The Shootings at Grand Rapids High School
Wednesday, October 5, 1966
As the 40th anniversary the Grand Rapids High School shooting approached, I received an e-mail from Survivor Kevin Roth. He asked me to post the following news story so that you, my visitor, can see how being a Survivor of a school shooting is something you don't outgrow. I hope his words help us all to see what it is like to be a school shooting Survivor. The news story was written by John Welbes of the Pioneer Press and first published on Sunday, November 2, 2003.
STILL FRESH//THE SURVIVOR OF A 1966 SCHOOL SHOOTING IN MINNESOTA IS STILL COMING
TO GRIPS WITH THE PAIN -- AND WITH HIS OWN ROLE IN THE TRAGEDY.
By John Welbes, Pioneer Press
Each time Kevin
of a school shooting, it sends him back to a place he can't put in the past.
The day is Oct.
5, 1966. Roth, age 14, is standing outside
parents were told he would likely die. A priest at the hospital said last rites.
But it was the day's other victim, an administrator who rushed to help, who took
the second bullet and became the first to die in a
The stories may
end very differently in the justice handed down. The
turns out, Roth's story from 37 years ago shows it may be a long time before the
Cold Spring families find any peace. Roth is still looking.
A few days after
Cold Spring, he talked briefly to the parents of Seth Bartell, 14, one of the
victims who has since died. With each school shooting he hears of, Roth
also questions his role in the teasing that led to the 1966 tragedy.
A few months
contacted corrections officials in
know him at all. I knew who he was, but I had not really had any contact with
him," Roth said. He remembers seeing Black at hockey rinks years earlier,
when grade school kids from Black's neighborhood would talk about him while
Black watched hockey practice from the sidelines.
But in the
summer of 1966, one friend from Roth's neighborhood north of Grand Rapids, Mark Lebeck,
was also hanging around with Black, who lived on the town's west end.
maybe 4-foot-9. He could have shaved twice a day and he was very heavy," Roth
said. "Because of that he was ridiculed all his life."
Lebeck stories -- he had been to a mafia convention, he had a pilot's license,
he had a still out in the woods. When Lebeck relayed those stories to his other
friends north of town they laughed it off and told him Black was lying.
Black. With his stories being questioned and constant ridicule coming his way,
Black apparently decided to act.
pushed into a corner. Just like any wounded dog, he's going to bite back. His
response wasn't rational," Roth said, but added that none of the teasers knew
what David was experiencing. The parents of the boys involved also didn't know
the details of the teasing, and weren't keeping tabs on the boys, Roth
and his friends did have some advance warning. The day before the shooting Black
brought bullets to school, showing them to the boys and telling them he intended
to use them. The teasers didn't believe he was serious.
morning, "Our bus came in at 7:30 a.m., and there were lots of cigarettes
being smoked before school with the older boys," Roth
said. The group of seven or eight boys finished smoking and wandered with Roth
over to a spot near the middle school, waiting for the bell to ring. That's when
they saw Black across the street, walking toward them, flashing a pistol.
scattered. But Roth froze. Black was maybe 40 feet away when he pulled the trigger,
shooting "like from a western movie, from the hip," Roth
The bullet hit
him almost dead center in his chest, went through Roth's
lung and his liver, and lodged in his back. His sense of shock would soon
multiply. As he hobbled away to get help, he found out that not everyone had
heard the gunshot.
drop," Roth said. "I kind of went crouched knees and ran over to a
teacher. I said, 'Help me, help me. He shot me, he shot me.' She said, 'Why
don't you grow up?' " He then walked another 40 feet, entered the school
building and fell down, where another teacher found him.
been rumors that he kicked me," Roth said. "It was a nudge with his foot.
He told me to get up."
was seeing triple. As he opened his hands grasping the front of his chest and
looked down, he saw why people weren't reacting. There was no sign of his
injury, no external bleeding.
shooting Roth, Black turned the gun on Forrest L. Willey, a school administrator
who had arrived on the scene. He was shot in the abdomen. Black then ran across
the street where he surrendered eventually to police.
was starting to bleed to death, the bullet having passed about an inch from his
heart. He remembers lying on a gurney in a hallway, next to Willey, who was
told Willey he was sorry. "He didn't answer me, but he was looking at
said. News accounts of the incident make clear that, at least initially, Roth
was thought to be the more seriously hurt of the two. Willey died eight days
survived surgery and spent six days in intensive care. When he came to, he
complained of pain in his arm and shoulder. On the surface of his back, just
below his shoulder blade, he could feel the bullet that doctors had been unable
to find. A doctor gave him local anesthetic and pulled it out. The doctor asked
him if he wanted to keep the bullet. He said no.
As he viewed his
wound he saw the incision in his chest closed with large stitches, spaced about
1.5 inches apart. "I asked the doctor why would somebody stitch me up that
way. He said they were mortuary stitches."
guilty feelings about the shooting surfaced again just after he left intensive
care. A nurse came into his room and said, with an edge in her voice, "Did
you hear? Mr. Willey died." Then she walked out. He started hearing that
some school administrators were saying Black didn't show signs of being a bad
kid, that he must have been pushed.
Once home, Roth
slept with a loaded shotgun at his side, even though he knew Black was in jail.
"That was that tough-guy mentality of the guys I hung out with," he
said. "It had to do with peer pressure."
No one ever told
him directly that he was at fault for the 1966 shooting, but he came to feel
that way. When he returned to school several weeks later, he was on his own as
he tried to get back into his old routine, he said. He thanks one teacher,
Robert J. Elkington, with helping him get readjusted.
