Fun-Loving Boys And Absentee Parents

What started this was something I heard on “All Things Considered” the other evening. One of their reporters had attended the funeral of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq and buried in Colorado Springs. His was quite a story–raised by his mother along with several younger siblings, a high school dropout who went back and graduated later, a prankster who just wanted to have fun, a kid who loved hunting wild animals in the mountains. In high school, he got in trouble in shop class when a buddy went to the bathroom and he welded the door shut. And there was that time he stole a car and rode around town for a couple of hours. Just having fun. He got his act together, they said, and joined the military where he used his sharpshooting skills to become a sniper with our forces in Iraq. A roadside bomb ended his life a few days ago.

Memorial Day morning some boys were having fun in my neighborhood, and it cost them dearly. The newspaper says at 3:30 am, three sixteen-year-old friends abandoned a car they had stolen in order to take a beautiful new pickup truck from a fellow’s driveway. The owner heard a noise, looked out the window and saw the truck pulling out, and called the police. Within minutes, a cop spotted the bright red expensive pickup and a chase ensued. Up and down Causeway Boulevard they went, jumping medians and doubling back. The boys bursted through a blockade and almost hit an officer. Finally, they ended up two blocks from my house in the New Orleans suburb of River Ridge where they made the worst mistake of a morning filled with them. As a police officer approached the truck, the young driver tried to run him over. Bad decision. Later, the investigators picked up over 100 spent shells from the grass surrounding that bullet-ridden truck. The driver was dead and his two passengers were headed to the hospital and later to jail. “Self-defense,” said the sheriff, and who can argue. A three ton truck qualifies as a deadly weapon by any standard.

What is it about adolescents and their fun?


My friend and Southern Baptist missionary Don McCain admits that before he came to know the Lord, as a teen growing up in the Washington, D.C., area, and while his father was absent for long periods serving the U.S. military, he and his brothers would steal cars in one neighborhood and joy-ride for an hour before abandoning them across town. To their youthful minds, it was all harmless fun. And since Don turned out all right, some would agree.

When we moved to the New Orleans area in September of 1990, we knew its reputation for crime, but felt safe in the respectable suburb of Kenner where our church was located. Our second week in town, someone stole my car from in front of the church on a Tuesday afternoon. The police located it a week later in a shopping center with the gas tank dry. Joy-riders. Fun to them, misery to their victims.

Several afternoons a week, when I leave my office I run by my son’s home in order to spend a few minutes with his children. Grant is 11 and his sisters, Abby and Erin, are 8. They have a big tree with a swing in the front yard and a basketball court in the back. They live on a street with lots of children and a 20 mph speed limit and some teenage neighbors who like to drive fast. As a grandparent, it scares me more than I can say.

One day last week, I was outside in the front yard with the grandkids and a couple of neighbor children. A half block away, a white car zoomed through the four-way stop without slowing down. A moment later, a green car backed through the same intersection at a high rate of speed, then squealed his tires as he took off following the first guy. It made me angry, but since they were going in the opposite direction, there was nothing I could do.

Two minutes later, the white car sped down the small street that joins ours and tried to turn the corner without slowing down. Suddenly he realizes another car is already on that street and he skids to a stop. I stepped into the street as he resumed speed. “Pull over here! I want to talk to you!” The three teenagers inside just stared at me as they zoomed down the street. I was boiling mad.

Suddenly, here came the green car down the same street. Again, I stepped into the street and called for them to pull over, that I wanted a word with them. As they sped by, I got their tag number and called the 911 operator. “Someone will take care of this,” she assured me.

When my son Neil came home from work, I told him what had happened in case anything came from it. Then, as I was leaving, a thought occurred to me. I would drive down that side street where those cars had gone and perhaps I would see them. Two blocks away, there was the green car with a half dozen teenagers standing around it.

“Hey, guys, I’m the one who tried to stop you up the street.” They stared. “I got your tag number,” I said, “and turned it in to the cops.” They’re still staring. “Did anyone come out?” “Yeah,” said one. “A deputy did.” “What did he do?” “Nothing. Just talked to us.”

“I wasn’t driving that car,” said one of the boys. Suddenly I wasn’t angry any more. They were behaving like typical kids, not criminals. I said, “I don’t know who was driving. I just know it was that car.” Long pause. I said, “Guys, I don’t even live in this neighborhood. But my grandchildren live on that street, and the speed limit is 20 miles an hour. It scares me the daylights out of me the way people drive up and down the street. You guys be careful, okay?” “Yes sir,” they said, and I drove away.

My wife reminds me that this kind of confrontation is what gets well-meaning citizens killed. I am all too aware that the streets of any big city are filled with cars under the control of people crazed by drugs or alcohol or adrenalin or hormones. But what are the rest of us to do–stay inside and pray that the bad guys don’t take over? Someone has to stand up.

According to the local papers, the parents and friends of the three youthful car thieves from Memorial Day’s tragedy say these boys were nice guys and deserved better than what they got from the police.

