Sean Callebs, CNN, January 15, 2009
Mychal Bell says he felt pressure to be perfect after his part of 2006’s “Jena 6” assault case was over. When police alleged last month that he wasn’t, the Louisiana teen took his Christmas money and sought a gun to kill himself.
Distraught after being arrested on suspicion of shoplifting and battery, the 18-year-old Bell says, he pointed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger.
The gun misfired, and he aimed at his chest and tried again. The bullet ripped through his body, and he fell to the floor of his grandmother’s home in Monroe on December 29.
“It just got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Bell, who is recovering from the wound, said in an interview with CNN. Video Watch Bell describe shooting himself »
In December 2006, Bell–then an all-state running back for Jena High’s football team–was one of six black teenagers charged in adult court with attempted murder and conspiracy charges in the beating of a white classmate in Jena, Louisiana, an incident that followed months of racial tensions in the community of about 3,000 people.
“I just wanted to show everybody that I really wasn’t the type of kid that everybody was making me out to be,” said Bell, who worked out with his school’s team even though he couldn’t play in games. “Nobody will ever be perfect, but it’s like that’s where my mind was. You need to be perfect.”
Bell said he felt people were constantly watching him, hoping he’d fail: ” ‘Just mess up, just mess up.’ There was a lot of pressure on me.”
So he was devastated, he said, when he was accused of shoplifting at a Monroe mall on December 24.
Police say surveillance video appears to show Bell stuffing merchandise into a bag in a Dillard’s store while another male seems to serve as a lookout.
Bell walked out with the bag without paying, officials said, and a security guard approached and took it from him. Police said Bell and the other male fled, and guards chased Bell because he’d had the bag. Authorities say it contained $370 worth of clothes.
Bell hid under a car in the parking lot, and as a store security officer tried to pull Bell out, he hit the guard in the face with his elbow, police said. Bell, who was charged with shoplifting, simple battery and resisting arrest, was released on bail, according to authorities.
Investigators don’t know who the other male was, and Bell “admitted to everything” to a detective, Lt. Jeff Harris said.
In his CNN interview in Monroe, Bell–who is back in school despite being in pain from his wound and subsequent surgery–didn’t comment on the shoplifting allegations because the case is pending.
But he said he “cried every day” after the arrest and “could never get back right.”