On February 12, 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King was shot dead at E. O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California. Fellow student Brandon McInerney, who was 14 years old at the time, shot King twice. King did not die immediately, but rather was kept on life support for two days before dying from the head injuries he sustained.
King was small, just 5 feet 1 inch tall. He also stood out because he would regularly dress in women’s clothing and accessories. He often wore make-up and stilettos to school. King was considered a troubled child. His biological mother was a drug user and his father had no presence in his life. He was suffering from signs of neglect when Greg and Dawn King adopted him at age two. King suffered from a speech impediment and was required to repeat first grade due to reading troubles. Although he was generally known as a gentle child, he got in trouble when he was young for shoplifting. At that time, he was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. This rare condition afflicts children who never form needed attachments with their parents or caregivers. King was also prescribed medication for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
By the time King entered third grade at Hathaway Elementary School, children had noticed his effeminate ways and began asking King if he was gay. King told them he was. Classmates bullied and harassed him. One girl started a “burn book”–a notebook of gossip and slander, as described in the film Mean Girls (2004)–that detailed a variety of allegations about King, many of them false.
At the end of the book, the girl wrote that she hated King and wished him dead. The Kings were alerted to this threat and decided to transfer Larry to another elementary school.
King’s life seemed to improve when he entered E. O. Green Junior High School. He had a circle of friends (a group of girls) who liked him and did not judge him. He was still pushed around in gym class and in the locker room, however, and the situation worsened when he began showing up in women’s clothes. King also continued to act out. He vandalized a tractor with a razor blade, and at age 12 was put on probation and required to enter counseling. Larry began telling people that Greg King was abusing him. Although Greg denied that he ever hit Larry, King was removed from the home in November 2007 and placed in a group home and treatment center five miles away, in Camarillo. He continued to attend E. O. Green Junior High.
Although things seemed to go well at first, King had some difficulties with other students at the school. King flaunted his cross-dressing in ways that made other students uncomfortable, but school officials knew they would face discrimination charges if they denied him the right to dress as he preferred. King told his mother he wanted a sex-change operation and told a teacher he wanted to be called Leticia. One of the school’s three assistant principals, Joy Epstein, who was also gay, tried to assist King. Her colleagues saw Epstein as encouraging King, however, and Greg King believes Epstein made the situation worse as she encouraged Larry to be “out.”
On the day of February 12, however, King wore baggy pants, a sweater, and tennis shoes to school. Students noticed that he seemed nervous that day, and he claimed he had not slept well. He kept looking over his shoulder as he entered his first-period English class. Teacher Dawn Boldrin asked the students to take their belongings with them to a computer lab, where King found a seat in the middle of the room. McInerney took a seat next to King. McInerney pretended to read a history book but kept looking over at King. A half hour into the class, McInerney pulled out a handgun and fired a shot into King’s head. Boldrin screamed and asked McInerney what he was doing. McInerney fired a second shot, then threw the gun on the floor and walked out of the classroom. He was arrested within seven minutes, having walked out of the school building.
King seemed to really like McInerney and he even told others they had dated but broken up. McInerney denies the two had any relationship. Near Valentine’s Day, King walked onto the basketball court where McInerney was playing and asked Brandon to be his valentine. McInerney’s friends teased him mercilessly about the relationship. Allegedly McInerney told one of King’s friends she should kiss him goodbye, because she would never see him again. She did not tell King about the threat, as she assumed that McInerney was kidding. On February 11, there were rumors about a fight between the two boys, but no one seems to have taken them seriously. Greg King has admitted he believes his son’s behavior toward Brandon McInerney could be considered sexual harassment.
McInerney had also been in trouble before. When he was six, his parents split up after his mother, Kendra, alleged that her husband, Bill, shot her in the arm. The home was filled with domestic violence, and Kendra had a restraining order against Bill. Bill claimed that Kendra was a drug addict. Brandon eventually came to live with his father. His father worked in a town 60 minutes away, so Brandon was alone a lot. He began to hang out with other kids who did not fit in, and he lost interest in school.
The gay rights community has taken up King’s case as a way to draw attention to the harassment and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgen-dered (LGBT) students in schools. Greg King resents the gay rights community for using his son as a “poster child.” The murder was labeled a hate crime by many in the general public, and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) devoted the National Day of Silence on April 25, 2008, to King.
McInerney is being tried as an adult on first-degree-murder charges. If convicted, he could serve 53 years to life in prison. In late August 2010, a Ventura County Superior Court judge denied a change of venue for the trial. The judge did agree that publicity about the case jeopardized McInerney’s right to a fair trial and agreed to bring in jurors from Santa Barbara.
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- Cloud, J. (2008, February 18). Prosecuting the gay teen murder. Time. Retrieved May 3, 2010, from http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1714214,00.html
- Harris, C. (2008, February 21). Lawrence King–student who was murdered for being gay–to be honored with National Day of Silence. MTV. Retrieved May 3, 2010, from http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1582039/lawrence-king-be-honored-with-day-silence.jhtml
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