John Meadows, father of Ashland teen Jacob Meadows, wrote this letter describing the events leading up to his son's death. John Meadows gave the Missourian permission to publish it in the From Readers section.
Monday night was my son’s last night on earth. That night, a life ended that this family, this community, this world would have been much better off keeping. I have not closely followed the media’s accounts of the incident except to note that none of them got it right. Those of you on the outside must be curious at the massive outpouring of love and grief of an entire community for a kid who supposedly threatened his school. There’s a simple answer for that: He didn’t. Those who knew him know that, and said as much to those investigating the tragedy. I know Jacob would not want to be remembered as a terrorist and, with this statement, I want to set the record straight. There may be opinions herein that you don’t agree with, but where there are opinions rather than simply a recitation of facts, I state them as my own and no one else’s, and I won’t debate them.
The Missourian has a section called From Readers, designed to gather and share the perspectives and stories of people in our community. Those stories can help us as neighbors better understand our world.
Before I set about that, there is something about Jacob that you should know. I doubt that many of his closest friends were aware of it, because Jacob handled his disability so well. Jacob struggled with ADHD and some of its attendant symptoms. His mind never shut down. Only by force of will could he focus on one particular line of thought among the cacophony of ideas his super-intelligent mind generated constantly. Additionally, Jacob lacked some of the instincts that most people don’t even know they have: the instinct for social interaction and appropriateness. What he knew of this, he had to be taught by the rest of us — it didn’t come naturally. And, finally, he was vulnerable to impulses, as is characteristic of those who struggle with this condition. All of these together made getting up and going to school each day an act of bravery that I wonder how many of us are capable of. But Jacob did it.
Now, to what happened Monday night. I won’t use names for the two friends who are part of this story — that’s not important. What is important for us here is the so-called "threat letter." I’m sorry if my account of it is confusing, but it is important to Jacob and to all of his friends that it be understood.
Monday night is the one night per week that I don’t read to Jacob when he goes to bed. He said goodnight to Nancy and me that night and went up to his room. But instead of going to bed, he stayed up for a while texting with his friends. He and “Friend A” thought of a practical joke they could play on “Friend B.” Jacob told me later that the last thing that Friend A had said to him was “Get him good, Jacob!” So Jacob used his considerable literary skills to compose a creepy, creature-from-the-Black Lagoon type note and sent it to Friend B. But Friend B didn’t have Jacob’s phone number in his phone and therefore didn’t know it was from Jacob. Jacob composed his text a little too well and Friend B was truly scared and turned it over to the police. Friend B found out very quickly that the text was from Jacob, but by then it was too late — the police were already called. So he sent Jacob a couple of notes for Jacob to show the police, saying that he knew it was just a joke and to try to keep Jacob from getting in trouble. At this point, Jacob woke me up, told me what had happened, and that the police were coming to talk to him. He didn’t understand why the note was being viewed as a “threat,” but I took one look at it and understood immediately why it shouldn’t have been composed or sent. I spoke harshly to him about it. I also was aggravated that the matter had been turned in to the police but Jacob told me that Friend B was a good guy and a good friend and that he was just doing what the kids have all been taught to do. Jacob had absolutely no hard feelings or blame for him at all. Jacob explained that “he didn’t know it was from me.” The law-enforcement officers arrived and Jacob showed them the notes from Friend B about Jacob’s practical joke. The police called Friend B on the phone while they were here, and they were convinced by Friend B, by Jacob, and by myself, that the “threat” note was just a practical joke, albeit in exceptionally poor taste and ill-advised. They kindly, but in no uncertain terms, told Jacob that this was NOT something he could joke about, and Jacob understood. Their last words to me were “Ok, he’s all yours for whatever punishment you think is right.” I wish to God that it had ended there. Jacob would still be alive if it had.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Apparently while the officers were talking to Jacob, someone forwarded the note to the school’s superintendent. By doing this, they made the practical joke an official “threat” to the system and had to be treated as such. Jacob had to be arrested.
The officers returned about 1:00 a.m. to do that. They assured Jacob that they knew his text was just a joke, but that they had to arrest him and “go by the book” with it. They asked Jacob to go get dressed. While they were explaining to Nancy and me how to bail Jacob out of jail, Jacob told them he had to go get his shoes in another room. As they continued the explanation of the arrest procedure, we all heard the sound that will follow me to my grave and, with it, the sudden realization that a parent’s darkest, most horrible nightmare was taking place. With that gunshot, a hole opened in my and many others’ souls that will never be filled.
