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Pearl High School shooting
Location Pearl, Mississippi, United States
Date October 1, 1997 (EST)
Attack type School shooting
Weapon(s) .30-.30 caliber rifle
Death(s) 3
Injured 7
Perpetrator Luke Woodham

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 Luke Woodham, killed two students and injured seven others at his high school. Before the shooting at Pearl High School began, Woodham stabbed his mother to death in his home.

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Details

The incident began on the morning of October 1, 1997 when Luke Woodham fatally stabbed his sleeping mother, Mary Woodham. At his trial, Woodham claimed that he could not remember killing his mother.

Woodham drove his mother's car to Pearl High School. Wearing an orange jumpsuit and a trenchcoat,[1] he made no attempt to hide his rifle. When he entered the school, he fatally shot Lydia Kaye Dew and Christina Menefee, his former girlfriend. Pearl High School assistant band director, Jeff Cannon, was standing five feet away from Dew when she was fatally shot. He went on to wound seven others before leaving through school and intending to drive off the campus. However, assistant principal Joel Myrick retrieved a .45 pistol from the glove compartment of his truck and subdued Woodham inside his mother's car. Then Myrick demanded "Why did you shoot my kids?". Woodham replied "Life has wronged me, sir".[2]

Minutes before he started the shooting, he gave the following message to a friend[3]:

"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."

Religious involvement

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 or get even through black magic.[4]

After his conviction Woodham converted to Christianity, and said the following in a letter[5] written to evangelical minister David Wilkerson:

“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

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 was sentenced to life in prison on June 5, 1998. His second trial took place on June 12, and was found guilty of two counts of murder and seven counts of aggravated assault. He was given two life sentences for the murders, and seven 20-year sentences for aggravated assault convictions.[6] 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."[7] The case of Daniel Thompson was transferred to Youth Court because he was 15-years-old at the time.[7]

Grant Boyette and Justin Sledge still faced two counts each of being an accessory to commit murder.[7] Boyette was convicted and sentenced to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman boot camp for six months and five years of supervised probation, while Justin Sledge was sentenced to serve four months in reform school.

Play based on shooting

The short play series Above the Fold by Topher Payne includes a play entitled "The Day Luke Woodham Killed All Those People". It was based on interviews the playwright conducted with Woodham's former co-workers at a local pizza parlor. The play was first produced by Process Theatre Company in Atlanta, Georgia in 2008. The play won two Metro Atlanta Theater Awards in 2009, for Best Original Work, and Best Play.

References

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