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Community perception: Slaying gives Duncan something new to be known for

International media glare prompted by the Aug. 16 “thrill killing” of an East Central University baseball player from Australia is casting the community of Duncan in a far different light.
by Phillip O'Connor Modified: August 24, 2013 at 1:46 am •  Published: August 25, 2013

He added that race did not appear to be a factor in Lane's killing.

“In reality, three boys chose to randomly shoot somebody,” Ford said. “That's the scary part about it.”

Ford expressed concern about the proliferation of single-parent households, lack of supervision, violent rap music and the negative influence of social media that allows people to portray themselves as something they're not.

Ford said he doesn't believe any of the three teenagers were involved with gangs and does not believe the shooting was gang-related.

But photos on Edwards' Facebook page show stacks of hundred-dollar bills, a handgun, Edwards holding a rifle, and Edwards and Luna appearing to flash gang signs.

“If you play that long enough, you begin to believe what you say on social media,” Ford said. “You get to where you think you can play out the role.

“People begin to see it and then you have to live it out or you're living a lie.”

The killing also provided fodder for the ongoing national debate over gun control.

Nelson, the pastor, said he believes the case points up the need for some “grown-up conversation about accessibility to firearms.”

“If I defend my rights, my freedom, to such an extent it gives license to someone else to do the wrong thing, well, then I have participated in a system that has denied that young man of his life. That's a hard conversation for any town in America to have.”

Ford, the police chief, discounted discussion about the effect gun control measures might have had.

“If they hadn't had a gun, they would have run over his ass. They were out to hurt somebody,” Ford said.

‘Did we do enough?'

Duncan School Superintendent Sherry Labyer said she believes the shootings are indicative of broader societal problems more than they are a reflection of Duncan.

“This could have happened anywhere there is a breakdown of the family, where there is a lack of supervision, where children are not held accountable from the time they are able to know right from wrong,” Labyer said.

She also noted the lack of resources for troubled students. She said Duncan has no psychiatrists, mental health facilities or the type of family therapy that can make a difference in children's lives. She said the 4,000-student district struggles to find enough teachers, let alone counselors who could work with troubled students.

“It's a critical need,” she said. “I go back to the breakdown of the family. And then drugs are so prevalent. When you couple those two together, as a society, you're going to have these kinds of problems.”

Labyer said she knows Lane's girlfriend, Sarah Harper, who she said was a star softball catcher and golfer at the high school.

“A Duncan Demon through and through,'' Labyer called her.

Labyer also knows all three of the boys accused in the killing. Although the police have said all three have had previous run-ins with the law, Labyer described them as bright and full of potential. She also knows two of their families.

“When you know those kids and you talk to them and you have relationships with them, done things for them, it's heart-wrenching,” she said. “It's just heart-wrenching. And I am sad for their families. But that doesn't change the fact that what they did was permanent. That's the part I can't seem to get past. What they did to someone else is permanent. That's hard.”

Labyer said the boys weren't isolated at school. Adults reached out.

“I know they made those human connections and tried to develop relationships,” she said. “Did we do enough? If we needed to do something different, I honestly don't know what it would be.”

Labyer said she hates to see Duncan portrayed as a racist, unsafe place to live.

“I find that tragic,” she said. “I don't think that that's an accurate depiction of who we are. It's horrible. Just horrible.”

Heightened fears

The shooting hiked tension in Duncan.

In the first few days after, police received a large increase in the number of people reporting suspicious activity, even though the suspects had been taken into custody the night of the killing, Ford said. They were arrested in a church parking lot after a resident on Ash Street called 911 saying teens with guns were outside his home.

At their first appearance in court Tuesday, the judge, noting that emotions were running high, warned those in the courtroom against any outbursts.

That evening, an anonymous caller told police that a group would be coming to Duncan High School the next day to shoot people. Police and school officials took the threat seriously, Labyer said.

On Wednesday, the district limited student movement on its campuses and bolstered the number of police at the high school from one to seven. Students who stayed home had their absences waived. By Thursday, school was back to normal except for a few extra police still patrolling the hallways.

Frieda, the city manager, said residents are both outraged and fearful.

“How could that happen in a town like this? It's difficult to answer,” Frieda said. “The only thing you can do is react to it, reassure the community and let the outside world know that this is a good town. It's almost a boring place to live.”

He said he's saddened and bothered by some media portrayals of the community.

He thinks assigning racial motives to the crime is wrong. He pointed out that one of the suspects is white and notes that in a city where blacks make up about 3 percent of the population, the mayor is African-American.

“I think that says something about the community,” Frieda said. “This is not a racially motivated thing. This is a random act of violence.”

He also discounted criticism by some, including the Ardmore branch of the NAACP, that the white suspect, Jones, was being given preferential treatment by receiving a lesser charge and being allowed to post bond while the two black teenagers were not.

“My answer to them is, how quickly do you think he'll make a $1 million bond?” Frieda said. “Because that's what his bond is set at. The charge is different, but the bond is still $1 million.”

Luna and Edwards face charges of first-degree murder. Jones is charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact and the use of a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon.

All three face potential life sentences.

“The target was somebody who happened to jog by when they wanted to find out what it would feel like to murder somebody,” Frieda said. “That's my perception.”

The Rev. Nelson said he expects Lane's death will be a defining experience for Duncan, much like he said the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was for Oklahoma City.

“I think there will be people who measure time by that experience,” he said. “It's a day that will live forever.”

by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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