I was in the sixth grade in the year 2001 when rumors went through the school that there was going to be a shooting at the local high school. The high school was only ten minutes away, causing parents to pick up their children from the middle school. Classes were canceled so the students who had parents who worked, like me, stayed at the school to watch movies. No one was really worried and it was nice having classes canceled. Parents were the only ones who worried, probably because Columbine had only happened two years before. Nothing ever happened at the high school but the next day at school, rumors flooded the halls on how a group of high schoolers were going to pull the fire alarms and when the students exit the classrooms, they were going to shoot all the rednecks who teased them.
What I later found out is that a group of students at Lakewood Ranch High School made a suicide pact; they were going to sit around in a circle and use guns to shoot each other. They also talked about pulling the fire alarms and kill all the students (including the rednecks) who teased them in school. Though it was just talk, one student took it seriously – his name was Richard Henderson Jr. On February 28, 2001, he was a suicide note and a will. On March 2 (a Friday) he was caught at a McDonald’s with a gun. On March 5, he was going to bring the gun to school and kill students. If the police hadn’t caught him, would he have gone through with the plan? Would it have been another Columbine?
In 2005 I was now a junior at Lakewood Ranch High School. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the news broke about how a young man killed his family with a metal pipe. As new information emerged, I was shocked to find out that the same man who killed his family was the same man who threatened to shoot students four years earlier. Henderson, now a nineteen year-old, was playing videogames with his eleven year-old brother when he grabbed a metal pipe and hit his brother in the head three times, killing him. He then pushed his brother’s body out of the window; afterword, he left his bedroom and killed his grandmother, father, and mother with the metal pipe. That night, he slept in his parents’ bed and the next morning he wrote a note apologizing for murdering them and accepting his punishment. The next few days he stayed with friends and family members before a family member became worried and went to check on the family at their home. Inside the home she found four bodies covered in blood. Henderson was questioned and arrested for murder.
During the trial in 2007, Henderson was painted as a person born with problems. He had bad grades in elementary school and was placed in a dropout prevention program. In middle school, fellow classmates described him as weird. In high school he threatened to shoot students at his high school. He was twice involuntarily committed under the Baker Act. He threatened to stab his ex-wife with a knife and was late on paying child support for his six year-old daughter. It was though Henderson was just evil with the need to kill. The jurors did not buy his insanity plea and instead found him guilty of murder; he received life in prison. In a world where mass shootings are beginning to be common, I wonder if Lakewood Ranch would have been another mass shooting if Henderson was not caught beforehand at McDonald’s. I wonder if there is anything society can do to save people like Henderson – people born wanting to harm others. Henderson was twice committed, and I assume received help, yet it did not seem to help him at all. Henderson planned to shoot students who teased him and when his plan failed, he woke up years later, killing his loving family instead.
Suspect named in 2001 case Bradenton Herald