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February 8, 2007

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if I had a heart? I’m sure some people will be calling me heartless after they read this column. Yet I feel obligated to speak my mind, and I have one word rattling around up there this morning - accountability.

There are always millions of various reasons we make decisions and we all know that excuses are like…, well you know the saying, we all have one. Yet while we may have plenty of excuses and all kinds of troubling circumstances that may have led us into making a bad decision, ultimately the decision was made and the consequences should have to be faced.

That is how I feel about the bomb scare that was phoned into Scotland County R-I High School on Tuesday night. One young individual made the decision to call the school, and when the phone was answered in the office, to tell the listener that there was a bomb in the school.

Opponents of my view point will say, kids will be kids, or try to argue that a juvenile can’t be held responsible for his or her actions, because they are too young to realize the consequences of such foolish behavior.

I’d counter that by excusing such behavior we are only making the next generation of juveniles very aware of the fact that there are no consequences for your foolish actions.

Believe it or not, I do have a heart. And yes it does tug at my heart when I hear sad circumstances leading up to bad decisions. Yes I have trouble saying we should place a giant black mark on a juvenile’s record because a poor choice was made. And yes I have compassion for the parents too.

However I know of no other way to teach said individual not to make future bad decisions. More importantly, I think society must send the message that such actions will not be tolerated, and we will not allow excuses for this type of behavior. It’s unfortunate that we have to harshly punish folks, but an example must be made so that in the future people will think twice about making similar bad decisions.

Our judicial penalty system is not set up solely to punish criminals. The harsh penalties are twofold, also serving to warn others not to commit such crimes. As the old saying goes, if you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime.”

“But he or she is just a kid? “Nobody got hurt.” “It was just an innocent prank that got blown out of proportion.”

I heard all of these excuses this week as folks talked about letting the prank caller get off with a slap on the wrist.

I disagree. Folks uttering these words must not live in a two-block radius of the school. People that reside close to the bomb-threat area were warned of the situation and advised to leave their homes in the middle of a bitterly cold evening. That could not have been easy for one of my neighbors, an elderly gentleman that is on oxygen.

This joke stole the innocence of so many other young people in our community. While the majority of folks at the ball game took this for what it was, a false alarm, there were plenty of kids and adults for that matter, that were obviously shaken by the situation.

I had two little ones crawl into bed with me in the middle of the night, because of bad dreams. They had scrambled around when my wife “evacuated” my house, crying wanting her to save the fish in the aquarium from the impending explosion.

If that doesn’t make you realize this was anything but innocent, then maybe the financial impact will make you reconsider.

Three city police officers, three Scotland County Sheriff’s department officers, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol all immediately responded to the scene. Then the bomb dog from the Missouri Fire Marshal’s office came to Memphis from down around Jefferson City. Pretty quickly the bill has gotten into the thousands of dollars just in mileage and overtime for these folks who were there into the early morning hours. Add in the cost to the school for rescheduling the game, officials and the travel for the Clark County school system to return to Memphis, and the bill for this innocent prank goes higher and higher.

One three-second phone call dramatically impacted the lives of hundreds of people. If we do not punish the person responsible for this action we better add call-waiting to all of our phone lines.

At bare minimum someone that does this should be responsible for repaying every penny that his or her actions cost. They should also be required to attend the rescheduled basketball game between Clark County and Scotland County and stand at the entrance offering an apology to every individual that returns to the game. Then they should be forced to walk the entire two-block radius of the school area in the freezing cold, just like the volunteer firemen did, and go to each door and offer an apology to the homeowners for forcing them to be evacuated.

Once all of that is completed, we can talk about performing a few hundred hours of community service sweeping up after the horses in the parade. Show me you are truly sorry for your mistake, while also showing everyone else that they don’t want to make a similar bad decision, and then I’ll show you that I have a heart and I’ll forgive you.


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