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"Zombie" Story Sends High School Student to Jail

A Kentucky teenager is arrested for making “terroristic threats” in writing, according to a report from Lexington, Kentucky’s NBC affiliate WLEX-TV.

William Poole, 18, is being held at Clark County Detention Center after police were contacted about a short story he wrote about zombies attacking a high school. The teen’s high school is not mentioned by name and no specific individuals are mentioned as targets.

But that didn’t stop police from taking the student into custody and charging him with a felony: “Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it’s a felony in the state of Kentucky,” said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.

Poole says it is a misunderstanding:

“It didn’t mention nobody who lives in Clark County, didn’t mention (George Rogers Clark High School), didn’t mention no principal or cops, nothing. Half the people at high school know me. They know I’m not that stupid, that crazy.” [sic]

 

Poor grammar aside, Poole says he was writing the short story as part of a portfolio for English class. His grandparents apparently went through his journal, found the story, and were concerned enough to call police.

The school’s principal, John Atkins, told the Student Press Law Center that Poole’s teachers aren’t aware of any kind of project of that kind. There were other reasons, he said, to be concerned:

“It did not mention [Clark High School or school officials] specifically but it did mention ‘the high school,’ and how many teachers were there and how long it would take the police to arrive once they received an emergency call. It implied very strongly that it was referring to this school.”

 

I found the first mention of this story at Jeff VanderMeer’s journal, “VanderWorld.” Many other writers are weighing in across the blogosphere, sounding an alarm of Big Brother’s attempts to rob young writers of their freedom of artistic expression. I have read comments about police and school administrators going off the deep end.

I’m certainly concerned about a work of fiction being turned into a Columbine-like threat. One would hope that telling the difference between creativity and danger would be easy.

But there’s just one thing: Police were called by the student’s grandparents. Neither article makes any mention of Poole’s parents, so it isn’t clear whether he lives with his grandparents or whether they were simply visiting. Apparently, they were going through his journal when they found the story. Why? The article doesn’t say.

But it does make one wonder whether his behavior might have sent up red flags that prompted his family to look for possible reasons. If they already suspected that something was wrong, such a story might have prompted them to be more concerned. But that’s just a guess…I haven’t read the story. Neither have those who are so quick to condemn everyone but the writer.

The fact is, in our post 9/11-world, we all lose.

The young writer isn’t allowed to be 100% creative because unless he spells out that he’s not threatening anyone, his words could be misinterpreted and he could find himself where Poole finds himself. The writer’s only real choice is to cramp creative freedom to make sure nothing he writes won’t appear threatening one way or another; since different people can read very different things into the same material, this is virtually impossible.

And the school officials and police are also between a rock and a hard place. They have to investigate all threats — or whatever they genuinely think are threats — or run the risk of allowing a “warning sign” to go unchecked and finding themselves trying to explain why another school tragedy didn’t have to happen. They certainly can’t be expected to ignore the possibility of a threat when a student’s own family contacts them!

If the “threat” is found to be the nonsense that it very likely is, what should we do? Throw his family, the school principal and the prosecutor into the detention center for scaring a community? Could a misinterpreted threat constitute a terrorist scare?

There’s no way to win here.

6 Comments

  1. Hi,
    Well this is probably an old blog but still… the kid was throwin in jail, bail jumped from 1000 to 5000 (reasons unclear) and i think i came across a site which said his story was “sealed away”….
    Sealed away… why? unkown… maybe the kid stumbbled across something and did not know it…! Give that thought! Any questions or you want to tlak email me!
    zombie_survivalist@yahoo.com
    Thank you for you time!

  2. This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. It was brought to my attention on the IMDB board for “Dawn” 2004. It is really sad that in the world as it is you can’t right something as fictional as a zombie story without it being a threat. I blame this all on “zero tolerance” which is code for (“zero intelligence”). We don’t want to have to think so instead we treat every situation the same, so we get a kid with a plastic knife in the lunch bag treated like a criminal and a kid who writes a zombie story is a terrorist (gosh I hope no one with an axe to grind finds my zombie fiction website). It is just stupid, if these idiot cops COULD read they would read it, see it’s nothing and that would be the end. But these days all you have to do is say terrism and the goverment can do whatever it wants. Oh blink your eyes and we will be living in Nazi, Germany. Just wait until they come to your door and lock you away for this or that BS then you will see…

  3. Patrick:

    This is yet another example of the double-edged sword, in my opinion. That the story originates in Kentucky, the state I call my home, is a surprise on the one hand, and no surprise at all on the other.

    I am reminded of a real-life event which occurred to a member of my family some years ago. My Nephew was, as a youngster, acting out and told the police his Mother had beaten him. (It didn’t happen). She was arrested, and charged. The charges were later dropped after some completely unnecessary, and entirely too expensive counselling for her.

    The reason these rules have been created is, because like it or not, there have been sufficient occurances to warrant them. But, we still haven’t figured out how to deal with them, process them, or best live with them.

    As a result, we do tend to overreact. And, we have a probem admitting that we have become such a society that we require them.

    Just an opinion.

    Unohu

  4. I guess it is a good thing Stephen King didn’t live in KY when he wrote Apt Pupil or that other short story about a student shooting up his class (that one was in a collection of his short stories and since Columbine has been removed from publishing,sad)

    There may be more to the story but perhaps the grandparents may of talked to the boy first?? It was a journal, not a published work or even turned into school or on a web page. Just because it is written down does not necessarily mean it is an intent.. like if I wrote a story about a women who had an affair behind her husband’s back.. that doesn’t mean I the author would do such a thing. Certainly there should be other behaviors besides writing a piece of FICTION before you can detain some one! Where are teenagers to go for an outlet now?? If not their own private writings then where? I was taught in the 4th grade to start a journal and to feel free to write anything in it. I gave my son at 9 a journal to write in and would never think to read it.

    It is a crazy world we have come to when private thoughts are now punishable. Mayhap we all should start putting disclaimers in our home journals as well as our public blogs too ?

  5. What I can’t figure out — beyond the general idiocy of all involved in the pursuit of this case, of course — is how a zombie story could be considered a threat of any kind. Unless the kid’s some kind of bio-genius with a talent for virology, or something.

  6. Hi 🙂

    This is a rough situation. Something similar happened in California, I won’t go into specifics here, but it certainly makes one weary of being creative. It seems there is such a broad liscense when it comes to what someone might consider a threat. You are right, there is no winning here, however until we set some certain barriers as to what is or isn’t a sign, we have to remember to have patience with those who sit on both sides of the potential threat. It might be difficult, but if we learn some common sense and accept the world is indeed different we might get through this nightmare of life in America in 2005.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.