Posts Tagged USC School of Journalism

Thirty years later, Greenwood still grieves over a school shooting

By Kristen Schneider
Carolina News and Reporter

GREENWOOD — Ellie Hodge smiled at the shooter as he walked in.

The first-grade teacher sat across from one of her students, keeping a watchful eye on the bustling cafeteria. A hundred students sat at their tables, eating their lunches that September afternoon in 1988.

“I thought he was a parent,” Hodge said, still incredulous years later at her naivete.”A young parent, but I was new.”

It was her sixth week at Oakland Elementary School. She didn’t know all the parents yet. So, she smiled.

That’s when 19-year-old James William Wilson Jr. opened fire.

Hodge doesn’t remember the gun; she only remembers being shot. The bullet entered the side of her hand. The student across the table looked at her, wide-eyed. Hodge, confused, thought the little boy had thrown a ketchup packet at her.

Back then, the term “school shooting” didn’t exist. It was unimaginable, which is why it took Hodge a moment to realize the situation.

Editors at Greenwood’s paper, The Index-Journal, compare the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida to their community’s tragedy 30 years ago. The paper’s front page op-ed calls for action regarding gun laws.

Then she started to scream for students to run.

Lashonda Burt sat on the other side of the room when the chaos began. The 7-year-old was shot and immediately blacked out. When she came to, she searched for her teacher.

“I remember Miss Hodge waving at me to come to her,” Burt-Reeder, now married and still living in Greenwood, said. “She was actually shot again in that moment.”

The second bullet entered Hodge’s right shoulder and lodged in her left, bypassing her spine by millimeters.

A cafeteria employee pulled Hodge, Lashonda, and another student into a cafeteria freezer. Hodge told the children to run. Lashonda fled out a side door with other kids, not realizing she had been shot until someone saw the blood on her clothing.

“When I looked down at my arm and my shirt, I saw all the blood,” she said, recalling the moments before she passed out again.

Inside the building, Wilson reloaded the handgun – a nine-shot .22 caliber revolver he stole from his grandparents – in a bathroom down the hall from the cafeteria.

He soon moved to a third-grade classroom and began shooting, killing eight-year old Shequila Bradley and injuring six others, including Tequila Thomas.

Tequila would never regain consciousness.

Shots, then panic

Across town, Chief Jim Coursey sat in his office at the Greenwood Police Department. The scanner crackled as he spoke with a SLED agent. The chief’s ears perked up.

“I remember telling him, ‘I got to go, there’s been a shooting at one of my schools,” Coursey said.

Maj. Urban Mitchell heard the same call in his car as he drove around town. He arrived within seconds on the school grounds, which had filled with dozens of cars and frantic parents.

Three decades later, Maj. Mitchell marvels at how quickly ordinary people arrived at the scene.

“Believe it or not, word had still gotten out, and there were parents arriving just immediately after I got there,” he said.

Mitchell rushed around the back of the school where he found another investigator holding Wilson at gunpoint. The officer had captured the shooter after he climbed out a bathroom window. The police chief drove up as the two took Wilson into custody.

Both describe the scene as chaotic; sheriff’s deputies and SLED agents rushing in, teachers and children bleeding, parents screaming for answers.

Telephone calls heightened the madness; parents who didn’t make it to the scene frantically called the school. A secretary from SLED, along with Coursey’s personal assistant, came to Oakland Elementary and helped answer the calls.

“To hear that panic,” Mitchell said, trailing off in thought. He then summed it up in one word: “Unbelievable.”

A close-knit community that still remembers

The names of Shequila Bradley and Tequila Thomas are etched into granite markers in a small memorial garden behind the school, which now bears the name Eleanor S. Rice Elementary in honor of the principal who guided the school out of the tragedy.

The town renamed the school in her honor after she died in 2010. A plaque outside the school’s front office describes Rice’s leadership in the shooting’s aftermath as “heroic.” Coursey doesn’t know what the town would have done without her guidance.

