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Family speaks out 10 months after teen found with hit-list

In March of 2013, a 13-year-old Rigby Junior High student was caught with a hit-list, two guns, ammunition and knives in a bag at his home.

The teen admitted he had planned to harm students because he was being bullied.

Now, 10 months after the incident, he speaks out about what drove him to his breaking point, and his parents are talking about their new mission in life: to prevent this from happening to another family.

“That’s one of the things we do almost every night, is we sit down as a family, we eat we talk about the things of the day,” said Todd Gunter, the teen’s father.

Todd and Pam Gunter were just as shocked as the rest of the community when they found out their son was planning to violently harm his classmates.

“My first response when I came up, I remember looking at Pam and saying, ‘We have a huge issue here,'” said Todd Gunter.

Their son, is the youngest of three children. He was 13 years old last March. An “A” student, ran for class president, had a lot of friends and was involved in extra-curricular activities.

“It’s our son, what would change our son, a kind, generous, friendly, child to do something so cruel and mean. And I couldn’t understand at what point he would have had to have reached to have gone to those drastic measures,” said Pam Gunter, the teen’s mother.

The Gunters won’t talk about the specifics, how he reached that breaking point and why turn to such violent measures.They say they’ve let those discussions stay between their son and his therapist.

“But there came a tipping point,” said Todd Gunter.

What they do know and what they have learned in the past 10 months is that bullying led him to his breaking point.

Their son agreed to talk with us if we didn’t show his face.

Tatevik: “How long had the bullying been going on?”
Teen: “It was about a week and a half.”
Tatevik: “So before that week, everything was fine?”
Teen: “Yep.”
Tatevik: “That group hadn’t said or done anything to you really in the past?”
Teen: “I hadn’t even seen them before.”

He says the events escalated quickly.

“They were just saying that if I reported it to anybody that they were going to physically harm me,” the boy said. “People were looking at me as somebody smaller than they were. And they were using that to just try and have an enjoyable time is what I think.”

The Gunter’s began to ask themselves where they went wrong as parents.

“It’s not so much what we did do — it was more what we didn’t do,” said Pam Gunter. “And what we didn’t do is prepare out children to be faced with ridicule, and harassment and threats.”

“We know there were texts that were going back and forth, both between our son and those that were bullying him,” said Todd Gunter.

They were monitoring his Facebook page, but didn’t know what was being said on chats and instant messaging.

“The Internet can be a tremendously dangerous to a child. In hindsight, letting a 12- or 13-year-old loose with some electronic devices is kind of like giving them the keys to your car and asking them to go to the store and but you a gallon of milk,” said Todd Gunter.

In the early stages of the investigation that followed, the Gunters were asked by mental health providers how they fight at home. Pam and Todd said they don’t fight in front of their kids, and the evaluator’s response shocked them. He said because of that, when their son was faced with bullying and conflict, he didn’t have the skills to cope with the issues.

Their son was sent to the 5-C Juvenile Detention Center in St. Anthony for one week.

It was there the Gunters saw a list of classes he would attend. They included dealing with difficult people, conflict resolution and anger management.

After his father saw the list, he thought these were skills that should be taught in schools.

“We need to start teaching age-appropriate coping skills from the time a student enters kindergarten until they graduate high school,” said Todd Gunter.

The Gunters are working with legislators, schools, and social scientists to figure out the best way to add these subjects into the school day without costly classes or more work for teachers.

They said it can be done through role playing, essays, and group discussions.

“How long can we afford to sit back and do nothing?” said Todd Gunter.

What skills has their son learned in the past 10 months?

“You need to be able to talk to your parents about what’s going on,” the teen said. “If they’re too busy, to like, sit down and talk to you, then just write them a note, and when they get time later that day, they can read the note and see what’s on your mind.”

It may be a simple lesson, but that’s the family’s simple message: Be proactive instead of reactive.

“You can’t go through an experience like this and close your eyes and walk away from it. You have to take it and you have to take it, take everything you’ve learned and do everything in your power and control to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” said Pam Gunter.

Tatevik: “Do you think if they had done more, if there was any sort of curriculum, that perhaps that would have changed how you went about things?”
Teen: “Yeah.”
Tatevik: “If that situation happened again now, with everything you’ve learned would you go to your parents, would you go to your teachers, would the outcome be different?”
Teen: “Yeah, I know for a fact that the outcome would be completely different.”

The Gunters said they know adding more education in school will take time and it could be years before anything is in place, but they say it’s their mission now.

As for their son, he is doing well at his new school.

The teen underwent multiple mental health evaluations by court-appointed officials and independent psychologists, and at the detention center. All of the professionals concluded this was a one-time incident and the teen does not have any mental health issues.

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