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Details emerge about teen killed in shootout with deputies

Posted January 20, 2010
Updated January 21, 2010

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— Harnett County Sheriff's Office investigators have been examining the online activity of an Overhills Middle School student for clues to what led him to a fatal confrontation with deputies outside a Cameron convenience store early Tuesday.

Cpl. S. Assman and Sgt. T. Daggett were patrolling southwest Harnett County at about 2:25 a.m. Tuesday when they observed someone sitting in a ditch in front of the Super Mart convenience store, at 1943 N.C. Highway 24/87, Sheriff Larry Rollins said.

Joe Wheeler's MySpace page Clues to shootout sought on MySpace page

The deputies asked the boy to show them what was in a book bag lying nearby, and they saw a 9 mm and a .22-caliber handgun inside, along with about 250 rounds of ammunition, Rollins said.

The boy then pulled another 9 mm handgun out and shot Assman in the leg, the sheriff said. Both deputies then returned fire, killing the boy, he said.

Assman was treated at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center and is recuperating at home.

The State Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Wednesday morning that the body of 13-year-old Joe Wheeler was sent Tuesday from Harnett County to Chapel Hill for an autopsy.

A MySpace page for someone by the name Joe Wheeler lists Spring Lake as his address and includes comments from friends saying "R.I.P. Joe!"

The author of the page last logged on Saturday, and his comments included posts about being sad and suicidal and a message that says "death will come shortly for the next person who messes with me in the next week."

Rollins said the eighth-grader lived with his parents in the Anderson Creek community.

A man who answered the phone at the family's home Wednesday afternoon declined to comment.

The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the case, which is routine in an officer-involved shooting. Assman and Daggett have been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Grief counselors were at Overhills Middle on Wednesday, and student Tiffany Creek said they were needed.

"My friends, they were in his class, and they were all crying, even the teacher," Creek said.

Sherry Huse said her son, a friend of Wheeler's, was devastated by the shooting.

"My son says he's a good guy. He had a lot of friends. A lot of people know him," Huse said.

Meanwhile, the details of the case concern her.

"Why is a kid with 250 rounds of ammunition just sitting on the side of the road? Was he intending to come to school with it? Could it have been another Columbine?" she said.

Two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., opened fire inside the school in April 1999, killing 12 students and one teacher before committing suicide.

"Even if you're a friend – a close friend as my son was with Joe – he could have been a victim if (Wheeler) had made it to school, if that was the intention," Huse said.

Investigators have declined to comment about the teen's intentions or where he got the weapons and ammunition. Still, rumors swirled about Overhills Middle and adjacent Overhills High School on Wednesday.

"Some people were saying he was planning on attacking the (middle) school. Some were saying he was really bullied," high school student Jocoya McLean said.

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Dr. Mike Katz, a clinical psychologist in Raleigh, has no involvement in Wheeler's case but has studied teenage behavior.

"They (teenagers) form conclusions about the world that aren’t necessarily accurate,” he said.

Katz said it’s important for parents to know how their teens view the world. He said social networking Web sites can be a helpful resource and parents should check to see what their teens are posting.

"I noticed on your page that you said such and such. Why did you say that? What is going on?" Katz said of questions parents could ask.

Katz said if a teen posts online a plan to harm someone, parents should assume that it's for real. He said there is a reason such thoughts are made public online.

"I think kids always want people to know,” he said.

107 Comments

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  • wildcat Jan 21, 2010

    This young man certainly should never had possession of those guns. If he was such a good person why was he going up against the law. Where was his parents who should be charged since this young man was well under age. Will these young people ever learn and listen. I doubt it and the new year is just starting. Pray for all our youth and parents.

  • ncguy Jan 21, 2010

    Suicide by cop

  • Raptor06 Jan 21, 2010

    "If you obey the laws, you don't have to worry about being killed by a cop."

    I don't know ALL the details of THIS situation, but you have to be terribly naive to ALWAYS believe this statement.

    Cops have a tough job, and at times, only a fraction of a second to decide what to do.

  • Eastern N.C. Native Jan 21, 2010

    This kid needed help obviously. I feel bad for him, but whatever paid he's going through is over. I'm happy to hear that the law enforcement officers made it out ok. That bullet that hit the leg could have been in the face or chest... So, lets be thankful for that. I just don't remember school being all that difficult (I'm C/O 2004). I agree with several of you stating that there should be a point of contact for kids in school, a crisis hotline perhaps.

  • boingc Jan 21, 2010

    "Another reason to let God back in schools."
    dwmcarthur80

    Which god? Your god? My god? My neighbors god?

    God has been the biggest killer in history (from people killing in his name).

    Having god in school wouldn't have helped this kid. If his parents want to teach him about god, they can do that at home or in church.

  • rich son Jan 21, 2010

    Doesn't matter what he looks like, where he's from....this was a young man that obviously had some issues that he felt violence would resolve. To be 13 and not value or love life is really sad. Those with insensitive comments over the death of a child regardless of how he died should be very mindful with what you say. Dont forget you live in the same society this young man did

  • fl2nc2ca2md2nc Jan 21, 2010

    Those posts were cries for help and unfortunately nobody seems to have reacted to them.

    I know we don't know many details but I always wonder about kids like this who become suicidal. Does anybody ever look into the medications that these kids are on? We have the best health care system in the world but it seems like we might be overmedicating as a society. Do we really understand how these drugs interact with the human psyche, especially with a young developing mind?

  • BubbaDuke Jan 21, 2010

    Who's fault is it if kids have trouble dealing with this world we're giving them? Parents are the leaders in our homes. If we accept a "C" grade from our kids and say, "At least you passed!", we're teaching them to be mediocre. When our expectations is an "A", they'll work harder to reach that standard. If they struggle, we get them help; but we don't lower the standard.

    We need to do for our kids what Ronald Reagan did for America. Americans were disillusioned and fearful under Jimmy Carter. Then Reagan comes along and paints an unachievable vision of America as the shining city on the hill. That vision inspired us and gave us hope for our future. One person can make a difference. The persons our kids should look up to the most are parents who encourage our kids to reach their potential. If they fall short, the world is still better off than if we just settled for getting by.

  • NCAries Jan 21, 2010

    Somehow, we're not teaching our kids to have hope for their future. laursadad

    It's a difficult task given the the fact that they are not walking through life with blinders on and they can see and hear daily how things actually are in the world.

  • BubbaDuke Jan 21, 2010

    Somehow, we're not teaching our kids to have hope for their future. When I was in school, I looked forward to graduating and making my own way in the world. Some of today's kids see only a bleak future, one harder than what they're already experiencing, so what's the point in living if life is going to be a struggle?

    As far as the parents are concerned, my experience has been that it's rather easy for kids to determine what their parents want to hear them say. It keeps us off their backs and doesn't add to the stress they think is unique to them. These parents, if they had any idea that their son was suicidal, could only hope that he would reach out to someone, if not to his parents. We cannot live our children's life for them. All we can do is raise them to know right from wrong, to practice what we preach, and to let them know that we love them. We set the example as adults. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe we've compromised so many times, our kids have lost our respect.

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