Local News

Details emerge about teen killed in shootout with deputies

Posted January 20, 2010 11:33 a.m. EST
Updated January 21, 2010 6:00 a.m. EST

— 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.

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.

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.