Friday, October 31, 2014

SCHOOL MOURNS GRAD’S DEATH

By The Herald Staff | 8/25/2014

By The Herald Staff

Joseph Jennings created a strong bond with several staff members and students at Ottawa High School and the recent news of his death has created a somber scene at the school, Ryan Cobbs, Ottawa High School principal, said. Cobbs said the school brought counselors into the school early Monday to help students and staff deal with the death of Jennings.

By The Herald Staff

Joseph Jennings created a strong bond with several staff members and students at Ottawa High School and the recent news of his death has created a somber scene at the school, Ryan Cobbs, Ottawa High School principal, said. Cobbs said the school brought counselors into the school early Monday to help students and staff deal with the death of Jennings.

“He was a kid that had a lot of relationships with our staff here, and it’s one of those things that’s tragic for not only his family but the Ottawa High School community as well,” Cobbs said. “Joseph meant a great deal to a lot of students and staff here and he will certainly be missed.”

Jennings, 18, died as the result of an officer-involved shooting that occurred at Orscheln Farm and Home parking lot, 2008 S. Princeton St., Ottawa. A candle lighting in the memory of Jennings will be held at Orscheln Farm and Home 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to a Facebook event post.

Officers from the Ottawa Police Department and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office responded at 7:51 p.m. Saturday to a report of a person reportedly armed with a gun in the Orscheln Farm and Home parking lot, according to an Ottawa Police Department news release.

Responding officers made contact with the man and a shooting occurred that involved officers from both law enforcement agencies, the news release said.

Jennings was treated at the scene by emergency personnel from the Franklin County Ambulance Service for gunshot wounds and transported to Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa. He later died from his wounds at the hospital. No officers were injured during the incident.

Because officers from the police department and sheriff’s office were involved in the shooting, the law enforcement agencies requested assistance from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to conduct an independent review of the incident and forward its findings to the Franklin County Attorney’s Office. Also as a matter of policy, officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave while the KBI conducts its investigation. As part of the investigation, an autopsy was being performed on Jennings’ body Sunday at Frontier Forensics in Kansas City, Kansas, Stephen Hunting, Franklin County attorney, said during the press conference.

Jennings graduated from Ottawa High School in May, Cobbs said, where he was well known by students and staff. Because staff members can often times get to know students much better than anyone else, Monday was a somber day for many at the school, Cobbs said.

“As educators we get to know our kids and our students sometimes better than anyone else,” Cobbs said. “When we build those relationships. It’s almost like having another child of your own. And when bad things happen you feel that pain as if they were your own child.”

Cobbs said he was proud of the response from the counselors who came in early to help provide counseling for the students and staff who were affected by Jennings’ death. Jeanne Stroh, Ottawa school district superintendent, said the school district uses Greenbush Service Center to serve students and staff in need.

Brandy Smith, Jennings’ aunt, said she thought he was on a suicide mission when he left her home Saturday evening to walk to Orscheln Farm and Home.

Smith, who said she witnessed the shooting, told media before the start of a press conference Sunday afternoon in the Orscheln parking lot that Jennings had suicidal tendencies and had tried to take his own life by overdose the day before the shooting. She said he suffered from anxiety, depression and seizures.

“He wasn’t out of the hospital for more than three hours before this incident occurred,” Smith said, referring to a mental health evaluation Jennings had undergone that afternoon at Ransom Memorial Hospital.

Smith said she thought Jennings was unarmed and she did not think it was necessary for officers to shoot him, especially since the officers knew who he was and had dealt with him the day before when her nephew had tried to commit suicide.

“He was not holding a gun, but he had his arms out and he was kind of reaching, doing this hand gesture — he was antagonizing the officers,” Smith said. “I was there from the beginning to the end. I told the officers, ‘he’s wanting you to shoot him. Don’t do it, he has mental health [issues].’”

Smith told officers she thought he was unarmed and if he did have a weapon, it only would have been a Beebee gun.

“He hadn’t been out of the hospital three hours when this [incident] occurred,” Smith said. “I was screaming at the top of my lungs [to the officers], ‘don’t shoot him, don’t shoot him — that’s Joseph Jennings.’

“I was talking to Joseph [during the incident],” Smith said. “I was telling him, ‘Joseph, stop. Don’t do this, it’s not worth it. Your family loves you. Just get down [on the ground] and let us help you.”

Hunting and law enforcement officials at the press conference declined to say if Jennings was armed or unarmed, citing the ongoing investigation.

“There was certain information from that call for service that there was an individual that was a danger to the community,” Hunting said.

Not speaking specifically about the Jennings incident, Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, told media that in general terms officers are allowed to use deadly force when they are in imminent danger of bodily harm or when they fear they are in imminent danger of bodily harm, not only to themselves but anyone around them.

“That is generally the justification that has to be considered by an officer when they react to what is happening in their presence,” Butler said.

Butler said the department mourns the loss of any life and that the department extends its condolences to Jennings’ family. Butler said he was thankful no officers or bystanders were injured during the incident.

Hunting asked for the community to be patient while the KBI conducts its independent investigation into what happened before, during and after the shooting. He said these type of investigations take time. Hunting and law enforcement officials declined to say the exact location of where Jennings was shot and declined to provide any more details about the shooting while the investigation was ongoing.

People familiar with Jennings said he graduated in May from Ottawa High School. They said Jennings had experienced seizures during school.

Smith said the seizures weighed heavily on her nephew.

“He was tired of the seizures,” she said.

Jennings was a bright teen, Smith said.

“The world lost a very bright kid and a very caring young man,” Smith said.

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