Executive editor Mimi Swartz talks about Houston’s Bellaire High School and a potent combination: teenagers, drugs, and the Internet.
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texasmonthly.com: What attracted you to this story?
Mimi Swartz: I wanted to write about kids and values, and this story seemed to provide that opportunity.
texasmonthly.com: Once you decided to write about this murder, what was your next step? How did you track down all of these kids?
MS: My first step was to check courthouse records for the names of lawyers for anyone who had been arrested and to check names of people who had been quoted in the paper for sources I might develop, particularly the police.
texasmonthly.com: You have a teenage child of your own. Were you surprised at all about the content you encountered on MySpace.com? Why or why not?
MS: I was actually depressed by it more than anything. I know being a teenager is all about rebellion, but I thought the language and content were so “downscaled.” Again, it was a reflection of a lack of values—I wanted to tell these kids there is a lot of great stuff out there, that life is good, go out and explore instead of spending all day writing dirty words on your computer.
texasmonthly.com: How large of a role did the Internet really play in this murder?
MS: I thought MySpace allowed the kids to posture, and soon the posturing became real—the boys involved really became gangstas.
texasmonthly.com: What was the mood like at Bellaire High School? Do you think Bellaire is representative of many high schools across the state?
MS: I think Bellaire is trying to hang in there and educate all kinds of kids, which is very, very tough. It is reflective of many schools, though because of the wealth there and the school’s reputation, Bellaire is probably better than most.
texasmonthly.com: Are drugs really that easy to come by? Are they prevalent at Bellaire High School?
MS: Drugs are everywhere. That was the lesson of this story. They are part of the culture now, partly because of the popularity of so many prescription drugs.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this story?
MS: Trying to get people to talk, particularly teenagers, who are obviously concerned and frightened about what happened but also busy with their own lives.
texasmonthly.com: Were the kids involved open to talking to you? The adults?
MS: Some were, some weren’t. I’m deeply grateful to the kids brave enough to talk. There were a lot of threats made to various kids, so this was no small thing.
texasmonthly.com: Were the police cooperative?
MS: Yes, though they were also understandably protective of the details of the case.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this story? Why?
MS: I really liked working on everything about this story, from following the police investigation to examining the lives—rich and poor—of everyone involved.
texasmonthly.com: Do you have any advice for parents of teenage children worried that something like this could happen to them?
MS: Virtually every mental health professional had the same advice: Keep the lines of communication open. Keep talking to your kids no matter what, and don’t make excuses for them when they’ve done something wrong. The earlier they learn to take responsibility for their actions, the better.