School Climate & Safety

Six Charged as Conspirators in Miss. High School Slayings

By Millicent Lawton — October 15, 1997 3 min read
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Six “quiet kids,” all current or former students at Pearl High School in Mississippi, were charged last week by police in a plot to kill fellow students.

Police were led to the circle of friends by their investigation into the Oct. 1 shooting rampage at the high school in which the alleged student gunman’s ex-girlfriend and another teenager died and seven more were wounded.

A 16-year-old sophomore, Luke Woodham, was charged in the killings and in the stabbing death of his mother earlier that day.

Last week, six days after the shootings, three of the suspected conspirators were pulled out of their morning classes and arrested at the high school. Five of the six suspects are students at Pearl. Donald P. Brooks II, 17; Wesley Brownell, 17; and Delbert Shaw, 18, are seniors. Two others are juniors: Justin Sledge and Daniel Thompson, both 16.

Mr. Sledge had been suspended from school before his arrest because he had disrupted a school candlelight vigil in the aftermath of the shootings by “making speeches,” said William Dodson, the superintendent of the district.

A sixth accused member of the plot, Marshall Grant Boyette, 18, is a Pearl High graduate and a first-year student at Hinds Community College in Raymond, said Arthur F. “Skip” Jernigan Jr., a lawyer for the 4,000-student district.

Lawyers for the suspects either did not return phone calls or refused to comment last week.

Not Guilty Pleas

Mr. Boyette and Mr. Brooks were also charged with conspiring to kill, unsuccessfully, the latter’s father. All the suspects, including Mr. Woodham, have entered pleas of not guilty.

Superintendent Dodson said that before Mr. Woodham allegedly began firing his rifle at students gathering before morning classes, he had walked in and pinpointed where certain students were standing or sitting.

None of the suspects had a record of discipline problems, and each was an above-average student, Mr. Dodson said. “They were quiet and just low-profile kids.” .

But the suspects, including Mr. Woodham, were seen as a group. “Some of them did have a very unusual interest in philosophy,” particularly in Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German philosopher who wrote on nihilism, Mr. Jernigan said of the clique. A manifesto allegedly written by Mr. Woodham about his motives--and circulated by Mr. Sledge after the shootings--quoted Nietzsche, officials said.

Unimaginable Acts

Classes at the high school were suspended Oct. 2 and Oct. 3 so that counselors could comfort faculty members and students. School reopened Oct. 6, only to have the arrests the next day bring more disruption and a frenzy of coverage by the local and national news media. Satellite trucks ringed the high school Oct. 8, officials said, but were barred from the campus and adjacent property as of late last week. About 200 students--or 150 more than usual--were absent that day from the 1,039-student school.

At the time of the shootings, security consisted of teachers and administrators greeting and monitoring students--the only protection anyone imagined was needed. At least for a few weeks, Mr. Jernigan said, Pearl police officers will also be patrolling the school.

“The community has indicated that they do not want the school to become a fortress, but that it may be a good idea to implement some tighter security measures,” Mr. Jernigan said.

In a community the size of Pearl, a 20,000-resident suburb of Jackson, almost everyone knows at least one of the victims or suspects, Mr. Jernigan said. The tragic events have left students and staff members distracted, grief-stricken, and fearful. Police have not ruled out making more arrests.

“The church and the school are the two things that drive the community,” he said. “Obviously, one of those has been violated in a bad way.”

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