued. "And he said, 'Mr. Myrick, I've been wronged. The world has wronged me, and I just couldn't take it anymore.' "

Dodson said 150 to 200 of the school's 1,039 students were absent yesterday, significantly higher than the average of 50 absences on a normal day. Although armed police officers patrolled the campus, students acknowledged that they were anxious.

"It's frightening that there might still be more people out there, and you don't know what's going to happen," said Gonzalo Vizuete, 18. "There are rumors that it might happen again, that someone might finish what they started."

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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