1997 Pearl High School shooting

The Pearl High School shooting occurred on October 1, 1997, at Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi, United States. The gunman, 16-year-old 11th grade student Luke Woodham (born February 5, 1981), shot and killed two students and injured seven others at the school after killing his mother by bludgeoning at their home earlier that morning.[2]

1997 Pearl High School shooting
1997 Pearl High School shooting is located in Mississippi
1997 Pearl High School shooting
1997 Pearl High School shooting (Mississippi)
Location500 Pirate Cove
Pearl, Mississippi, U.S.
Coordinates32°16′14″N 90°05′37″W / 32.2704644°N 90.093745°W / 32.2704644; -90.093745
DateOctober 1, 1997; 26 years ago (1997-10-01) (UTC-6)
TargetStudents and staff at Pearl High School
Attack type
Mass shooting, school shooting, spree killing, matricide
Deaths3 (including the perpetrator's mother by bludgeoning at home)
PerpetratorLuke Woodham
DefenderJoel Myrick (Assistant Principal and U.S. Army Reserve major) armed with Colt 1911 .45 auto [1]
  • School bullying (major)
  • Childhood abuse (minor)
  • Romantic and sexual entitlement
  • Misogyny (possible)
VerdictLife in prison + 140 years



The incident began on the morning of Wednesday, October 1, 1997, when Luke Woodham fatally stabbed and bludgeoned his mother, Mary Ann Woodham, as she prepared for a morning jog.[3] At his trial, Woodham claimed that he could not remember killing his mother.

Woodham then drove his mother's Toyota Tercel to Pearl High School. Wearing a trench coat to conceal the rifle he was carrying, Woodham entered the school and gave a manifesto to Justin Sledge. Sledge, realizing what was about to occur, gathered some friends and hid in the safety of the library while the shooting took place.[4][5][6][7] During the trial, one former student would testify under oath that "he was in the commons with classmate Justin Sledge when Woodham walked up and spoke to Sledge. Justin Sledge then told him,

"no matter what I heard, no matter what I saw, don't turn around. Just keep going forward. I didn't see anything. I just heard gunshots.″[8]

Woodham then fatally shot Lydia Kaye Dew and Christina Menefee, his former girlfriend, then went on to wound seven others.[1][9][10][11]

The school's assistant principal, Joel Myrick, retrieved a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol from his truck and, spotting Woodham attempting to flee the parking lot after the shooting, shouted for him to stop. Woodham lost control of his vehicle, and Myrick ordered him out of the car at gunpoint and detained him until police arrived at the scene.[1]

Religious and esoteric involvement


Less than a week after the shooting, police arrested six other students, charging them with conspiracy to commit murder. Justin Sledge had gone on a local news report and read from the notebooks of writings given to him just before the shooting.[11] Minutes before Woodham started the shooting, he had given the following message to Sledge:

I am not insane, I am angry. I killed because people like me are mistreated every day. I did this to show society, push us and we will push back. ... All throughout my life, I was ridiculed, always beaten, always hated. Can you, society, truly blame me for what I do? Yes, you will. ... It was not a cry for attention, it was not a cry for help. It was a scream in sheer agony saying that if you can't pry your eyes open, if I can't do it through pacifism, if I can't show you through the displaying of intelligence, then I will do it with a bullet.

Further examination of the notebooks revealed an account of when Woodham and a friend had tortured his dog Sparkle to death, several months prior to the shooting:[12]

I will never forget the howl she made. It sounded almost human. We laughed and hit her hard.

Prior to the shootings, Woodham had met Grant Boyette, another of the six charged with conspiracy to murder, and supposedly accepted an invitation to join a group Boyette had formed and called "the Kroth".[13] During the summer of 1997, the supposed members of the Kroth allegedly made plans to terrorize Pearl High School. The plans ultimately involved Woodham entering the school and opening fire.[14]

The day after the shooting, Justin Sledge allegedly "fanned the community's fears by pinning a note to the door of the school that said the Kroth's numbers were diminished but the group was still strong." He then disrupted a prayer vigil held to mourn the dead students, for which he received a suspension from the school district.[15][unreliable source?] Sledge denies writing the note and membership in the Kroth, and says his comments at the memorial were mischaracterized but still "clearly inappropriate".[16] Sledge went on a local TV news program and read from Woodham's writing.[13]

On October 8, 1997, Sledge, Boyette, and the others were arrested on suspicion of conspiring with Woodham to commit the shooting.[17]

He claimed that Boyette had told him he had "potential to do something great," and promised him that he could get his ex-girlfriend back through black magic.[18]

Dr. James Justin Sledge, who is now an academic specializing in philosophy and religion, argues that the media and police's claims that he was part of a satanic cult lacked evidence, exemplifying the broader Satanic Panic trend of the 1980s and 1990s.[19]

After his conviction Woodham converted to Christianity, and said the following in a letter[20] written to evangelical minister David Wilkerson:

David, I receive your sermons through the mail. I am one of the school shooters. I'm the one they blame for starting it all off. On October 1, 1997, I went into Pearl High School and killed two students and wounded seven. I also killed my mother before this. After I came to jail I got saved. If there is any way that I can help your ministry, I would love to. Maybe I could give you my testimony. I'll do anything to help. I look forward to your sermons each month ...

