Australian’s Slaying Stirs Speculation in Oklahoma

Hailey Branson-Potts and Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2013

Duncan, Okla., residents, uncertain of the motive in the shooting death of college exchange student Christopher Lane, wonder aloud about race and other divisions in their changing town.

Even before his name became known worldwide—before authorities said he and two other boys killed an Australian college student because they were “bored”—the boy known as “Bug” had changed.

His sister saw it; so did family friends: His American Eagle clothes and sweet demeanor were replaced about six months ago by drooping pants, the do-rags, and a vile stream of braggadocio, sexism and racism the 15-year-old unleashed over his social media accounts.

In an Oklahoma town of about 23,000 that was 82% white, Bug, who is black, sometimes tweeted things like “90% of white ppl are nasty. #HATE THEM.”

A female member of Faith Church in Duncan recalled later that he’d told her, “I can’t go to your church anymore because my god is black.”

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Authorities have not tied race to the killing of Christopher Lane, a strapping young athlete from Melbourne attending East Central University in Ada, Okla., about 80 miles away. Lane was out for a jog Friday when he was shot once in the back by a gunman in a passing car.

Authorities say one of the boys said they targeted Lane, who is white, because they were bored and had nothing to do.

Edwards and Chancey Allen Luna, 16, who is also black, were charged with first-degree murder. At the police station, Edwards danced while they were booking him, said Duncan Police Chief Daniel P. Ford. “He thought it was cool,” Ford said.

Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, who is white, was charged with lesser counts—accessory to the murder and use of a vehicle in discharge of weapon. According to court documents, Jones was the driver and told police he knew who shot Lane but was worried he’d “get killed” if he snitched.

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The killing also has laid bare divisions in this town. The three alleged assailants came from what is known as the gritty part of town; a prosecutor called them “thugs.” Lane had been visiting his girlfriend’s family in Duncan’s north end, a prim neighborhood with brick homes and big yards.

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Any shooting is a shock in Duncan, which can go years without seeing a slaying. “If you’d have told me a week ago there was a gang in Duncan, I’d have chuckled,” said Mark Morrow, a youth pastor at Faith Church who has known Edwards since he was a boy. “There are a lot more rednecks than gangs.”

At Wright’s Donuts on Old U.S. Highway 81 in Duncan early Wednesday, the talk over breakfast was over one thing: the shooting. There were soft-spoken questions about why the killing had to happen here and comments that race will inevitably be brought up, whether it was a factor in the shootings or not. (Luna once featured a “Black power” banner on his Facebook profile.)

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And now the questions mount: How could these kids go so wrong? What happened?

Ford has looked at Edwards’ social media feeds and their racist comments. “Sometimes that’s a motivation; sometimes it’s an attention-getter,” he said. “You can say anything you want on Facebook.”

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Ford says he’s been asked over and over by Australian officials and media why guns are so widely allowed, and he’s been frustrated by it.

“These punk kids are going to take our freedom away? Give me a break,” said Ford, who has sketches and photos of John Wayne in his office. “Why would we let three thugs do that?”

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