I for one do not doubt for a minute they were your typical boys who just wanted to have a little fun. But the site they chose for their fun was not Chuckie Cheese, but an adult world–a universe filled with serious laws and populated by people who play for keeps.

I wonder if the adults in their lives had told them the truth about this world.

7 thoughts on “Fun-Loving Boys And Absentee Parents

  1. About kids having fun. There are some really bad kids out there “just having fun”. My son is a police officer in Gainesvile Florida. Recently he arrested a kid for stealing a car from a dealership. The kid was 9 years old. It wasn’t his first offense. Later he arrested another kid for smashing a store window so he could steal some little thing, I don’t remember what it was. This kid was older, he was 10 and the brother of the first kid. Parents of the kids are human trash. Mom is a crack (skip the next word) and they have no idea who there dad is. These will never change and become good citizens. The public system will let them back on the street quickly. Our only hope is that they will leave the area or do something that gets them killed and no one else. I know it sounds mean but you just can’t imagine how bad some poeple are until you hear the stories.

    There was a Law and Order show on a while back where some 12 year old kid had shot and killed another younger kid. They told the 12 year old that the kid he had shot was not the person he thought it was. His comment, d—, now I gots to start all over to get dat little —–. Not a thought of what he had done was wrong! Yea I know it was a TV program but it is really what is going on. Do not ever approach a BUNCH OF “KIDS” LIKE YOU DID AGAIN. You will get killed and it won’t even make them blink. You have already taken 3 chances at being killed. Your luck will not hold up. You are a good person. Don’t let some scum of the earth send you home. These “kids” are nothing short of Satan’s handimen. Wouldn’t Satan love to get you out of his way? Don’t make it easy for him.

    With respect and caring for you,

    John

  2. Hey! Joe, this is lee gallion, just wanted to comment on your article about teenagers stealling a

    car and joy riding. I never did that, but some other crazy stuff. i remember running into a neighbor’s

    mailbox after midnight on the way home after a football game . I told my Dad and he said i’d

    need to go by in the morning to let Mr. Smith know about it and that i’d needed to fix it or pay to get

    it fixed. the next day i went and knocked on Mr. Smith’s door, thinking I was really in trouble.

    Mr. Smith said don’t worry about it we needed a new mailbax anyway. I offerded to pay for it or put

    it up for him and he told me not to worry about it, just slow down. I didn’t speed anyomore

    going by Mr. Smith’s house. Now, i too, am scared for my grandchildren. Now 3 years old and 3

    months old, living in Jackson. I pray for them every day and ask God to protect them, knowing

    that it is a cold cruel world out there. Tricia and I are always yelling at cars going by our street too

    fast. There are a lot of kids on our street, too. It scares me that kids are not being taught by their

    parents that your car is a very dangerous weapon and it is very big responsibility drivning a car.

    Not to be taken lightly. my Mom always told me to keep both hands on the wheel and to drive

    defensively because you never know what the other driver is going to do. I didn’t sink in for a

    while, knocking down Mr. Smith’s mailbox. When it finally did, that advice has paid off for me a

    number of times, having avoided numerous accidents in 40 years

    I’ve been driving. Having knocked down Mr. Smith’s mailbox and fortunately avoiding injury by the

    Grace of God, taught me that what my Mom and Dad taught me years ago is still pretty good

    advice today for our kids- obey the speed limit, especially in neighborhoods, drive defensively

    because you never know what other fellow is going to do and your car is a dangerous weapon.

  3. Yes out society does “play for keeps”. They are keeping innocent folks safe. I have a son. He is no Angel, but I must say he has never taken anything that didn’t belong to him or would even think of hurting someone. As for their fun……one must ask themselves if this were my vehicle how would I feel? I do not believe that our values have changed all that dramatically. YES it is the parents responsibility to instruct their children, but up to a point. These children “boys” do know the difference from right and wrong. What is acceptable and what is not. Should be hold the parents liable? To some point but they are of age “to know better”. Children lean right from wrong early in life. They KNOW ! ! ! They may not always use the perfect judgement, but they know.

    So if one chooses to do a foul deed, one must pay for his choice. The “long arm of the law” needs to take hold of these young folks and show them the way. If they cannot make the proper decisions in life then someone must show them the way.

    We are all so caught up in doing the politically correct thing. I say NO MORE! Let the parents be parents to their children. If the children choose poorly then it will only be them that should pay. That is what you teach your children. Life has rules and you must play by the rules. We have rules in games so why does not apply to Life’s Rules. If making examples of some bad situations doesn’t give these kids a wake up call then what will it take? I don’t know all the answers but we have got to stop putting up with this sort of behavior. It is dangerous. Our society will not succeed in a world where there are no rules to follow. It will only crumble is its own decay. A society of uncaring, unwilling, unacceptable individuals with bad behavior is sending a message out to the world that we are not as strong a nation as we pretend to be? I think not. I do not blame television, nor do I believe video games caused this. What caused this is lack of direction and supervision. So if the parents cannot get through then leave that up to the ones who can show them the light. If you play the game you must play by the rules. That my friend is life…..get used to it ! ! ! ! ! !