September 26, 2018, will mark 30 years since Wilson opened fire and took Shequila and Tequila from this world. Wilson had no ties to Oakland Elementary. He lived with his grandparents, and relatives described him as a “hyper-recluse” to The State newspaper. He is incarcerated on death row at Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia.

In those three decades, not much has changed about the city of Greenwood. It currently has 23,222 residents and counting, with major chains and stores in its center, up from its 21,613 population in 1980. Tiny shops line Main Street in an renovated arts and culture district now known as Uptown Greenwood. Their owners remember customers’ names, their food orders and family ties.

Residents of Greenwood, South Carolina, will never forget the shooting that changed their town–even if the rest of the world has moved on.

“It’s a close-knit community,” Mitchell said.

It’s a community that still remembers the two youngsters who lost their lives and those who still carry psychic wounds from that day.

One Greenwood business owner teared up as he talked about Kat Finkbeiner, the physical education teacher who confronted Wilson as he reloaded in the bathroom. When she tried to stop him, he shot her in the mouth and hand.

Finkbeiner survived and was hailed as a hero.

Even three decades later, those who witnessed the aftermath of the shooting continue to live with the effects.

“This was a bad day,” Coursey said. He took a moment to collect himself before he admitted, “I still dream about it.”

Coursey, now retired after six years on the force, calls himself “a big Second Amendment person,” but he isn’t blind to the issue of guns in American society.

“What’s happening now…we’ve got to make some changes,” he said.

Hodge said she struggles to listen to news about the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida that claimed the lives of 17 students. She has physical reminders: her left hand that fails to make a closed fist, and her PTSD that overrides her senses from time to time.

For the most part, however, Hodge can remember the tragedy without issue.

“It helps to talk about it,” she said.

Burt-Reeder flinches every time there is a call from her children’s school in the middle of the day. Her shoulder aches from time to time, but she views it as a reminder; if she hadn’t been eating at the time of the shot, the bullet would have gone through her neck.

Emotions run high whenever another school shooting leads the national news. There is a sense of being forgotten, the name of Oakland Elementary School lost in the modern wave of school shooting tragedies.

Even if the rest of the world forgets, Greenwood can’t.

“I forgive him for it, but I will never forget that he did that to me,” Burt-Reeder said.

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A “spiritual awakening” on climate change

By Mike Woodel
Carolina News and Reporter

Former Republican congressman Bob Inglis (at right) now works to convince the GOP of climate change and free-enterprise solutions to address the problems. Photo courtesy of Price Atkinson and Northwestern University

Bob Inglis had an excellent reason for not buying climate change – Al Gore was selling it.

Now as he leads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a conservative group he founded promoting free-enterprise answers to climate change, Inglis finds the environmental views he held as a congressman in the 1990s “rather ignorant.”

“It was the end of the inquiry; Al Gore was for it, so I was against it,” Inglis said.

Inglis was elected in 1992 to represent South Carolina’s District 4, covering Greenville-Spartanburg, “the reddest district in the reddest state in the nation,” he said. From then until 1998, his environmental views were shaped in direct opposition to the Democratic vice president, whose “An Inconvenient Truth” book and film changed the way the world viewed global warming.

Inglis was re-elected to Congress in 2005. Not long after, Inglis’ son told his father to re-think his views on the environment, or else he might not get his vote.

That millennial admonition was the first step in the re-education of Bob Inglis. His second was a trip to Antarctica with the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; the third was another committee journey snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.

There, Inglis made a connection with an Australian climate scientist which he deemed a “spiritual awakening.”

“I could tell that he and I shared a world view even though no words had been spoken,” Inglis said. “I could see that he was worshipping God in what he was showing me.”

On returning home, Inglis introduced the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009 to the House. The bill sought lower Social Security taxes to be offset by greater taxes on fossil fuels. It did not sit well with a Republican Party in the midst of the Tea Party wave of 2010.

