I remember being in 7th grade when the news of the shooting at Pearl High School happened.
Seventh grade—that’s the heart of middle school. For me, since I was student at Clinton Junior High School, that was my first year out of elementary school. Since I lived down the street from CJHS, I was allowed to ride my bike to school. It was the ultimate drug of freedom I had ever tasted.
I was 13-years-old, and not 13-years-old in today’s standards where preteens have their own channels and cell phones and movie genres. I was still a child who had been (luckily) sheltered from the harsh realities of life. I had never been offered cigarettes or even knew what drugs looked like in real life.
I had just begun to really understand the greater Jackson area. I’ve never been the best navigator, but I at the age of 13, I was finally starting to understand where various towns around this area were in reference to my own.
I knew Brandon. I new Terry. I knew North Jackson. I knew South Jackson. I knew Flowood. I knew Madison. I knew Ridgeland. I knew Pearl.
So when the news reported that a high school kid had shot students at Pearl High School, killing two, I knew where that was. That was the school you could see from I-20. They were the Pearl Pirates.
But on October 1, 1997, they were invaded by an evil that no one thought would take up residence in Central Mississippi. Sure, we were the state that had a violent history with racial unrest and bigotry, but that was in our history books. That was adults who possessed a hatred of their own. We were just kids. Kids didn’t do things like that.
Luke Woodham did.
I never fully processed the events during the time, but the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve started to understand the lies we tell ourselves everyday.
That could never happen here.
Five famous words uttered in every small town where this evil has taken up residence.
I went into this episode with the preconceived notion that the Pearl High School shooting was the first of its kind that sparked a violent, national trend. But that’s not true. In fact, there have been thousands of school shootings over the past THREE CENTURIES. You read that right.
The list on Wikipedia is noted as an incomplete list, but it starts with a shooting at the University of Virginia Law School on Nov. 12, 1840, and as of the publication of this post, ends with a shooting in Matthews, North Carolina that occurred on Oct. 29, 2018.
This episode was published on Oct. 28, 2018. That means the shooting in North Carolina occurred the day after I published October 1, 1997. I remember looking at this list the night before I published and told my wife it made me sick to think this problem has occurred for so long, and honestly looks to have no end in sight.
Yes, we can get into the argument over guns and gun control and responsibilities and Second Amendments and all that. And so much as the points that could be made have legitimacy on both ends, none of them will bring back any of the people killed or the people who have transitioned in to the title of murderer.
After talking with Heather, my ears are a little more “perked up” as a teacher. I pay attention a little more and probably a little better. But like she said, it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, when it happens so fast, there’s a feeling that there’s nothing you can do to stop it. And that is terrifying.
I see Heather in the hallways every day. I sometimes don’t know how to jump into a conversation. Should I bring up the podcast? Should I tell her I’m getting good numbers on her episode? Is that a bad thing to be proud of? I mean. Christina and Lydia didn’t die for a podcast. They were slain by an evil.
Instead, when I see her in the hallways, I try to play it cool. I try to crack a joke or share in the eye-rolls only teachers share. But I’m also thankful she decided to share with me her journey back through such a painful event.
I wish there would never be another entry to that Wikipedia list. That’s either naive thinking or sad that I’d have to wish that. Maybe both.
3 thoughts on “PODCAST: October 1, 1997 (The Shooting at Pearl High School)”
Good article, as usual, Robert! Thank you for your expressions of a terrible time
I’d like to give you a copy of my dads book, If Only I Had Known. As superintendent of Pearl Schools during this event, he felt responsible for the prevention of this event since it happened at school under his watch. As you mentioned, this doesn’t happen at schools. Schools are where children are, and they are supposed to be safe zones. As we can now see in 2020 with COVID, schools are a product of whatever good and evil happens in society. Children are many times replicas of their parents or molded by the influence of society. Therefore educators have to deal with whatever comes their way that is allowed and accepted in society. Educators attempt to protect and shield children but it is a challenging and often overwhelming task. As Heather said and even Luke himself to my father, at that time there was not a specific way to prevent it. After that event, my father wrote about each student having an assigned mentor to check on them and having the school provide or get support for the student who needed it. I will get you a copy of the book this week! Thanks for sharing your thoughts !!
Cindy Martin, Ed.D.