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A deadly clash of emotions

A gay teen is taunted at his Oxnard school. He pushes back by 'flirting.' Next, gunfire.

March 08, 2008|Paul Pringle and Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writers

For teens living in a shelter for abused and neglected children, school can provide a daily dose of normalcy, a place to fit in, a chance to be just another kid.

It didn't turn out that way for Lawrence King.

According to the few students who befriended him, Larry, 15 years old and openly gay, found no refuge from his tormentors at E.O. Green Junior High School.

Not in the classroom, the quad, the cafeteria. Not from the day he enrolled at the Oxnard school until the moment he was shot to death in a computer lab, just after Larry's usual morning van ride from the shelter a town away.

The 14-year-old accused of killing him, Brandon McInerney, had his own troubled home life when he was younger, with his parents accusing each other of drug addiction and physical assaults, court records show. The year before Brandon was born, his father allegedly shot the boy's mother in the arm, shattering her elbow, the records say.

Now, as the Feb. 12 killing continues to draw attention from around the world, students, parents and others wonder if red flags in the boys' circumstances and backgrounds had been missed and whether more could have been done to avert the tragedy.

"The question needs to be answered," said Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn, whose district includes E.O. Green. "It really bothers me a lot."

The anti-gay taunts and slurs that Larry endured from his male peers apparently had been constant, as routine for him as math lessons and recess bells. The stinging words were isolating. As grieving friend Melissa Reza, 15, put it, Larry lived much of his life "toward the side. . . . He was always toward the side."

She and others recall that the name-calling began long before he told his small circle of confidants that he was gay, before problems at home made him a ward of the court, and before he summoned the courage to further assert his sexual orientation by wearing makeup and girl's boots with his school uniform.

His friends say the verbal cruelty persisted for months, and grew worse after the slightly built Larry pushed back by "flirting" with some of his mockers. One of them was Brandon, who seethed over it, the friends say.

Brandon has been charged as an adult with premeditated murder and a hate crime, and he is being held in juvenile hall.

Childhood turmoil

For about a decade, the household of William and Kendra McInerney, Brandon's parents, had been in turmoil. The 1993 shooting led to William McInerney's conviction of discharging a firearm and a 120-day jail sentence, court records state.

Kendra McInerney claimed in divorce documents that a previous husband had used methamphetamine and beaten her. She has two sons from that relationship.

William McInerney was addicted to prescription drugs, Kendra said in a court declaration. She said he repeatedly choked her on one occasion, when Brandon was 6. The father was sentenced, after that incident, to 10 days in jail for battery.

The couple obtained restraining orders against each other after they separated in 2000. William McInerney, then employed as a finance manager for a motorcycle and watercraft store, depicted his wife in court records as a slave to meth, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol. He said that she had tried to run her car into his while he was driving with Brandon.

The mother's home was the neighborhood "drug house," with people passed out in the front room, he alleged in a 2001 court declaration. He also said that his wife "backhanded" Brandon and scratched the boy's chest. In 2003, the year after they divorced, Kendra McInerney pleaded no contest to being under the influence of a narcotic and was ordered into a treatment program.

In court papers, William McInerney contended that he had contacted Child Protective Services at least five times on behalf of Brandon and his two half-brothers between August 2000 and February 2001 but that "no action" was taken. That could not be confirmed, in part because of privacy laws.

After his parents broke up, Brandon bounced between their homes in Oxnard before settling several years ago at his father's residence near E.O. Green, records indicate. Prosecutors say the handgun allegedly used to kill Larry came from the McInerney house.

William and Kendra McInerney declined to be interviewed. Brandon's attorney also declined to comment.

There is no known record that Brandon had been exposed to any trauma at home after 2003. Even if social workers had been alerted to the earlier incidents, it is uncertain that they would have had the legal grounds to remove him from his parents, experts say.

They point out that the goal of the child welfare system is to keep minors with the family.

"If there is not an imminent risk to the safety of the child at that time, we cannot remove the child from the home," said Pam Grothe, senior manager for Ventura County's children and family services agency. "It is a very high threshold."

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