Trials and incarceration

Mississippi State Penitentiary, where Luke Woodham is incarcerated

There were separate trials for the murder of Woodham's mother and the school shooting. Woodham's lawyer argued at both trials that Woodham was insane at the time of the killings. Jurors rejected Woodham's insanity defense at his first trial for the murder of his mother, and he was sentenced to life in prison on June 5, 1998. His second trial took place on June 12, and he was found guilty of two counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder, with the jurors once again rejecting the insanity defense. He was given two life sentences for the murders and seven 20-year sentences for his attempted murder convictions.[21] He is currently serving three life terms plus an additional 140 years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2046, when he is 65 years old.

Conspiracy charges against the members of the Kroth who were minors were dropped by Judge Robert Goza "at the request of District Attorney John Kitchens, who said Mississippi's conspiracy law would make proving the accusations difficult."[22] Grant Boyette, who was 18 at the time, was convicted and sentenced to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman boot camp for six months and five years of supervised probation.

Less than three days after his last conviction,[23] Woodham was removed from the Forrest County Jail in Hattiesburg.[24] On June 15, 1998,[25] Woodham entered the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) system in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Rankin County.[23] While at CMCF Woodham underwent evaluation so he could be assigned to a permanent facility. Several weeks later, he was moved into the Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP) in Sunflower County.[24] In 2010, Woodham made a request to Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, asking for clemency;[26] however, his request was rejected.

As of 2022 Woodham is incarcerated in Unit 3 of SMCI as MDOC #R4682. His location last changed on November 2, 2022.[27]



The State of Mississippi made it a capital crime if a murder is committed on the property of a school.[28]

See also



  1. ^ a b c "The Avenger". PEOPLE.com.
  2. ^ Hughes, Jay (1998-06-06). "Miss. Teen Given Life In Murder Of Mother". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2022-06-11.
  3. ^ CHUA-EOAN, HOWARD (June 24, 2001). "MISSISSIPPI GOTHIC". Time – via content.time.com.
  4. ^ Baxter, Jenn (2020-12-27). "Luke Woodham and the Pearl High School Massacre". Lessons from History. Retrieved 2023-04-08.
  5. ^ Administrator (2015-04-17). "Luke Woodham - Criminal Justice - IresearchNet". Criminal Justice. Retrieved 2023-04-08.
  6. ^ admin (2007-04-18). "Va. Tech brings back Pearl shootings". The Demopolis Times. Retrieved 2023-04-08.
  7. ^ Carter, Josh (2021-06-17). "The making of a Mississippi school shooter". www.wlbt.com. Retrieved 2023-04-08.
  8. ^ "Miss. School Shooting Trial Begins". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2023-05-20.
  9. ^ "Miss. Schools Eye Security After Conn. Shooting". www.jacksonfreepress.com. Associated Press.
  10. ^ DeSoto County, other Mississippi school districts, review safety procedures » The Commercial Appeal
  11. ^ a b Sack, Kevin (October 9, 1997). "Southern Town Stunned by Arrests in Murder Plot". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (12 October 2015). "Thresholds of Violence". The New Yorker. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  13. ^ a b Carter, Josh (17 June 2021). "The making of a Mississippi school shooter". www.wlbt.com. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
  14. ^ Holland, Gina (October 15, 1997). "Teen Led Satanic Cult That Plotted Murders, Prosecutors Tell Court". Associated Press.
  15. ^ Finley, Laura L. (2011). Encyclopedia of School Crime. Abc-Clio. ISBN 9780313362392. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
  16. ^ Sledge, Justin. "Justin Sledge FAQ". Justin Sledge Philosophy and Esoterica.
  17. ^ "Luke Woodham – Criminal Justice – IresearchNet". Criminal Justice. 2015-04-17. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  18. ^ "Woodham testifies he was involved in satanism". CNN. June 11, 1998. Archived from the original on June 14, 2008.
  19. ^ "FAQ". justin-sledge. Retrieved 2023-01-07.
  20. ^ "David Wilkerson Today Blog". David Wilkerson. May 22, 2009.
  21. ^ "Teen guilty in Mississippi school-shooting rampage". CNN. June 12, 1998.
  22. ^ "Conspiracy Charges Are Dropped in Mississippi School Shootings". The New York Times. Associated Press. July 23, 1998.
  23. ^ a b "WOODHAM INDUCTED INTO PRISON SYSTEM." Sun Herald. June 16, 1998. A8 Front. Retrieved on July 22, 2010.
  24. ^ a b Linedecker, Clifford L. Babyface Killers: Horrifying True Stories of America's Youngest Murderers. Macmillan, 1999. 53. Retrieved from Google Books on August 10, 2010. ISBN 0-312-97032-3, ISBN 978-0-312-97032-1.
  25. ^ "Luke Woodham Archived 2013-10-04 at the Wayback Machine." (Archive) Mississippi Department of Corrections. Retrieved on July 20, 2010.
  26. ^ "Luke Woodham Asking for Clemency Archived 2014-03-22 at the Wayback Machine." WJTV. July 28, 2011. Retrieved on March 22, 2014.
  27. ^ "Luke Woodham Archived 2013-10-04 at the Wayback Machine" (Archive). Mississippi Department of Corrections. Retrieved on April 15, 2015.
  28. ^ Perline, Irvin H. and Jona Goldschmidt. The Psychology and Law of Workplace Violence: A Handbook for Mental Health Professionals and Employers. Charles C Thomas Publisher, 2004. ISBN 0398074321, 9780398074326. p. 320. "Since the shooting at Pearl High School, Mississippi has made murder on school property a capital crime."

32°16′32″N 90°07′53″W / 32.27556°N 90.13139°W / 32.27556; -90.13139