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It was a normal school, with the same faces, the same groans, the same teachers, and the same sleepiness that seems to hang onto everyone in the morning. But things weren’t completely the same. Little did the students, the parents, and the teachers know that a 15-year-old kid had brought a pellet gun, with the orange warning peice painted black, to his school, and was completely intent on dying that day.

Penley, of Winter Springs in suburban Orlando, was accused of pulling the pellet gun in a classroom Friday and pointing it at other students before forcing one into a closet, then leading deputies and SWAT team members on a chase that ended in a school bathroom.

When he raised the gun at a deputy, a SWAT team member shot him.

Officers who had responded to the 1,100-student school believed the gun was a Beretta 9mm, and didn’t learn until after the shooting that it was a pellet gun.

The hospital had repeatedly refused to release Penley’s condition to reporters or even specify the nature or extent of his injuries. Police had said Friday that the boy was on “advanced life support.”

Sheriff Don Eslinger said the 15-year-old boy brought the gun to Milwee Middle School in his backpack. Eslinger said two students saw it and one persuaded the other to report it, causing a scuffle.

The alleged gunman ordered one of the students into a closet, dimmed the lights and ran from the classroom. He then went around the campus carrying the weapon, Eslinger said. Deputies eventually isolated him in a restroom, and the school was evacuated.

Eslinger said negotiators tried unsuccessfully to start a dialogue with the boy, identified as Christopher David Penley.

“He did not respond,” Eslinger said. “He refused to even comment. All he said was his first name. He did not drop the firearm.”

When the boy raised the gun at a deputy, he shot the youth, the sheriff said.

“He was suicidal,” Eslinger said. “During this standoff, and during the chase, the student said he was going to kill himself or die.” At one point, the boy held the gun to his own neck.

No one else was injured. The sheriff’s office confirmed later that the weapon was a pellet gun fashioned to look like a 9mm handgun. The tip of the gun had been painted black, covering brightly colored markings that would have indicated it was nonlethal.

It is indeed a sad story, and, as usual, is full of lessons for students and parents alike. We’ve looked at two teen killers in the past on this blog (one of which was accidentally deleted), and all of the stories have one central similarity–relationships.

David Ludwig killed his girlfriend’s parents. Patrick Armstrong killed his “friend,” who was a girl. And now, this 15-year-old gets himself killed because he’s depressed about a fight over a girl. That’s really warning number one when it comes to teens–watch out for the boy/girl relationship that can easily end up on the front page of Agent Tim Online. You really don’t want that to happen.

Almost all of these stories are about some young man deciding killing is the answer to the problems he’s facing, which usually involve girls. We can see many reasons for this, such as television and video games, which constantly speak of death, killing, and murder, causing the teen’s mind and soul to become immune to the revolting feelings that should come when you hear of a person being murdered, or watch it in action.

This is real life we’re talking about kids, not a video game or television. Everyone needs to wake up and quit living in a video game world.

The MySpace Part

Another interesting factor in Ludwig and Armstrong’s cases is that they both involve the word “MySpace.” Yes, that’s right, MySpace. That really awesome website where you can get a blog and meet lots of people. That place where you can send instant messages, and invite your buddies to read your site, and share thoughts about your daily life. And, of course, it’s safe…right?

You can read article after article on kids who thought they were safe–from parents and freaks–who ended up getting busted, expelled from school, killed, or fired.

Jose Aguilar, a 14-year-old freshman at Munster High School, talks about how much he loves his guitar on his Xanga.com blog and about his spot on the MHS junior varsity wrestling team. The guitar part is OK, but sharing your school puts you at risk, Willard said.

Jose said he wasn’t worried because he didn’t think random people would check out his blog.

“I kinda just think that the only people who are gonna be looking at it are like my friends,” he said.

Wrong.

