Covering the Gruesome Killing in an 8th Grade Classroom: ABC’s Juju Chang’s Perspective

No one enjoys middle school.  No one.  You get teased for a bad hair day or a lame shirt or a pimple. 

Even the perceived popular kids admit – years later —  that they hated middle school.  It’s all hormones and Darwinian cruelty.

To add kerosene to that combustible mix, imagine what it’s like to be gay or transgendered and going through puberty in home room.

It’s literally dangerous to be young and coming out of the closet.   That’s what I kept thinking over the course of three years of following the story of a gruesome killing in an 8 th grade English classroom.    

Transgendered kids suffer the highest rates of homicide.  You hear about cases of gay-bullying leading to suicide among teens.  

And kids are struggling with these issues younger and younger, in environments that are less and less equipped to handle the complexity.  We should call it the shrinking closet.  

The victim in this case, Larry King, was bullied as he tried to come to grips with his sexual identity.  He started wearing girls clothes and makeup and 4-inch heels to school. Larry, according to his teacher, was a troubled kid with learning issues and behavioral issues.  By 8 th grade, he’d been removed from his adoptive home.

It won’t surprise you to learn that the kid who shot Larry execution style in front of all his classmates was equally troubled.   His mother admitted to me that she was addicted to meth when Brandon was born.  She sent him to live with his drug-addicted father, who beat him so severely, he broke his nose.  He had been an honor student who’d never been in trouble.   

Yes, classmates testified, Brandon bullied Larry, but Larry bullied him right back.  How?  Using inappropriate sexual harassment. Chasing him in heels, touching himself (according to Larry’s defense attorney) and asking Brandon to be his Valentine in front of all his middle school buddies.  Guess who was teased after that.

Brandon was charged with first degree murder as an adult.  But after eight weeks of testimony, the jurors couldn’t come up with a verdict.  A hung jury.  A mistrial. 

I interviewed five jurors and an alternate who all believe Brandon should never have been tried as an adult.  They feel adults let BOTH these kids down:  parents, teachers, administrators.  Is Brandon a pre-meditated murderer?  Or was a kid pushed to the edge… guilty of manslaughter… but not deserving of life in prison without the possibility of rehabilitation?

Tomorrow, a Ventura county court will re-examine what justice truly means for Larry King… and for the boy who killed him.

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