Student graduates after being investigated for explicit essay

ILLINOIS — Prosecutors dropped charges against a high school senior who had been arrested for writing an essay depicting graphic sex and gun violence in an English class one week after the Virginia Tech shootings.

Allen Lee, 18, was removed from Cary-Grove High School for 10 days while prosecutors and school officials assessed the danger he posed to the school, but did not receive further punishment from school officials. Along with the rest of his class, Lee graduated to “thunderous applause” on May 26 after prosecutors decided that he did not pose a safety threat, his attorney, Tom Loizzo, said.

Lee, an aspiring Marine, initially received word from the U.S. Marine Corps that it had removed him from their enlistment program after hearing of the charges, though he is now reapplying to the program and a Marines Forces Reserve representative said he is eligible since the charges were dropped.

The controversial essay, which was composed in class on April 23, describes a dream of “shooting everyone” in his school and then having sex with the corpses. Lee’s writing, which contains several expletives, criticizes his English teacher, Nora Capron, and warns her: “don’t be surprised on inspiring the first [Cary-Grove] shooting.”

Capron immediately reported the essay to the school administration, which contacted local police. Lee was arrested on April 24 on two charges of disorderly conduct, and he was forced to attend an alternative learning center as officials proceeded with their investigations.

District spokesman Jeff Puma said school officials were mindful of the Virginia Tech shootings when Lee’s essay surfaced, though Cary-Grove would have taken the same steps to ensure “a safe environment for the kids to learn in.”

But Loizzo said a careful reading of the essay, which has been widely circulated on the Internet, would reveal that Lee was merely complying with the class assignment to express himself without inhibition.

“I don’t think … that there was anything there that was intended to alarm or disturb anybody,” Loizzo said.

McHenry County Attorney Louis Bianchi said his office interviewed Capron and spoke with members of the school administration, including the school psychiatrist, during the ordeal. Bianchi said prosecutors decided to drop the charges on May 23 after determining that the school was safe and finding that Capron herself did not wish to bring the case to court.

“We did not see any reason to go ahead,” he said. “[Lee] didn’t pose a safety threat.”

Capt. Erin Mackin, U.S. Marine Forces Reserve public affairs representative, said the service can waive minor charges and Lee should speak to a recruiter if he wishes to reapply.

Puma said the does not think the school’s actions or the arrest sought to curtail Lee’s free speech rights.

“No one was questioning his ability to write what he wanted,” Puma said.

But Loizzo said he does not think the incident can be extracted from freedom of speech issues.

“It stumps me how they can say that there are no constitutional issues in this situation,” Loizzo said.

Lee could not be reached for comment.

By Judy Wang, SPLC staff writer