Sunday, January 21, 2018
Public safety

Man from 1988 Pinellas Park High School shooting: 'There are no preventable measures'

HOLIDAY — Jason Harless was at Wendy's when news of the elementary school shooting came from the small Connecticut town. He said he was stunned. He couldn't see why someone would go after children with a gun.

"They're … kids," he said. "That's incomprehensible."

It wasn't until some time later that he realized reporters might come knocking on his door.

In February 1988, Harless, then 15 years old, made headlines as the gunman in a different school shooting.

He and a friend both came to Pinellas Park High School with stolen .38-caliber revolvers. Administrators confronted the boys in the cafeteria. There was a struggle. By the end, Harless had shot a student teacher in the leg, fired three bullets into an administrator's abdomen and shot an assistant principal in the head a point-blank range, which later killed the man.

Harless was convicted of second-degree murder. The other boy, Jason McCoy, was convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced to six years in prison, though he served less than two. Records indicate McCoy now lives in Tennessee.

Harless spent eight years in prison. He has less than four years to go on his probation. He knows what happened at Columbine High School and in Aurora, Colo., in July and in sleepy Newtown, Conn., on Friday. He acknowledges the similarities, but he says those shootings were different from his.

The main difference, he says: He had no motive.

Harless and McCoy planned to run away from their homes on that day in February 1988. They stole the guns for protection. But, he says, he never planned to shoot anyone.

"If the fight would have never started," he said, "it never would have happened."

Three main camps have emerged in whirling talk-show speculation as to what caused Friday's shooting. Some blame loose gun-control laws. Others cite violent video games. Still more are calling attention to mental health awareness.

Harless believes none of these, he said. Asked what he thinks might prevent shootings: "Nothing," he said. "At the end of the day, there are no preventable measures. It's human nature."

He suspects the violence he witnessed as a child made him an "angry kid." He says it may have factored into his shooting. Harless grew up in a rough part of a small town hear Baltimore. Another child beat him with a lead pipe when he was 7. He said he watched his drunk father beat his mother regularly.

That made him protective of the people he liked. He said that might have been what made him run across the cafeteria with a gun when he saw McCoy scuffling with administrators.

Harless is 40 now. He's has been out of prison for more than a decade and hasn't been in trouble since. He says he doesn't feel the anger he had before prison.

He lives in Holiday, in a modest house with white shudders and hibiscus hedges. Tiny painted flowers frame the address tiles by the front door. A minivan sits in the driveway.

"I'm carrying on. I was doing that before (the shooting), too. All it took," he said, holding his fingers an inch apart, "was mere moments.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

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