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Not much happens in Ponder, a Texas farm town of 500 people. Not
much, that is, until teacher Amanda Henry assigned her 7th-graders the
task of writing a scary story for Halloween. As it turned out, that was
more than the folks of Ponder could handle. By the time the hysteria and
panic blew over, 13-year-old story-writer Christopher Beamon was jailed
as “a threat to the community.”

“I was supposed to write a horror story, a scary story about being
home alone and hearing noises,” explains Christopher. “I don’t think I
did anything wrong.” More than not doing anything wrong, the kid proudly
volunteered to read his essay, a potential pulp-fiction thriller, in
class.

Here’s Christopher’s essay, exactly as he turned it in, complete with
all its errors:

    My flashlight went out and I heard someone right behind me and I
    turned in a very slowly scared way and boom the lights came on and the
    door bell rang. I walked very slowly and creepy and turned the knob ding
    dong the door bell went again. I said just a minute and I will be right
    there and I looked through the little hole in the door and Robin said
    Boo. I told him to come in and have a seat and we both wated and wated
    for Ismael because he was supposed to bring the ounce so we could get
    high but half an hour later still no Ismael so I got the idea of Freon
    and we grabbed a bag and a knife and ran out back to the airconditionar.
    We througth the bag over the nostle and covered it tightly and used the
    knife to press the volv. We started to hear something after we got high
    so we ditched everything we quickly run to the door to see who it was
    and there wasn’t anybody there then we heard someone at the back door to
    see who it was I thought it was a crook so I busted out with a 12 guage
    and Ismael busted out with 9 mm and we step off the porch and this
    bloody body droped down in front of us and scared us half to death and
    about 20 kids started cracking up and pissed me off so I shot Matt,
    Jake, and Ben started laughing so hard that I acssedently shot Mrs.
    Henry. Ismael saw somebody steeling antifreeze so Ismael shot over ther
    near the air conditonar and hit somebody (indecipherable word) also
    scattered out and went home and my mom drove up and everything was back
    to normal but they didn’t have any heads.

The next day, Christopher, turned in by a terrified Mrs. Henry
who’d been whipped into a frenzy after being inundated by phone calls
from spooked parents, was hauled out of class by sheriff’s deputies.
District Attorney Bruce Isaacks told The Dallas Morning News that the
school administrators were “legitimately concerned.”

George W. Bush, reached on the presidential campaign trail in
Delaware, declared that things like this can’t be taken too lightly.
“We’ve instructed our school officials,” he said, “to take any threat to
any child seriously.” By day’s end, Juvenile Court Judge Darlene
Whitten ordered the boy held for 10 days, pending psychiatric
evaluation.

What’s really bad here, aside from a 13-year-old sniffing Freon after
his “ounce” was late, is that Christopher received an A-plus, “100
percent,” for effort and creativity before he was jailed. As for the
uproar over the likelihood of him shooting Matt, Jake and Ben, and then,
buckled-over in laughter, accidentally blasting Mrs. Henry, that’s most
likely the result of the good people of Ponder overdosing on TV,
watching ABC News say that Chicago’s public school system had purchased
24 cemetery plots, spots for the victims of the next classroom
slaughter.

During the past three years, gun violence on TV, fake shots as
entertainment, has skyrocketed, up over 300 percent, painting a picture
of a nation gone “postal,” a place overflowing with well-armed kids and
crazed office workers. In fact, workplace homicides are at their lowest
level in seven years, school violence has been dropping for over a
decade and the U.S. murder rate stands at its lowest level since 1967.

Columnist Robert Bidinotto, describing the results of an experiment
at the University of Oklahoma, shows how preconceptions determine what
we see, how the hysterics of old Salem came to see a witch behind every
tree, and how Christopher Beamon ended up in Juvy Hall: “Researchers
filmed an actor playing a happy, problem-free scientist. They showed the
film to undergraduates, law students, and psychiatrists. Each group was
told that the man looked normal but had been previously diagnosed as
‘quite psychotic.’ Result: the actor was diagnosed as mentally ill by 84
percent of the undergraduate students, 90 percent of the law students,
and 100 percent of the psychiatrists. Later, identically composed groups
were shown the same film of the same actor, but were told that he
‘looked like a healthy man.’ All of them, 100 percent, diagnosed the
actor as free of mental illness.”

Christopher says he wants to be a writer. His mother, Jan Beamon,
says she’s taking him out of Ponder High and he’s going to a private
school. Who knows, maybe he’s got the right stuff to be a pulp fiction
hero.



Ralph R. Reiland, co-author of “Mom
& Pop vs. the Dreambusters” is Associate Professor of Economics at
Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh.

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