At 8 a.m. on Oct. 1, Luke Woodham, 16, bookish and overweight, drove a white Chevy Corsica up to his high school. That was already a sign of trouble: the young man had poor vision and was driven to school every day by his mother. But three hours earlier that morning, Mary Ann Woodham, 50, had been stabbed to death with a butcher knife in the home she shared with her son.
Luke Woodham walked into Pearl High’s commons, an enclosure created by the school’s buildings. He then took a .30-.30 rifle from beneath his blue trench coat and opened fire, wounding seven schoolmates and killing two, Lydia Kaye Dew, 17, and Christina Menefee, 16, a girl he once dated.
Roy Balentine, the principal, dashed out of his office when he heard the first shots.
“I ran out to see if something possibly malfunctioned,” he said. “I was hoping that’s what it was, but I knew it sounded like gunshots.”
He saw Woodham, about 15 or 20 feet away, wearing a big, blue coat and holding a rifle. Balentine dangled both arms to show how Woodham held the rifle low out in front of him.
Fearing Woodham would come for him next, Balentine ran to his office to call the police. As he dialed, more shots rang out. More students fell.
Methodically Woodham began moving through the commons, shooting his victims as students and teachers hid or fled screaming. One of those hit was Lydia Dew, 17, killed with a bullet in the back.
“He was so cool and calm. I saw him shoot a kid, and he ejected the shell,” says assistant principal Joel Myrick. “He was walking along, thumbing fresh rounds into the side port of the rifle.”
Minutes later, Assistant Principal Joel Myrick chased Woodham down outside the school, held him at bay with a Colt .45-caliber automatic pistol he kept in his truck in the school parking lot. He forced Woodham to the ground and put his foot on the youth’s neck.
“I think he’s a coward,” Myrick said. “I had my weapon pointed at his face, and he didn’t want to die.”