Sites like Xanga, MySpace, and Friendster are accessible to everyone, which means you need to be extra careful about how you post. Any personal tidbit is an invitation for trouble. Anything that someone can use to track you down does not belong on the Net, Willard said.

Even if you don’t post that kind of information, there’s a chance people may still try to contact you. One in five teenagers is solicited online, according to the NCMEC.

If someone ever says ‘LMIRL’ — let’s meet in real life — remember one word: NO. Never, ever, under any circumstances meet somebody in person that you only know through the Internet. Those situations lead to nothing but trouble.

Melissa Darang, a junior at Merrillville High School who has a MySpace site filled with cheerleading photos, said she would never meet someone in person.

“That isn’t very smart to me,” she said, adding “I have seen people around though like at the fair or at the mall, and I think to myself ‘that person has a MySpace.’ Kind of weird.”

How does she know that? Pictures. When you post your picture somewhere — anywhere — on the Internet, there’s always going to be a risk that someone you don’t want to see them will find them. If you really want to put pictures of yourself out there, make sure they are not inappropriate or the kind that could get you into trouble. Use good judgment.

Also use your head when it comes to what you write on e-mail, instant messaging and Web site postings. It may seem like no big deal, but they are permanent records of conversations with people. If you can’t be certain the person you think you are talking to is for real or if the person could possibly use what you say in a negative way, then don’t converse with him or her. Even if you write something as a joke, beware. It could be used against you.

There are times when those kinds of exchanges can be used to your advantage. If you are having trouble on the Net, printing out the conversation or saving it to your hard drive is the first step you should take. Using that as evidence when approaching your parents, or any other trusted adult, can be really important.

When someone you know is giving you a hard time, it’s often referred to as “cyberbullying.” It can be just as hurtful as bullying face to face, and often even more so. Though you might feel the need to retaliate and try to cyberbully the person back, it’s best if you go to your parents first. In the most severe cases, it’s best to get the school involved.

“Schools have to be aware it’s happening. They have to educate the kids that just because it’s being done online, you’re still doing something that’s wrong,” said Bill Bond, resident practitioner for safe and orderly schools at the National Association for Secondary School Principals.

If somebody approaches you in an uncomfortable way — uninvited instant messaging, unsolicited posts — you also should go to your parents or another trusted adult. If you don’t feel comfortable going to them, go to the Web site www.cybertipline.com. The site is run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and has links to report every kind of crime. (Source)

Fairfax County, Virginia, is waking up to the dangers of MySpace and Facebook as well:

Fairfax County will hold seminars on the subject for parents this week, and Arlington County, at the suggestion of a parent who is a computer safety consultant, plans a similar meeting next week.

Meredyth Cole, assistant head of school at Madeira, said officials there were “shocked and amazed” to see how many students use Facebook, which began for college students in 2004 and was expanded late last year to include high school students.

Besides the most obvious danger — adult stalkers enticing teenagers into face-to-face meetings — Cole warned that personal information posted online can also be read by college admissions officers and future employers.

“We are trying to figure out how do our school rules relate to this type of behavior,” Cole said.

Some colleges have expelled teenagers for violating codes of conduct after discovering photos of underage students posing in front of kegs or writing about drinking binges, and employers often look up job candidates on the sites, said Parry Aftab, an Internet lawyer and the executive director of Wiredsafety.org.

What is scary for many of us is this: our friends all have a MySpace, which easy to find, easy to read, and sometimes easy to hack into if you know them well enough. I decided to go in and do a little investigation. My mom has done a lot more than I have, but here’s what I’ve found.

Almost everyone…no…everyone, puts a picture of themselves on their profile. Usually fine, yet it can pose a problem, especially when you consider the fact that most of the kids post not only their pictures, but also post their city, state, and country. Others post their telephone number, their school name, their full names and their friends full names, wonderful details about themselves, and other things that just shouldn’t be there.

For Christians, MySpace poses a huge problem for teens. It is not only a threat to your safety, but a trash dump with bad ads and bad people.

