Alva Review-Courier -

Slain Principal McGee honored 35 years later in Goddard, Kansas

• Raised in Kiowa

 

October 9, 2019

On January 21, 1985, Goddard (Kansas) Junior High Principal Jim McGee was shot and killed by a 14-year-old student who entered the school with a M-1A semi-automatic rifle. Raised in Kiowa, Kansas, McGee was 35 when he died and his wife Crystal was 34 and three months pregnant with their fourth child.

"It's wonderful to see that Jim is still inspiring people 35 years after his death," his widow Crystal said. "God is in control. In his plan, he could work this for good." This was after she and family attended a ceremony in late September where McGee and a few others received the Goddard Distinguished Alumni and Staff Award at an induction ceremony sponsored by the Goddard Education Foundation.

"We saw so many positives that came from his death," Crystal said. After the shooting, in McGee's honor students built a new bell tower at the large school in Goddard, a suburb of Wichita. It features a "Victory Bell" that students get to ring to celebrate when their team wins or they have done something special.

"For 35 years kids have been ringing the bell. His grandkids got to ring it last weekend," Crystal said. Telling of the late September ceremony and weekend in Goddard, she said of the event organizers, "They just blew us away. It was such an emotional weekend. Of course Rudy (Crystal's name for Jim) was special to us but they showed how he changed the direction of the school district. It's an amazing district."

A video was made of McGee's life featuring his childhood in Kiowa, the son of John and Minnie McGee; how he and his brother Max helped their dad farm from the tine they were boys which helped establish their strong work ethic; and how he was quarterback for the Kiowa High School Chieftains undefeated football team his senior year. The video shows his time as a Marine in Vietnam and as a Marine Corps officer before he began his educational career. The video showed interviews with his former colleagues, students and others who knew him while at Goddard; in addition to family and friends.

Crystal said now grown men and women who were junior high students that day at Goddard told how McGee's shooting inspired their careers in law enforcement and more; and the impact on their lives. One of those is a KBI Agent and the other is a Sedgwick County DA. The family received goodie bags that had many things, including handwritten notes from community members with thoughts of McGee.

In Goodard's school library, there is a book displayed that tells of the tragic event that January day. A picture of Principal McGee is also displayed there that is illuminated 24/7.

One of the other Distinguished Alumni Award recipients was teacher Tish Dimick who thanked McGee for getting her started in her lifelong educational career at Goddard. Another recipient was high school counselor Steve Sandall who was the McGee's next door neighbor at the time of the shooting. Sandall wrote papers that went national about how to handle your school after such a horrific event. Crystal said they learned how hard the school worked to turn this negative into a positive. "They had to turn around school spirit," she said and added they learned that students were so ashamed that this happened at their school many wouldn't even wear their letter jackets off campus. "There's so many things we didn't know."

At the induction the McGee family was asked to have someone give an acceptance speech. Their son Joseph did the honor. He is a pastor of an ECO Presbyterian Church in Eldorado, Texas. His words were eloquent as he thanked many. "Thank you to everyone who knew our dad when he was alive and have held on to those memories and share stories of his life and character through the years. Thank you to everyone who has remembered to pray for our family over the years." Mainly Joseph thanked God for his "faithfulness that has been demonstrated time again in our lives and most of all in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who walked in the way of forgiveness instead of vengeance, faith instead of fear, love instead of hate and taught there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friend."

That selfless act is how McGee is remembered.

Crystal Remembers the Day Her Husband Was Shot and Killed at School

News reports from that Jan. 21 day in 1985 say it was really cold that morning – about 16 degrees. The 14-year-old shooter reportedly couldn't get his car started. So he grabbed two guns said to be owned by his father out of the backseat and jogged the some 200 yards to his school. He had a M-1A semi-automatic rifle and a .357-caliber Magnum pistol.

The shooter was first seen poking his head in a classroom but didn't see who he was looking for and started to walk toward the cafeteria where there were hundreds of students gathering for lunch.

A teacher spotted him as he passed the teacher's lounge and principal's office. That's when McGee stepped out in the hallway and ask him where he was going with the guns. The young man turned around and from about 25 feet started firing, a witness said.

One of the shots hit McGee in the chest, severing his aorta. Before police could arrive he had injured three others – two teachers and a student who all survived.

Crystal said that morning her three elementary children were home from school sick and were thankfully watching cartoons on their new VCR. The Goddard High School Principal and secretary went to Crystal's home to tell her that Jim had been shot and was at the hospital in surgery. The superintendent would drive her while the secretary stayed with the children. McGee died a few hours later. Crystal said she was later told he didn't really have a chance. Unfortunately, McGee's parents and other family got the breaking news on television.

The young shooter was said to be bullied. Crystal said a 20/20 special said he had an abusive father. Whatever happened to the young man to trigger his evil act, Crystal said, "There is no point in holding ill will against the shooter." The last time she ever heard anything about him was maybe 15 years ago when saw an article in the Wichita newspaper that he had reportedly beat up a girlfriend and was holding a gun to his own head. "I would love to see something that would turn his life around," she said.

When asked how she survived that day and successfully raised four children, Crystal replied, "It's real simple." She explained as their families prayed together that night of the unthinkable, her older brother read Psalm 68:5 which says, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Crystal said she decided "God would father my kids and he absolutely did." She said when the family needed big brothers, their church provided and cash seemed to appear when needed.

At the recent induction weekend, Crystal said some teachers, the assistant principal and others who were there that fateful day, met with the family members privately and answered any questions they had about what happened. "We could hear it 35 years later," she said.

Crystal and her four children underwent family counseling for two years. "I highly recommend that," she said. She learned from a counselor the difference between violent death and death due to sickness.

"It's been very interesting to see the three (children) with the trauma and the baby who didn't. The older three all developed a strong faith because they saw God taking care of us," Crystal said.

Shortly after the shooting Crystal and her children moved back to Edmond where she had ties. She remained single for 28 years. She married Dale DePue seven years ago and they live in Edmond.

The induction program said that McGee's positive impact is very evident in the lives of his children: Jeannie is a dentist who works for a charity clinic in Oklahoma City; Joseph is a pastor as mentioned above; Jameson is an electrical engineer for Naval Research Lab in Virginia; and Jordan works for Warwick Energy in Oklahoma City.

"All four demonstrate Jim's faith, hard work ethic, selfless concern for others and integrity."

 

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