  4. It’s funny that your segment covers this topic b/c just this past weekend, my husband (Joseph) did the same thing you did with a couple of guys speeding down my in-laws one way street. Joseph was outside mowing his father’s lawn since his father just had pace-maker surgery and was advised to stay away from hard labor for a couple of weeks.

    Unfortunately, Joseph did not use the pause available between the stimulus and response and decided to try to slow down the young boys by placing the lawn mower in the middle of the road in order to slow them down and speak to them about the speed limit and the amount of small children that play within that area. The young men both stepped out and began to beat Joseph up. One of them ended up kicking Joseph in the eye. My father in law had just stepped outside to see his son being beat by two young men tried to intervene and they ended pushing him down thus opening the wound. Praise God there is no permanent damage to speak of, but I agree with your wife, we live in a terribly unprincipled society and they won’t blink twice at the thought of beating or even killing you. I also agree with you, do we simply continue to allow this reckless mind set take over?

    As I sat in the emergency room with my husband, all I could do is pray for these young men. For Salvation and for some sort of conviction to fall upon them regarding their behavior. My husband has been convicted regarding his behavior. He wishes he could take that one step back where perhaps he could have done something different that would have not affected his or his father’s well being.

    I’m printing your segment out for Joseph. He’ll never believe it if I just tell him.

    Thanks for your ministry.

  5. Dr. McKeever:

    It seems like we have more in common than I realized. Neither of us are original New Orleanians, both of us served churches in Kenner & both of us had our cars stolen not long after arriving there! Our story has an interesting twist to it that I’d like to share with you.

    We were living on Chateau Blvd (close to the race track) & our only car was stolen only 2 months after moving to the city in Oct 1989. As it happens, my father-in-law had just rebuilt the engine before we moved from north LA & the comforts of having all our families close by. I had accepted the youth pastor’s position at First A/G (later the name would be changed to Christian Life Center) on Roosevelt Blvd. It was late Dec ’89 & we were planning our first Christmas in New Orleans. We walked out of our townhome to discover that someone had helped themselves to our ’81 Delta 88 Royale! The police did find it a few days later but it had been stripped of the stereo, our baby’s car seat, a tape case full of Christian tapes & driven into one of the canals. It was a total loss. We were young, we had 2 small children, we only had 1 car, I was a youth pastor & my wife wasn’t working. Can I just admit that money wasn’t something that we had a lot of in those days?! But, God was faithful & we bought a brand new 1990 Dodge Spirit that we would keep until I would give it to our middle school pastor in 2000.

    Now here’s the interesting twist. A couple of years later, a young man attended our youth ministry & accepted Christ as his personal Lord & Savior. He was both physically & verbally unacquainted with the whole church scene & Christianity. Over a period of time, Daniel shared with me just how hard his young 16 yr old life had been – little family life, no spiritual life & turning to a local Kenner gang for some resemblance of acceptance. I’ll never forget, on one occasion, how he told me that he used to steal cars & strip them for fast cash. I asked him, “Do you ever remember stealing a gold ’81 Delta 88 Royale from Chateau Blvd?” His response was simply, “I’d rather not talk about it!”

    In God’s sovereignty & humor, it seems that He allowed me to lead the very young man, who had stolen my car, to the saving knowledge of His Son! What a picture of redemption & restoration! I wonder if Daniel listened to some of those Christian tapes that were in my car that night? Admittedly, however, I still wish that my car had never been stolen!

  6. We had a funeral in Kenner this week. Here’s what happened. A few evenings ago, in a community close to New Orleans, two or three families had gathered for a cookout. The men were standing around in the front yard when a car sped down the quiet neighborhood street. Now, apparently, I am not the only one around here who gets enraged by these neighborhood speeders. So the men stepped toward the street and yelled at the fellows in the car. When they didn’t stop, one of the men threw a beer at the car. It broke the back windshield, and the car went on. An hour or so later, the car was back. This time, one of the men got out and confronted the homeowner, who is not the man who threw the beer. As they argued, the guy from the car pulled out a pistol and shot him dead on the spot. Police arrested all four of the guys in the car, all of them 19 and 20 years old. And a family had a burial service for a young husband and father. And a whole city grieves. In today’s paper, a followup article reports that the wife of the guy who threw the beer defends him and says, “It wasn’t his fault.”

    Fixing fault is not my purpose here. Maybe just saying, “Let’s be real careful,” is all I can come up with right now. There are times when it’s best just to take their tag number and call it in to the cops and stay out of it personally.

    Joe McKeever

  7. New Orleans is a ‘nuther kind of town.

    Back 30 years ago, my cousin’s husband was sales manager at an auto dealer in new Orleans. One benefit was that he and his wife could drive agency “demo” cars for their personal use. One morning my cousin saw her car flying out of their driveway in broad daylight. It could not be located by the police.

    A year later the car was found parked outside the agency showroom, washed and waxed, full tank of gas, and four new tires.