It’s been nearly four years since Brandon McInerney, then 14, shot openly gay teenager Larry King, 15, twice in the back of the head at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard. After nine weeks of the much-anticipated trial this summer, the jury deadlocked; seven found Brandon guilty of manslaughter and five found him guilty of first-degree murder. To avoid another long, emotional and costly trial that would have more than likely led to another mistrial, the prosecution accepted a deal last week with Brandon pleading guilty to second-degree murder. He will serve 21 years in prison, with the four years he has already spent in juvenile hall not counting toward his sentence.
Though the rough and tenuous journey to close this case is finally over, many are still heated by the events — all of the dealings leading up to Larry’s murder, the incident itself, and the way the court hearings and trial played out. With so much division regarding the way things should have occurred, it may come as no surprise when another, similar horrific tragedy rocks the country. The reason for this: We are paying too much attention to how we personally want to be treated and how things should be rather than how things are actually happening.
We have heard from child advocacy groups. We have heard from gay rights groups. But those whom we haven’t truly heard from are the kids on the verge, those who are in abusive homes like Brandon’s and those who are in the midst of exploring their sexual identities as Larry was. We hear from those who have been there, done that and are fighting for certain protections, but what we really need is to talk to those who are at a breaking point.
With little guidance from his parents and family, Brandon acted out. Bounced around from one home to another, Larry received so many mixed messages. From all accounts, neither Brandon nor Larry understood certain behavioral parameters that they should have stayed within to prevent catastrophic consequences. In no way is Larry any less a victim than he was that awful day, but few, if any, explained to Larry that many teens are troubled and he needed to be careful how he came across to others — whether he was gay or otherwise. And clearly, no one paid attention to Brandon as his rage grew within — or at least, no one said anything to anyone important about it.
The real question: What is our duty of due diligence to help troubled teens who simply aren’t getting the direction they need, not only to escape injury but to grow up and succeed in a sometimes volatile society? The vicious cycle of blaming parents, teachers and administrators has clearly gotten us nowhere. We blame support agencies and therapy groups, but they can only do so much. But perhaps if everyone took more active roles in our children’s lives, certain tragedies could be avoided.
As our once-innocent adolescents turn into teenagers with raging hormones, don’t turn on the “ignore” switch when they start acting out. Parents, teachers, adults in general: Talk to them, try to understand them. We must set aside our own egos to get into the world of a teenager. Raising the next generation isn’t just about good grades and extracurricular activities. It’s about molding personalities and developing character that melds us to one another. As the old adage goes, it takes a village to raise a child.