A 16-year-old murder defendant and six friends charged with plotting to kill fellow students were known as a loose collection of intellectuals who called themselves “the group.”
City and school officials Wednesday brushed aside rumors that they were a devil-worshipping cult.
“There’s all kinds of rumors flying around,” said Mayor Jimmy Foster, who alleged that his son was among the students targeted. “There are some things in this that could be considered satanic, but to jump out there to say it is satanic, that they are devil worshippers, is jumping to conclusions a little bit.”
The 16-year-old, Luke Woodham, is charged with murder and aggravated assault in an Oct. 1 shooting spree at Pearl High School that left two girls, including his ex-girlfriend, dead and seven others wounded. Police said he stabbed his mother to death earlier that day.
On Tuesday, police announced they had charged six other students with conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly plotting to kill classmates and the father of one of those arrested.
“I am not insane! I am angry. … Woodham allegedly wrote in notebooks given to a friend, who shared them with The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson. “I am not spoiled or lazy for murder is not weak and slow-witted, murder is gutsy and daring. I killed because people like me are mistreated every day.”
Woodham made references to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in a journal he allegedly gave to 16-year-old Justin James Sledge before the school shootings, Sledge told the newspaper. Sledge was among those arrested.
Acquaintances called “the group” a cult but had little first-hand knowledge of their beliefs or behavior.
Stephanie Whitfield, 15, said one of the accused, 18-year-old Delbert “Allan” Shaw, was a good friend who was invited to join but refused. He moved away to avoid further contact.
“He left town because of the cult. He didn’t want to get involved in it. … I know he wasn’t involved in it,” she said.
Whitfield said the group was “demonistic” and its members “all extremely, extremely smart.” She wouldn’t elaborate.
The murders and arrests have unnerved many in Pearl, a town of 22,000 just outside Jackson.
“I pray to God every night to protect us,” said 16-year-old Nikki Miller, a student at the school.
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