Teach the children well
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1998:
JONESBORO, Arkansas– – Why
did Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden,
11, on March 24 steal seven pistols and three
rifles, set off a fire alarm at Westside Middle
School, and as the children ran out, kill classmates
Natalie Brooks, Britthney Varner,
Stephanie Johnson, and Paige Ann Herring,
plus teacher Shannon Wright?
Probably for the same reason a powerful
politician might think he can get away
with repeated self-exposure and other acts of
uninvited sexual aggression against female subordinates:
each alleged offender learned early,
when an older man he admired gave him a gun,
that normal rules don’t apply to hunters.
A hunter can attack any so-called fair
game at any time. He can trespass on any property
that isn’t posted and guarded. If he doesn’t
get what he wants, he can vent his frustration
by shooting sitting ducks, as allegedly did Fred
Drasner, chief executive officer of both the
New York Daily News and U.S. News & World
R e p o r t , last December 21, and––although
Drasner was an American SPCA board member
––pay no public price for the deed.
A hunter can even show he’s a good
old boy, like U.S. President Bill Clinton and
former U.S. President George Bush, by providing
photo opportunities as he kills cage-reared
ducks or doves at a so-called “hunting preserve,”
a euphemism for “canned hunt.”
If a hunter kills a person by accident,
he usually gets less jail time than many hunting
opponents have already served for nonviolent
protest. In early April, for instance, the
Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the conviction
of Brian Cummings, 40, of Parma, for
fatally shooting fellow hunter Stacey Bensch,
26, of Toledo, Ohio, in November 1995.
Cummings was to have served just nine months
in jail and three months on tether for firing two
shots, one of which hit Bensch, before sun-up.
A few days later, Kenneth Elkins,
30, of Industry, Pennsylvania, drew just a
year to 23 months on work-release for firing
three shots at long range in December 1996,
apparently while legally drunk, one of which
killed his cousin Roberta Ferrabee in her living
room, in front of her three-year-old daughter.
At about the same age that the trapper
boys learn to pull the heads off wounded
pigeons at the annual Labor Day shoot in
Hegins, Pennsylvania, Johnson and Golden
demonstrated skills the grown men in their lives
had taught them since they could walk.
As Newsweek recounted, “Andrew
Golden’s father had introduced the boy to
‘practical shooting,’ a competition to hit moving
or pop-up targets. His grandfather Doug
Golden, who works at a fish and game reserve,
had helped introduce Andrew to hunting. He
recently built a duck blind for the boy, who, he
said proudly, ‘killed his first duck this year.’”
Johnson too was familiar with
guns––and had reportedly already been charged
with sexually molesting a two-year-old girl in
1997 in Minnesota.
But, added N e w s w e e k, “Arkansans,
predictably, rejected the idea that the familiar
pastime of shooting could have contributed to the tragedy. ‘It’s
a sport, like fishing,’ said Jonesboro mayor Hubert Brodell.”
The five-member Newsweek reporting team failed to note that
fishing also centers on the recreational killing of animals.
“This is a part of the country where it’s unusual if a
child doesn’t have a gun growing up,” Arkansas state police
spokesperson Bill Sadler told Sam Howe Verhovek of The New
York Times. “People enjoy their hunting privileges and don’t
want this ruining those privileges.”
Fund for Animals anti-hunting campaign coordinator
Michael Markarian pointed out in frequent press releases over
the next two weeks that like wildlife agencies in many other
states, “The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission holds special
youth hunts, and trains public school teachers to instruct
‘hunter education’ courses during school hours as part of the
physical education curriculum.”
Markarian also offered media free copies of the
Fund’s 30-page report Killing Their Childhood: How Public
Schools and Government Agencies are Promoting Sport
Hunting to America’s Children––as they are doing with
increasing desperation, since most state wildlife agencies are
funded by hunting license sales, while the hunting population
has dwindled by more than a third since 1980.