Why did he do it? When he was assured it would be made clear to everyone that this was only a big mistake, why did he take his life? Was it embarrassment and shame that a stupid joke suddenly turned into a nightmare of closed school and bomb-sniffing dogs? Jacob had a great fear of being taken from the bosom of his family. Was he afraid he was going to be held indefinitely in jail? I know he practically worshipped me. Were my harsh words about this stupid stunt and the thought of all the pain and embarrassment he was causing me unbearable to him? Was it simply a spur-of-the-moment impulse, a desperate, panicked reaction that he had no defense against? I don’t know, I’ll never know, and I’ll never be able to stop asking. But the cold hard fact is that Jacob is dead. With him, the world and those he leaves behind have lost something irreplaceable.
When looking up at Jacob’s towering 6-foot-3-inch frame, it was easy to forget that there were parts of him as innocent and naïve as a little kid, but it was true. The cynicism of the world had yet to spoil and soil some aspects of his spirit. I know there has been a lot of discussion out there about bullying. It is true that when Jacob was younger, he was bullied unmercifully and the “system” didn’t protect him. When Jacob moved to Ashland and started at SoBoCo, he suffered from it almost daily and the system still didn’t, I believe couldn’t, protect him. But then something happened that gradually put a stop to all that: Jacob joined the Band. The Band took him in, adopted him, and he suddenly had brothers and sisters all over the school who would stand up with him and for him and would overlook his foibles and eccentricities, would take him as he was. Jacob began to look forward to school again. God bless the Band, and everyone in it.
The last couple of years, bullying has not been much of a problem. I talked to him about it recently, and he told me he had a “strategy” for those who persisted in not liking him. He said, “I just keep trying to be nice to them, say hi to them, maybe compliment them. It always works eventually, and they become my friends.” Just a couple of weeks ago, he celebrated the fact that about the last person he was having difficulties with had “friended” him on Facebook. I wondered at the time how many of us could adopt this novel strategy of “loving your enemies.” Where had I heard that before?
How could this have happened? How could a foolish prank have gone so terribly wrong? How could a kid who was laughing and joking one evening end up taking his own life later that same evening? In my torment of the last few days, and endless succession of “If-only’s” has marched past. If only he had just gone to bed. If only the prank text could have stayed with the person it was sent to. If only there wasn’t a one-size-fits-all policy in dealing with perceived threats. If only an officer had stayed with Jacob constantly. If only I had remembered that little varmint pistol and locked it up. If only I hadn’t been so harsh with him about the note. If only I had put my arms around him and told him that even this stupid stunt was going to be ok. On and on…
But none of those things happened, and now our son, our brother, our friend is gone. This letter is for you, his friends, who were confused by what the media is calling a “threat.” I feel much better about it now that Jacob’s step-mother has just read me a response by one of Jacob’s friends who understood what happened completely — thank you Hayden!
There was no real threat, just an ill-considered prank that went awfully wrong. Many of you have fallen prey to Jacob’s practical jokes, have been startled out of your wits when Jacob seemingly jumped out of nowhere and grabbed you. He literally lived to make people laugh and pull stunts to make you jump out of your skin and then try to get him back.
Jacob wouldn’t hurt a fly. Many of you have found yourselves shoved aside when you were about to step on a bug or mistreat a frog or snake, so that Jacob could capture these creatures and set them free outside. Some of you saw the orphaned squirrel he rescued and raised. Others saw the baby robin he recently saved by hand-feeding it cat food until it matured to the point of being able to survive on its own. He loved all creatures great and small.
I also wanted to let you know that you, his friends, meant the world to Jacob. He loved you all and was the happiest he had ever been in his life because he had what he never before believed he could ever have: true friends. God bless you all. You brought him great happiness.
God selected me to raise this talented, creative, highly intelligent, loving, and oddly fragile person. Though I wouldn’t trade that responsibility for anything, I know I will never be free of the feeling that I failed him. If I had been more supportive, more patient, more kind, or more loving and attentive, he would still be here. I know that, with sincere apologies to my wife, my daughter, and my loved ones, I would give my life in an instant for him to be alive again.
Things just don’t work that way and we are all left here staring at the hole in the world he left behind. “Death be not proud,” indeed. Death should hang its head in shame. It was a pointless, meaningless, totally avoidable, and unnecessary death — a death based on a mistake, a misinterpretation of the original intent. It has robbed the world of a source of love and laughter, joy and music that the world could ill afford to lose. Don Maclean’s words so perfectly apply: “I could have told you (Jacob), this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”
Jacob, you are sorely missed. I love you so.
This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.