79 and still living in
He told Roth
he needed to get involved in school life again and convinced him to be in a
school play he was directing. "I wanted to help him," Elkington said.
"I know Kevin
thanked me when the whole thing was done."
never forgot what Elkington did for him. He turned to him again a few years
back, still trying to deal with 1966. "He called me, probably in reference
to the Columbine shooting," Elkington said. "We had quite a good
discussion. He was a good kid."
through the justice system was swift. He originally pleaded innocent and his
case was moved into adult court. But in December 1966, just days before a jury
trial was to begin, he pleaded guilty.
He was sentenced
under the state's Youthful Offender Act. That act was removed from the books in
1980, when new laws were passed and the state enacted sentencing guidelines.
Black received a maximum 25-year sentence for the Willey murder and a concurrent
10-year sentence for the aggravated assault of Roth,
said Shari Burt, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
In late 1971,
after five years at the state prison in
At that time,
there was a 25th birthday review for juvenile offenders. So, in 1976, when
Black's birthday rolled around, the Youth Conservation Commission -- which was
the paroling authority in those days -- heard his case. The commission
discharged his sentence, meaning he was out of the corrections system and on his
purpose was to rehabilitate them," Burt said. "If by their 25th
birthday they had shown a good institutional adjustment, the sentence could be
eased back into society over a five-year period, Black's new life outside the
corrections system quickly went wrong. In August 1976, four months after getting
his sentence discharged, Black was arrested for molesting a young boy. While
working at a south
guilty to second-degree criminal sexual conduct and served four years in prison.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections hasn't heard from Black since he was
discharged from the
In 1995, state
law was rewritten to include a process known as extended juvenile jurisdiction.
It is a successor to the law that Black was sentenced under, said Barry Feld, a
law professor at the
juvenile justice gives adult sentences to juveniles but treats them in the
juvenile system until their 21st birthday. If the offender doesn't commit other
offenses or violate other conditions set by the judge, the adult sentence is
"recognize that we need some intermediate authority, because juvenile
courts aren't necessarily designed for the most serious offenses, and adult
courts are clearly not equipped to deal with young offenders," Feld said.
indicated they will ask the court to try McLaughlin as an adult. If he's found
guilty in an adult court of first-degree murder, the sentence is life in prison
with a mandatory minimum of 30 years.
As for Black's
return to prison within months of his 1976 discharge, Feld believes it
"doesn't tell us anything about anything other than his case. Not every
treatment program works for every offender, no more than every visit to a doctor
works for every patient. That doesn't mean we don't try to treat them."
Since the Black
sentence in 1966, "I think our system has gotten a lot harsher for 14-,
15-, 16-year olds," said Susan Gaertner, the
In any juvenile
case, she said, the court has to decide if the juvenile can be rehabilitated
within the time the youth is held. "If not, public safety may require that
a youth be tried in adult court and face a more lengthy sentence." Each
juvenile's case, she said, has to be individually evaluated, including looking
at the defendant's psychological make up, criminal history and the seriousness
of the crime.
"For a case
of this magnitude, even though (McLaughlin) is a very young offender, adult
court prosecution is certainly a viable consideration," said Jim Backstrom,
1980s, Black lived in apartments in
Barbara Ahlm, lives near
Attempts by the
Pioneer Press to contact him were unsuccessful.
landlord still remembers him. About eight months ago, Black walked away from his
squalid apartment in
there for at least six years, and Byrns thinks he worked nights at a hospital in
out garbage there with a snow shovel," he said.
As he looked
through Black's things, he got the impression that a parent had recently died.
He found seven "giant boxes of fishing tackle." It had to be from his
dad or a relative, Byrns said, because Black wasn't an outdoorsman. Black's
father died in
said to take what you want. He didn't ask for his security deposit," Byrns
Barbara, says that he is still in
A LIFE SPARED
After Black was
convicted in 1966, Roth's family filed a civil suit, in part to help meet hospital expenses.
They settled out of court for $3,000, Roth
says. He later used half of the settlement to go to
The events of
October 1966, though, continued to linger. Mark Lebeck, who had been caught
between Black and his other friends, committed suicide a couple of years after
the shootings. "I don't know why," Roth
went to college and taught physical education and art in public schools for a
few years. Later he switched to a career in sales and currently works for a
printing business. He's been married since 1975 and has two adult children. As
he watches his children now, he said, he believes they're the reason his life
On trips back to
now knows more about Black and would still like to talk to him, he has some
reservations about the person he might run into after all these years. Roth,
for instance, is only comfortable identifying his home as being in the southern
says he hopes the
good has to come out of all of this."
-- The National
Association of School Resource Officers has a site at www.nasro.org
that includes a survey showing the concerns police officers have about safety in
-- The Minnesota
Attorney General's Office "Safe Schools" survey from 2000 has data
showing how safe children from elementary to high school feel in their schools
and the incidents they've witnessed. Go to www.ag.state.mn.us
and search for "safe schools."
Roth and his
daughter, Alyson, 24, talk with each other on their front porch about their day
at work. Alyson, an elementary school music teacher, is paralyzed from the waist
down after an auto accident three years ago. "God spared me for a reason,
so I could father a beautiful young lady who survived a massive tragedy and
still came out smelling like a rose," Roth said. The Roths live "in the South."
more you talk about this, the more you'll be able to put it behind you,"
said Jane Roth to her husband, Kevin, who survived after being shot at age 14 outside
the Grand Rapids, Minn., high school.
Never Forget Always Remember