A teacher-student bond that may have foiled murder
NEW BEDFORD, MASS.
The walls of Rachel Jupin's class are covered with homemade posters of grinning Greek gods. Her twelfth-graders read "Hamlet." Her freshmen pore over "The Odyssey."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But somewhere between the Straits of Messina and "To be, or not to be," a plot of intrigue, romance, and alleged murder unfolded in this Massachusetts coastal city. It could have led, police say, to a Columbine-like massacre.
Instead, it was apparently foiled by an unusual bond between Mrs. Jupin and a student - a tie that underscores how vital the student-teacher connection can be in safeguarding America's schools.
By all accounts, the relationship was an improbable one: Amylee Bowman, a troubled senior, confiding in Mrs. Jupin, the by-the-rules teacher. Yet within a few weeks, they developed a bond that the teenager describes as the most loving she's known, a rapport strong enough to pierce the legendary "code of silence" in one American high school.
Indeed, in a community that responded to Columbine with a $1.2 million federal grant, 10 police officers in schools, and endless conferences on violence, prevention of a possible mass shooting didn't come down to metal detectors and surveillance cameras. It was one student's comfort level with a teacher she adored.
At first, Amy, torn between conflicting loyalties, denied early rumors of a plot. But in conversations first with Jupin, and later with police, the 17-year-old offered a halting story of five friends who planned to sneak into school with weapons under black trenchcoats, run through halls, and kill everyone in sight.
Afterward, Amy told police, they would go to the roof, smoke marijuana, drink alcohol, point guns at one another, and shoot. The Junior-ROTC cadet said they'd planned the massacre "like a military operation," and slated it for next fall, after she got back from basic training.
Eric McKeehan, a fellow defendant and Amy's former fiancé, admits to police that he and his younger brother planned a shooting spree "bigger than Columbine," but called it off.
All five students - two 15-year-olds, one 16-year-old, and two 17-year-olds - have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon. Four of the suspects have admitted to police that they talked about a massacre, but some characterized it as more of a fantasy than a serious plot.
In the mazelike halls of New Bedford High School, where 3,300 students wind through brick buildings and Boston accents bounce off blank beige walls, Jupin is among the strictest teachers, and students shudder at her name.
"She's known as a disciplinarian," admits Joseph Oliver, headmaster of NBHS.
A staunch enforcer of school rules, Jupin will chase a student from one building to another to make sure he doffs his sweatshirt hood. In her first year of teaching, she was assaulted by two freshmen when she tried to break up a fight. "She takes everything a little too personally," says Elijah Washburn, a senior in Jupin's College Writing seminar and Amy's classmate.
It's a reputation Jupin cherishes. She scoffs at the notion of being a favorite: "Most students call me a very nasty name," she says with a laugh.
But senior Tracy LeBlanc, one of Amy's close friends, says that devotion to rules drew Amy in. "Amy thought it was ridiculous, but she liked it," says Tracy.
Taped to Jupin's wide metal desk are several posters: one with Garfield's grinning face, reading, "Thank you for not whining," and one that insists, "I don't give you grades. You earn them."
"I tell them, 'You can do this,' " Jupin says. "A lot of kids just don't have self-esteem." She describes Amy as a girl beginning to grasp her own self-worth.