In a humane world, John Odgren would have been institutionalized in a long-term psychiatric facility three years ago. The focus could then have turned toward how best to help the family of James Alenson, whom Odgren killed in a bathroom at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.
Instead, Odgren, who was 16 at the time (Alenson was 15), is headed off to prison after having been convicted of first-degree murder. By most accounts, Odgren was a bullying victim who has Asperger’s syndrome and a variety of mental illnesses. Alenson was not among Odgren’s tormenters, which only compounds the tragedy.
Earlier this month, Odgren’s father, Paul, testified about the bullying to which his son had been subjected for years. The Boston Globe published a heartbreaking account [link now fixed], with the elder Odgren claiming that John had talked about committing suicide when he was only 9 years old.
My Northeastern colleague James Alan Fox, the noted criminologist, has a must-read commentary today in his Crime & Punishment blog for Boston.com. Fox writes:
Frankly, the thought of John Odgren, a boy who was bullied and ostracized repeatedly in high school, spending the remainder of his years in a prison setting is absolutely chilling. His well-documented fears and paranoid view of his world will undoubtedly become acute once he lives amongst a population of hardened criminals….
Life without parole makes sense for 25-year-old cold-blooded killers, but not for someone as immature and emotionally disturbed as John Odgren.
Finally, if folks at the Boston Herald have one shred of decency, they will delete the comments on their Odgren story as soon as someone inside the building reads this post. You can find the link on your own.