“There is ample research to suggest that disclosing secrets or talking about strong emotions improves physical and psychological health,” says James C. Hamilton, associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama. “Teenagers are typically very concerned about appearance and reputation, and these blogs and online discussions allow teenagers and children a sort of intimacy in conversation and communication with others that preserves their anonymity in ways that face to face conversations can’t.”

In other words, conversations on these blogs are candid, deep, and can show the “real you.” These blogs lead you to complain about your parents, share, rant, show joy, and cuss. It’s a community–a community of growing teens lacking in adult experience or maturity and freaks who are trying to stalk the kids.

Teens equals disaster when they gather together in one place where no one is encouraged to be the best that they can be morally. Girl/Boy relationships many times start there, and when you think back to the beginning of this post, that is not usually a good thing.

The Bible tells us that “Bad company corrupts good character.” We are to “flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

These blogs can be a danger to the health of teens, as we’ve seen, providing a teen hang out, which always equals some type of trouble.

When we ignore what the Bible says–He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm–we’re going to end up with serious problems. There has to be a reason for schools blocking MySpace and reasons for parents becoming alarmed.

Comments are working now…I’m using Haloscan at the moment, but they work.

Tim Sweetman

Posts

Tim Sweetman is a young writer, blogger, and student who lives near our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. He has been much more widely known by his “code-name,” Agent Tim. This name also served as the name of his popular blog, which received over 750,000 visits between 2005 to 2007. In 2005, he quickly rose to become a leading teenage spokesperson and cultural critic within the booming blogosphere, taking on issues such as MySpace, alcohol, homeschooling, pride, racism, tolerance, and other topics relating to our culture today. His blog has come to the attention of people such as Albert Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Alex and Brett Harris, and La Shawn Barber. Tim’s written work has appeared in Lifeway’s Living With Teenagers (February 2012), Lookout Magazine, FUSION Magazine, The Brink Online, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Virtue Magazine, Regenerate Our Culture Online Magazine, and on many other blogs and websites across the internet like Marry Well and the Lies Young Women Believe Blog. He has also been featured in WORLD Magazine, The Towers Magazine, and Maryland Newsline. He is scheduled to have an article appear in Veritas Magazine this December. Most recently, his work can be found on Focus on the Family’s Boundless Webzine. His personal interests include writing (surprise!) and sports, both watching and playing. He is a die-hard Washington Redskins fan.

16 responses to

  1. Test comment. Hey Tim, somehow, they’re working again, and I didn’t touch a thing!

  2. Yeah, it’s working great!

  3. Last test..

  4. Parents suck these days too. A lot of kids feel they are raising themselves, they have no direction, so their greatest alibi is friends. If you have good friends, that’s not so bad, but some people are so lonely they will fall into whatever crowd will accept them. Hm, I’m kind of stating the obvious here. Anyways, good article.

  5. I linked over from Spunky Jr. Excellent post!

  6. Tim,
    Thanks so much for posting on this! Thankfully I don’t use MySpace or any of the others, but I did consider it at one point. I’m now glad that I didn’t! And I agree with everything you said: you have to use discretion with everything on the Internet, even on our own blogs and IM’s. Kids get in all sorts of trouble today because they just don’t think. They hear those kinds of stories and think “It’ll never happen to me”. God warns against such foolishness, and you have discussed it very well. Thanks for making a stand!

    Your sister in Christ,
    Niroveka

  7. Kelsey Sweetman ( your cousin! ) April 6, 2006 at 11:37 AM

    i love tim…..you website rocks my face off……:)

  8. I understand the troubles with myspace and other social networking sites. but if a person is careful then I don’t think that they have anything to worry about.

    I’m 15. You can’t get into my myspace unless your my “friend” and I “friends” consist of bands that I like, and people that I am actually friends with.

