Frightening reality overwhelms innocence

Lori Himes

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Being a 13 year old girl is hard. Developing into a young woman is wrought with cycling emotions and hormones. Trying to fit in and yet maintaining a unique sense of self puts adolescents into a spinning, chaotic and somewhat awkward setting that at times is difficult to navigate with their still developing brain. Reagan was born the eldest daughter, to a single mother, into a large extended family. She began the path of maturity in a small, insular community surrounded by the familiar support of those that love and care for her. And as if traversing puberty was not strenuous enough, she had to leave behind all that was familiar and move to an unknown setting at the beginning of her eighth grade year.

Being the parent of a 13 year old girl is also challenging. Being the single mother of a 13 year old daughter is hard. Juggling the demands of being the sole breadwinner and meeting all of the varied needs of two daughters can be exhausting. Factor in the circumstance of teen age drama, rolling eyes and occasionally a smart mouth, and all Jessica needed was a few peaceful hours to regroup before resuming her parental responsibilities of directing, supporting and loving her stubborn teenage daughter. After a tense few days of mother daughter exchanges, the morning of November 13, Jessica felt some relief as she sent her daughter off to Sage Valley Junior High.

At approximately 8:30 a.m. Sage Valley Principal, Terry Quinn placed the school on lockdown. A student had reported that a 14 year old male student had brought a weapon into the school. Response was swift. Quinn isolated the threat, immediately locked down the school and promptly notified the Gillette Police Department.

Being a 14 year old boy is hard. From most accounts, Dale was removed from his biological parents several years ago. He was placed is an alleged abusive foster home before being returned to his mother and adopted father’s care. The day before he devised his potentially lethal plan, he was devastated to learn that his biological father had died. In a statement to authorities, Dale told police, he believed that his father had once brought firearms to school in an attempt to carry-out a school shooting, but had been stopped and ultimately sentenced to prison. In a warped sense of honor, Dale chose to “follow in his father’s footsteps”.

According to the affidavit, Dale decided that he would begin shooting in a class taught by his third period teacher that was “mean” to him, students that “constantly made jokes at his expense”, and a female student he “didn’t like.” He carried a Smith & Wesson .40 Cal, with a round in the chamber on his person. Dale had concealed a XD 9 mm in his locker, also with a round in the chamber.  36 rounds of ammunition were discovered including a fully loaded magazine of 9mm hollow points. He planned to shoot additional students outside the class by retrieving the handgun from his locker. Court documents say that Dale prayed briefly after boarding the bus to go to school that morning, to “Let this be in my favor and don’t let my family get sued,” and wanted “God” to provide him the chance to shoot all the students he could.

Jessica was calm when she received the school notification of the lockdown, possibly due to her emergency services experience. Even after she received a text from Reagan, she still maintained her serenity, even responding to her daughter that she was safe where she was and that she needed to stay at school. “Reagan, you are one, of like 1000 students. You are fine”, Jessica told her daughter. Of the 627 Sage Valley students attending school that day, 305 were picked up by their parents.

It wasn’t until that evening, when a detective arrived at her door, that reality began to
set in.

“Ma’am I’m here tonight to let you know that your daughter is one of the nine people that “he” was going to do harm to. This boy will be charged for the attempt to kill your daughter. Ma’am do you have any further questions?” Jessica was shocked to speechlessness. While she was attempting to absorb and process this appalling information, her mind struggled to remember what the last thing she said to her daughter that morning before she sent her off to school.

Dale reportedly told officers that he was not concerned with what he planned to do nor did he have any sympathy for any of the families of his intended victims. He is to be charged, as an adult, for nine counts of felony attempted first-degree murder. He is scheduled to appear in court during a preliminary hearing set for Nov.  21.If convicted he could face life in prison and a $10,000 fine for each count, according to the Campbell County Attorney’s Office. 

Reagan chose to stay at home the day following the incident. There has never been a time in Reagan’s peer group’s memory that school violence and shootings haven’t been an issue. However it is the first time that the frightening reality overwhelmed their innocence. The ugliness of school violence came home.

Jessica is thanking God that she still has her baby girl. “If I can say anything, it would be to hold your kids tighter, love them, cherish every second you have. Take the time to listen when they are asking a question and are needing to talk. Be patient”, said Jessica. 

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