Day 2, July 11, 2007The sun rose the next morning with me transported into a world of my own. A world that was consumed with fear, dread, and Jonathan. The army's pace of hurry up and wait was not pushed aside for my emergency and I had an agonizing wait for paperwork and plane tickets, broken only by my repeated calls to the detention center. With immense relief someone from the detention center finally told me where my son was as I boarded my 6 pm flight. I called the hospital in St. Louis and set up a phone call to speak with him during my layover in Atlanta.
After finding a semi-private place in the Atlanta airport I dialed the hospital's number... and my heart pounded. When Jonathan was put on the phone and I heard his voice I was overwhelmed by a mother's love. This is what he told me happened the day before:
About 10 am he received a call from his ex-girlfriend telling him that she was pregnant with his baby, but that her new boyfriend was going to force her to shoot up cocaine to kill the baby. She told him that before this could happen she was going to commit suicide. Jonathan called her mother to tell her what was going on and also told her mother that if his ex-girlfriend committed suicide he would too. Her mother called the police to come to our house to check on Jonathan. Jonathan saw them coming and hid from them because he was afraid they were going to take him and then he couldn't save his ex-girlfriend and the baby. After the police left he decided he had to scare the boyfriend into leaving his ex-girlfriend alone. I learned that he had also dealt with repeated taunts from the boyfriend all summer. At some point in the afternoon the two boys talked and agreed to meet in town at the carwash. Jonathan left the house with a gun I had just bought my husband for Christmas the year before hidden in a guitar case. Under the influence of Triple C's he shot the boyfriend. He said all he was thinking about was the girlfriend and the baby and he had to save them. He had to scare the boyfriend into leaving them alone and the police would understand why he did what he did. The police immediately came to the scene and Jonathan turned himself in. Previous to this, Jonathan thought there was another baby lost to abortion by the same girlfriend earlier that year and it devastated him. There was never a baby either time
I don't remember the rest of my flight or my drive home.
The Beginning (cont'd)suzanne was doing her best to push her words out, like when you are in a dream and can't make your body move. I heard, "I think Jon shot someone in the stomach!" I went into immediate shock......"What? What did you say? What! Where is Jonathan?? Where's Dad!!" After telling me she learned of this from Jonathan's ex-girlfriend she was incapable of saying anything else and dropped the phone still crying hysterically. I tried to call my husband repeatedly, but got no answer. I found out later that he knew something was wrong that day...he had an overwhelming sense of dread.. He left work early and was busy going to all of Jon's friends houses looking for him. No one seemed to know where he was. By the time he located our son by calling the police station (no one bothered to call us, his parents) Jonathan was already in police custody. He had been taken to the juvenile detention center and was being questioned without his parents and without counsel. Dan and his mother rushed over to where Jonathan was being kept to be with him and told him not to answer any more questions until we could find a lawyer. My husband and Jonathan's grandmother were not allowed to touch him or hug him and after a brief visit were told they had to leave.
During this time I was making multiple phone calls trying to piece together what happened and where in the world my son was. I finally got a hold of my sister-in-law who told me that Dan, her mom, and Jonathan were at the Cape County Juvenile Detention Center. By the time I called the Juvenile Detention Center approximately three hours after his arrest, my husband and his mother were already gone, and I learned that Jonathan had been moved without our knowledge. When I asked the juvenile officer why he had been moved and where he was I was told, "Ma'am he was suicidal and in extreme shock after the incident so we moved him to an adolescent psychiatric hospital."
"I don't know."
"Who does know? How can I find him?"
"I'll leave a message with the supervisor and you can try calling tomorrow,"
Tomorrow!!?? Are you kidding me!!! Do you not know how I feel!! Broken! Devastated! In Shock! Worried to the depths of my soul! Powerless!! Where is my SON!!
I had to get home. I went to speak broken and crying with my commanding officer to plead for an early release to go home. He was very kind and told me he had gotten into the same trouble way back when he was young. He encouraged me that he had a good judge who wanted to give him a second chance and that's most likely what would happen with us. He promised me I'd be on a plane the next day headed home.
All I knew by the end of that day was my son was in serious trouble, the boy he shot was in surgery, and I was utterly, totally alone.