“Note to self: Do not introduce carbon tax in midst of Great Recession in reddest district in reddest state in nation,” Inglis said with a laugh.

Inglis lost the District 4 primary in a landslide to Trey Gowdy, who suggested he and a majority of the 4th district constituents did not believe in climate change. (Gowdy recently announced his retirement from the House.)

As far back as 1998, the EPA found that sea level near Charleston was rising at a rate of 9 inches per 100 years, and predicted that the cost of sand replacement to protect the S.C. coastline from a 20-inch rise could reach nearly $10 billion. And given the impacts felt around the state by Hurricanes Joaquin, Matthew and Irma in consecutive years, those costs are only headed upwards.

Rouzy Vafaie, second vice chair of the Charleston County Republican Party, once discounted global warming. But after becoming friends with Inglis and listening to his initiatives, he came to accept both the scientific evidence and the Energy and Enterprise Initiative’s solutions.

“One argument I bring up with my climate change-denying friends is ‘Well, you know, if you guys are right and nothing changes, well, then great,’” Vafaie said. “‘We’re in perfect shape. But if you guys are wrong, by the time we can actually do anything about it, game’s over.’”

One of the main pillars of Inglis’ initiative is a carbon tax similar to the one he proposed in the 1990s, which he believes could sell well with conservatives if it lowers the necessity of some environmental regulations.

“Slightly smaller government means that once you put the carbon tax on, you can eliminate some Clean Air Act regulations,” Inglis said. “Not the entirety of the Clean Air Act, obviously, but some parts of Clean Air Act regulations can go away because by the pricing of carbon dioxide, it’s a proxy for those regulations.”

Inglis also supports a border adjustment tax, which he believes is necessary to keep trade competitive while still charging for carbon emissions.

“If we price carbon dioxide by ourselves and it didn’t have that border adjustment, then manufacturers would pick up and move from the United States to China,” Inglis said. “Once they got there, they’d emit more CO2 than they’re emitting here because China is less energy efficient than we are…if you can’t make this worldwide, it’s really fruitless to attempt it.”

Of course, to get such policies in place, Inglis still needs a larger party-wide acceptance of climate change. Both he and Vafaie said there is growing agreement among Republicans of the human impact on the climate. But both also agree that some sectors of the party are harder to sway than others.

“When I speak in the Young Republican circles, I think it’s unanimously believed that there is [a human] impact,” Vafaie said. “As the age groups go up, I find it extremely difficult to convince people.”

Inglis said he believes conservatives are responsive to his solutions but that “populist nationalist” voters, especially those believing the narrative of a “war on coal,” are a different story.

“I think we got a good shot with conservatives,” Inglis said. “We got a hard, hard road to hoe with populist nationalists.”

Matt Moore chaired the South Carolina Republican Party from 2013 to last May. Now the chairman of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition, Moore works to make it easier to establish a free market for solar energy in South Carolina. Like Vafaie, he sees growing acceptance of climate science within his party’s young people.

Before taking the chairmanship of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition, Matt Moore served as chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party from 2013 to 2017.

“For millennials, anyone with a brain can see that humans contribute to environmental emissions,” Moore, a graduate of Georgia Tech’s industrial engineering program, said.

Moore said solar energy is very much on the rise in South Carolina since the state adopted net energy metering in 2014. Under net metering, residents owning solar panels receive reimbursements on their electric bills for the energy their panels return to the grid. The deal also allows producers to avoid fees from state utility companies through the end of 2020.

“Conservation is conservative,” Moore said. “My job as chairman of the PCSC is to go out there and tell the story that Republicans can actually lead on conservation through innovation.

“Conservatives don’t want extreme government intervention, we in fact believe that market forces can drive innovation to create change,” Moore said. “And that’s what Congressman Inglis has been focused on now for a number of years. If we removed all subsidies on energy and created a true free market, then maybe these policies actually begin to make sense.”

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