Sadly, it's becoming more and more common. A few months pass without incident, then suddenly our TV screens are once again filled with the disturbing images of yet another school shooting, usually in the United States. Teenagers - or even younger children - for whom the real or imagined pressures of life have finally built up to a crescendo and exploded in a hail of bullets. Schools are supposed to be places of safety. Nowadays, in America,many bear more resemblance to high security prisons than schools with guards, bars and metal detectors as standard. Yet,still, whenever this mass carnage occurs, there is almost universally a sense of inevitability. The perpetrator(s) was "weird", "a geek", "obsessed by violence" an "unhappy, mixed up loner" of a child for whom notoriety was just a stolen gun and a smouldering rage away. The book "Child's Prey" by Jon Bellini is the in depth story of one such child. It tells the true story of 16 year old Luke Woodham, who's desperate attempts to 'belong' finally culminated in the deaths of his mother and two teenage girls and the serious wounding of a further seven students at Pearl High School, Mississippi. The book starts with a brief,yet disturbing description of the events of 1st October, 1997, the date on which Luke burst into his high school toting a stolen rifle and opened fire. The remainder of the book is divided into three sections, "Life", "Death" and "Justice". The first of these, "Life" looks in detail at Luke's life from birth until the day his childhhod ended in 1997. A much wanted child, Luke's birth was to eventually precipitate the break up of his family, since his mother devoted herself to the new baby to the exclusion of his father and brother. After his parents separation, Luke was raised by his mother in a regime that alternated between neglect and smotherin
g. Bullied by his older brother and at constant loggerheads with his mother, Luke became a solitary child who spend much of his time closeted alone in his bedroom, avoiding the world. Until he found true love. A new student at school, unaware of the overweight Luke's reputation as an oddity, mistook his quietness for gentleness and the couple began dating. Yet Luke's mother insisted on accompanying the sweethearts on every date, and the girl soon lost patience and ended the relationship, leaving Luke heartbroken and simmering. Desperate for acceptance from his peers, Luke allied himself with another group of school misfits who introduced him to Satanism. "Death" deals not only with Luke's actions on the day he bludgeoned his mother to death with a baseball bat before running amok with his rifle, but also covers events in the aftermath of the tragedy. It discusses the reactions of parents, police officers and school officials and asks the inevitable question - "Why?". Given what was known about Luke's miserable home life, his behaviour and demeanour at school, his dabbles into Satanism and the observations of his fellow students in the months prior to the shooting, it seems incredible that this was allowed to progress to so horrific a conclusion. But then, hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 vision. This book is, in effect, foresight for the next similar occasion. It is a cold, hard look at the life of one ordinary boy and the pressures that drove him to the point of no return. It is distressing. It is disturbing. It is extremely dark and tense. And, sadly, it is true. It includes graphic descriptions of animal torture and the obligatory "16 pages of Shocking Photos!", a handful of which truly are shocking.Perhaps most shocking of all is the seeming inevitability of the conclusion - from page one, you have the sense of knowing exactly how the book is going to end. What you don't know i
s "Why". This sensitively written and sympathetic book makes a genuine attempt to answer that question. Yes, it is disturbing, yet the shocking detail seems somehow necessary to drive home the point to those who missed the many more subtle clues that Luke left for them to interpret, clues which could have prevented a terrible tragedy. "Justice" deals with Luke's trial and sentencing for his crime and is rather worryingly followed by an epilogue. In this the author states that Luke has been inundated with letters from teenagers from all over the world, sympathising with him and professing to understand his motives. (Some even feel as though they are his 'disciples') And, yes, some of these letters come from British children. It is estimated that, in the United States, 1 in every 100,000 children may be capable of committing this sort of crime - they are described as "ticking time bombs, waiting to explode".How many are there in the United Kingdom? The policies on gun ownership are different in this country, but even so, the potential is there. Many will shy away from reading this book, dismissing it as too distressing or horrific. Those that do read it will find it opens their eyes to the ultimate in teenage angst. It is all too easy to condemn outright, yet all too difficult to fully understand.It is so very, very easy to inflict damage on our children and sadly all too easy for those damaged children to react in so extreme a way. "Child's Prey" - Jon Bellini - Pinnacle ISBN 0 7860 1166 1
A shocking true account details sixteen-year-old Luke Woodham, who walked into his Pearl, Mississippi high school and killed two teenage girls, injured seven other students, and also brutally murdered his mother, and who belonged to a role-playing cult led by psychotic devil-worshipper and mastermind.