For some reason known only by God, as I prayed desperately for Jonathan; my husband felt the same desperate pull to pray for Jeremy (the boy Jon shot).
That is how DAY 1 ended.
The BeginningJonathan, my youngest child of three, was 16 years old the summer of 2007. He had just finished his sophomore year of high school, had a girlfriend he adored, was looking forward to swimming, six flags, time with family and cousins, and all things teens do on summer vacation. We went to the high school graduation that year so he could get an idea of all of the scholarships that might be available for him. He really wanted to study psychology after he graduated because he was fascinated by how the mind works; then he fully intended to open a bar/grill on the beach. He loved the beach. We went to the beach several times on family vacations and it was always hard to pull him away. He didn't like Missouri winters, unless snow was on the ground of course! Jonathan brought a lot of laughter and comedy to our family and to his friends.
That summer of 2007, I was in the Army Reserves. I had just joined the year before on the buddy system with my 22 year old daughter, Suzanne, my oldest child. Well, it was supposed to be the buddy system, but after I left for basic training she ended up joining the local Army National Guard Unit. I still tease Suzanne to this day for standing me up! At that time I was a high school special education teacher so I was allowed to complete basic training during the summer of 2006, return home to teach during the school year, then go back to Fort Jackson, South Carolina to complete training as a chaplain's assistant during the summer of 2007.
That's how I left Jonathan. Looking forward to summer and to the rest of his life.
I called home every evening to check on things and to chat with Jonathan, his older brother, Charles, who was 19 at the time, and my husband, Dan. For the first couple of weeks things seemed normal. Summer was in full swing and I was really wishing I was home to enjoy it.
Then my conversations with Jonathan took a troubling twist. His girlfriend broke up with him and he was crushed. He tried to date other girls, but they just weren't her. After a few weeks he seemed better, not happy, but ok. In the meantime, she started dating someone else. Then the phone calls started. Jonathan received several from her confiding to him that this new boyfriend was hurting her and raping her. I doubted that this was really happening and tried to convince him that it didn't make sense, but Jonathan believed every word. He was so distraught he didn't know what to do.
Later, I found out he turned to the OTC drug Coricidin, called Triple C on the street. While under the influence of high doses of this drug, which can last as long as six hours, abusers risk injuring themselves and others because of the effects on visual perception and cognitive processes. It also produces dissociative effects.
On the evening of Tuesday, July 10, I was lying in my bunk reflecting on the past several weeks of training and really looking forward to going home in a few days when the shrill ring of my phone shattered the stillness. When I said hello all I heard was Suzanne crying hysterically and trying her best to form words. My stomach clenched, my heart started pounding, and I broke out in a cold sweat because something was very wrong at home.
I read a heartbreaking story today of a man who was incarcerated in a supermax prison. He talked about how his cell was between the cells of a 16 and 17 year old. There was a 15 year old above him. They were all in solitary confinement due the their age to keep them "safe". He told of how these children cried out in loneliness and hopelessness and how they constantly talked about committing suicide. He sang to them from sun up till sun down to help allay their deep fears. Knowing that my son experienced this deep, deep pain to the point that he did take his life makes me wonder who are the real criminals? The ones who place our children in these death holes or the ones who sing to them to keep their fears at bay?
My name is Tracy McClard and I live in Jackson, MO. In 2008, I lost my barely 17 year old son, Jonathan, in Missouri’s criminal justice system.
Testimony before House of Education of Labor Committee on April 21, 2010. In this picture is Chairman George Miller and me.
Recommendations and Conclusion:
Jonathan’s experience taught me that no child should be placed with adults no matter what, because when children are put in with adults they die - physically or mentally. I also believe that all kids deserve a second chance. As a parent, one of the most frustrating things for me was that the court, the judges, and the prosecutors didn’t know my son - they hadn’t raised him like I had; they didn’t even know him as a person - but they weren’t willing to give him the second chance they might have given to their own kids if they were in the same situation. Finally, if the goal of the juvenile and criminal justice system is to keep our communities safe, how safe can our communities be if a kid in Jonathan’s position would have spent five, ten, fifteen or more years in the conditions Jonathan faced and with the role models he had?