    This seems like the argument “Well I got fat, so I blamed McDonalds”

    Parents are too willing to blame it on the website, and no t on their kid’s stupidity

  9. Nathan,
    I agree with you to a certain extent. Many times, parents do nothing to protect their teens, and just allow free-reign at all times. But that’s the fact for most teens. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter, really. Myspace itself is just a cesspool of garbage. You’re always three clicks away from garbage. For those who say they only have their “friends” allowed, I always wonder who their friends are. And who are their friend’s friends?

    In the end, MySpace provides a great place for “fools” (if you will) to become more foolish. I’ve yet to see “good” come out of MySpace. Almost every single teen murder/Columbine type case is involved with MySpace. It’s not a place for friends.

  10. I understand completely that myspace is not a good site. But can’t you just a.} put it on safe mode and b.} post a picture that’s at such an angle, you can’t even see the face? People are idiotic enough to post numbers and such on the site, how can you blame myspace for that? It’s right to say Myspace just shouldn’t exist, but what about those others sites?

    There’s nothing you can do to stop any of it. It’s going to go on and on because there are thousands of kids out there who are a.} too stubborn to listen and b.} don’t get reached. And those people are enough to keep myspace going.

  11. Moriah Strickland September 30, 2006 at 4:41 PM

    I think back to the time when I had a MySpace, and nothing, absolutely nothing good was on that site. Like you said, Tim you’re only 3 clicks away from garbage that could do some serious damage. Once something get into your head you can’t get it out. And MySpace has a lot of garbage that will get into your head and you will not be able to get them out.

  12. I so agree about MySpace being trash! My whole family has a MySpace account (me, my husband and our two kids)…Ok, you’re thinking, “What is wrong with this picture?”…And I’ll tell you. My husband and I got an account so that we could basically keep an eye on our kids pages, plus catch up with old friends. And we’ve done just that, kept an eye on our kids’ myspace pages, plus caught up with old friends. Now that sounds simple enough? But I tell you, as I write this, MySpace is pure and simple trash. You see filth everytime you log on to your account. Vulgar and trashy blogs posted by creeps. It’s just plain nasty. I’m getting ready to delete our pages, I’m just sick of the trash and the time it takes away from our family time. Wish I’d have known then what I know now…

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Agent Tim Online » Blog Archive » Blog Roundup - February 11, 2006

    [...] * Local newspaper “The Baltimore Sun” posted another interesting article on MySpace, etc. The other day a new reader told me that “after you posted on MySpace I saw about 5 more articles on it.” Actually, he was wrong. There were more than 5 articles. And you’re going to see a whole lot more if people don’t heed the article and it’s words. [...]

  2. Mom 2 Mom Connection » Blog Archive » Teens in the Blogosphere - March 2, 2006

    [...] When I read through some of his posts, I began to realize that teens who are writing with focus and a mission can have a positive impact on the blogosphere. Their writing can serve not only to help others, it can also enhance their future opportunities. Yet he offers caution to his teen readers about the potential hazards of sharing too much online. I encourage you to read this whole post, which is carefully researched and written. He says: What is scary for many of us is this: our friends all have a MySpace, which [are] easy to find, easy to read, and sometimes easy to hack into if you know them well enough. I decided to go in and do a little investigation. My mom has done a lot more than I have, but here’s what I’ve found. [...]

  3. Alabama Watch » Blog Archive » Town hall meeting on internet safety - May 8, 2006

    [...] was a normal school…    [link] Trackback URL for this post:http://alabamawatch.com/2006/05/08/town-hall-meeting-on-internet-safety/trackback/ [...]

  4. Agent Tim Online :: Culture And Theology--Hand In Hand - June 20, 2006

    [...] If you haven’t caught on to the MySpace issue, then you’ve been living under a rock at the bottom of the ocean. Just check out this post I covered earlier this year to fully understand the issues I have with MySpace. The bottom line for me: no one should have a MySpace. Sorry, but it’s just trash. [...]

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