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Oxnard teacher is still haunted by student's slaying

Larry King was killed in Dawn Boldrin's junior high school class. On the eve of a pretrial hearing in the hate-crime case, the educator, who has lost her job, tells of her emotional descent.

July 19, 2009|Catherine Saillant

Dawn Boldrin took note when a subdued Larry King showed up for her class at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard dressed in his school uniform without the flashy boots and makeup.

The teacher heard he'd been roughed up the day before by boys put off by his effeminate manner. So, as she walked her eighth-graders to the computer lab on Feb. 12, 2008, she pulled him aside.

"Look Larry, you can't shove this into people's faces," Boldrin recalled warning the 15-year-old who had a habit of taunting those who made fun of him. "That's as wrong as them saying there's something wrong with you."

That was the last time she felt whole as a teacher, a mother and a wife, Boldrin said in a recent interview at her Camarillo home, the first time she has talked to the media about what happened that day.

Within minutes, one of Larry's classmates, Brandon McInerney, stood up in the lab, pulled out a gun and shot him twice from behind as Boldrin shouted, "What the hell are you doing, Brandon?"

Larry died two days later, and McInerney, 15, awaits trial on a first-degree murder charge in what prosecutors say was a hate crime. After many delays, the pretrial hearing is set for Monday in Ventura.

For Boldrin, the slaying was the beginning of an 18-month emotional descent.

Unable to get through the day without sobbing, she went on disability. Larry's parents sued her and other school officials for failing to prevent the shooting. Earlier this year, the 40-year-old lost her job.

She has twice been hospitalized for depression. Therapy hasn't erased the smell of gunpowder that morning or the sight of Larry lying in a pool of blood.

"I've definitely been cracked apart, and I'm trying to fit the pieces back together," the petite woman said.

In the months after the shooting, Boldrin refused to talk to reporters about what happened. She decided to open up now "because it's time."

"I don't want to relive that day. I almost feel like I repel people," she said. "But you almost feel compelled to explain it at some point."

This spring Boldrin, a teacher for 10 years, was placed on an inactive teaching list and her position was eliminated.

The district declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter. Boldrin said officials told her the move was a needed cost-cutting measure, but she believes administrators view her as "damaged goods." In her darkest moments, she agrees.

"I'm dedicated and I'm a good teacher," said Boldrin, noting that a 2008 evaluation praised her work. "It was my intention to retire as a teacher. But that's all changed."

To their English teacher, both boys were struggling with issues that had nothing to do with reading and writing.

Larry was wrestling with his sexual identity while dealing with problems at home, Boldrin said.

McInerney had his own family troubles and had recently let his grades slip. "He was smart, but he was like the typical eighth-grade boy," she said. "He wouldn't do much in class. He didn't bring a pencil, and he didn't bring paper."

Boldrin had returned from maternity leave that winter, and Larry was eager to bring her up to date.

"He wanted to make sure I knew he was in foster care and not at home anymore," Boldrin said of the boy's move to a children's shelter in Camarillo. "He loved it. He was very happy there."

Larry had also started experimenting with women's clothing and makeup. He wobbled around in brown high-heeled boots, Boldrin said. His curly brown locks were styled with gel and he expertly applied his makeup. "As the mother of three girls, I appreciated what he was doing and thought he did a nice job with it," Boldrin said. "I told him so."

But Larry was enduring daily slights and taunts from boys at the junior high. Not one to back down, the slightly built boy got right back in their faces.

Teachers tried to get administrators to intervene, Boldrin said. "They weren't doing anything about it," she said.

Boldrin took a different approach. Before school started one day, she tucked her oldest daughter's shimmery homecoming dress into a gift bag and presented it Larry. He ran to the bathroom and tried on the green strapless gown.

"I wanted him to know that not everyone looks at you in a negative way," Boldrin said. "The world's a big place -- enjoy it."

Boldrin had helped other students in the past. "I just didn't see a problem with it," she said of her gift to Larry. "I'm a teacher, and I thought with my heart."

Five days after she gave him the dress, an unusually quiet Larry showed up at school. Boldrin was walking among the 25 students in the computer lab, helping them finish a paper on World War II.

A shot rang out.

Boldrin, bent over a student's desk, thought it was a firecracker and turned to confront the perpetrator. She saw McInerney standing up behind Larry, holding something in his hand. She yelled at him. "He looked at me, raised his gun and shot Larry again," she said.

McInerney dropped the weapon and walked out.

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