Arguing against a pending New York bill to allow 14-
year-olds to hunt deer and bear, Markarian warned that “The
ethical fabric of society is made weaker and more dangerous by
encouraging children, who are in the process of learning values,
to inflict pain and suffering upon animals. Under current
law,” Markarian explained, “a kitten must be treated with
kindness,” unless caught by ‘accident’ by a fur trapper, “but a
deer or a bear can be treated in the most inhumane manner possible.
This contradiction confuses children and promotes violence.
The state has a duty to protect youth, yet favors an
activity that deliberately transforms children into bullies.”
Markarian’s words were ignored by most media. So
careful was most Jonesboro massacre coverage to avoid offending
hunters that none reaching ANIMAL PEOPLE even mentioned
another recent Arkansas case, that of the Eldridge family
in Buttermilk village, Pope County. As ANIMAL PEOPLE
summarized in March 1998, father Rick Eldridge pulled
his sons James Neal and Jesse Ethan, 14 and 15, out of school.
He barred visitors from their farm, including their grandfather,
Dan Brown. And he taught the boys to hunt. On January 24,
1998, James Neal and Jesse Ethan were charged as adults for
allegedly shooting Rick Eldridge dead on the family front porch
that morning. Their mother, Sonja Eldridge, turned them in.
The parallels were perhaps less obvious than contrasts:
the Eldridge boys allegedly shot a family member, but
the Jonesboro boys did not. The Eldridge boys allegedly targeted
one particular person, but the Jonesboro boys did not. The
Eldridge boys allegedly fired from close range; the Jonesboro
boys killed as snipers. Rick Eldridge psychologically abused
his killers, according to Brown. Investigators have had difficulty
even identifying the Jonesboro boys’ motives.
Yet both sets of young killers had been taught to kill
animals early in life, and to crush qualms about killing. Killing
was made a central part of their understanding of what defines
manhood. Hunting weapons and ammunition were at hand, so
when adolescent conflicts flew out of control, young men trying
to assert their dominance took rifles and opened fire.
Reports of similar cases reach ANIMAL PEOPLE
more often than anyone not actively studying the association of
violence toward animals with violence toward humans might
suspect. Among the more memorable:
• Jimmy Lackey, 17, of Concord, Tennessee, is to
be sentenced on July 13 for killing neighbor Billy Joe Bowling,
45, while hunting three runaway pigs on October 4, 1997.
Allegedly waving a pistol, Bowling according to trial testimony
confronted Jimmy Lackey, his younger cousin T o m m y
Lackey, and his uncle George Lackey, 21, for alleged trespassing,
and directly threatened to kill George Lackey, who is
reportedly a convicted child molester.
• Luke Woodham, 16, of Brandon, Mississippi,
on October 1, 1997 took his hunting rifle into the lunch room
at Pearl High School, killing two female students and wounding
seven, after allegedly stabbing his mother to death with a
butcher knife earlier in the day. Six other boys were later
charged in purportedly related murder plots. Woodham and the
alleged ringleader, Grant Boyette, 18, had tortured Boyette’s
dog to death in April 1997, according to a manuscript reportedly
found in Woodham’s notebook.
• Eric Borel, 16, of Cuers, France, on September
24, 1997 clubbed his father, mother, and brother to death,
then used his hunting rifle to kill eight people plus himself.
• Kevin Lynn Gregory, 18, David Allen Cook,
19, and Cory Alan Lewis, 18, of Corbett, Oregon, were
charged in October 1996 with killing Ronald Cary Dunwoody,
36, and James William Boyles, 48, for live target practice.
“I heard one of the boys wanted to know what it was like to kill
someone,” Dunwoody’s mother Shirley Sinclaire t o l d
Kristine Thomas of the Gresham Outlook. “He thought it was
terrific killing an animal, and now he wanted to kill a human.”
• Jillian Robbins, 19, reportedly an avid hunter, on
September 17, 1996 killed Melanie Spalla, also 19, and
wounded Nicholas Mensah, 27, in a sniper attack at State
College, Pennsylvania. She didn’t know either victim.
• Brandon Roses, age 9, of Oregon City, Oregon,
in June 1995 allegedly shot his five-year-old sister Charolette
Roses dead with his father’s hunting rifle because she wouldn’t
go to her room when he told her to.
• Steven Pfiel, 17, the son of a meatpacking executive,
was free on $1 million bail on March 18, 1995, while
awaiting trial for the July 1993 hunting knife murder of Hilary
Norskog, 13, in Palos Hills, Illinois. That night Steven Pfiel
bludgeoned his brother Roger Pfiel as he slept, then cut
Roger’s throat, allegedly raped his 14-year-old sister, and
departed the family home in Crete Township, Illinois, carrying
three hunting rifles and shotguns. He was subsequently convicted
of both the Norskog and Roger Pfiel murders.
• Brian Nemeth, 16, of Steubenville, Ohio, on
January 7, 1995 killed his mother, Suzanne Nemeth, 40,
with five close-range arrow shots from his hunting bow. He is
apparently now serving 15-years-to-life in prison.
• Andrew McCoy, 17, was convicted in October
1994 of organizing the attempted crossbow murder of his stepmother,
Helen McCoy, who survived the June 23, 1993
attack but was partially paralyzed. Andrew McCoy allegedly
furnished the crossbow to the friend, Michael Breaux, who
allegedly shot Helen McCoy, after scoring 100% in a bowhunting
• Cameron Robert Kocher, two months short of
age 10, of Kresgeville, Pennsyvlania, in March 1989 ended a
dispute over a video game by using one of his father’s 10 hunting
rifles to ambush Jessica Ann Carr, age 7, as she rode
with a neighbor on a snowmobile. Kocher told a psychiatrist he
had just been playing hunter. “All Kocher did wrong,”
Cleveland State University law professor Victor L. Streib told
The New York Times, “is kill the wrong animal.”
Seventeen cases in 10 years of young hunters allegedly
using hunting skills and weapons to murder 31 people
doesn’t “prove” anything, statistically speaking, nor might
much greater numbers, inasmuch as about two million
Americans under the age of 18 hunt each year. Hunting
defenders will be quick to argue that Borel (not an American)
and Pfiel also used baseball or softball bats in their fatal attacks.
As the National Rifle Association claims, “Guns don’t kill people;
But 15 million Americans under the age of 18 play
baseball or softball. Cases of children or teens using ball bats
to commit murder are nonetheless so rare that the Borel and
Pfiel cases suggest hunting background may be as common
among ball bat killers as actual ballplaying.
In any event, syndromes underlying abnormal criminal
behavior are rarely recognized through quantification. They
are discovered, rather, through case study.
Case study suggests the Jonesboro massacre belonged
to a syndrome, and not a syndrome limited to youth. The common
elements are that the killers have or had troubled relations
with often absent or abusive fathers, have low self-esteem and
poor social skills, and vent frustration most often on female,
juvenile, and animal victims. If the killers target adult males,
they do so in situations where the victims cannot fight back.
Aware of the possible consequences, most stop short
of killing humans. As hunters, fishers, and trappers, they find
legal ways of killing animals.
What they do to children does show up in statistics.
In 1994-1995, ANIMAL PEOPLE compared hunting license
sales with crimes committed against children in the 232 counties
of Michigan, New York, and Ohio, which cumulatively
have 14% of all the licenced hunters in the U.S. and each keep
records pertaining to child abuse in a similar manner.
Michigan and upstate New York, exclusive of New
York City, had closely parallel per capita income, population
density, and unemployment rates––but Michigan, selling twice
as many hunting licenses per capita, had nearly eight times as
much child abuse, and twice as much sexual abuse of children.
Within New York, in 21 of 22 comparisons of counties
with almost identical population density, the county with
the most hunters also had the most child molesting. Twentyeight
of the 32 counties with more than the median level of
hunting also had more than the median level of child molesting.
In Ohio, counties with more than the median level of
hunting had 51% more child abuse, including 15% more physical
violence, 82% more neglect, 33% more sexual abuse, and
14% more criminal emotional maltreatment.
As children emulate adults, the cycle of violence is
self-perpetuating. Some just “kill the wrong animal” before
learning whom they may kill and injure with impunity.