A 15-year-old boy spent years wandering through school hallways
and a bureaucratic system that ultimately couldn't keep track of
him. Now he's in juvenile custody, accused of murdering Christine
Smetzer in a restroom at McCluer North High School.
Smetzer, a 15-year-old freshman, was found badly beaten in a
restroom stall just after the school dismissal bell last Tuesday.
She died on the way to a hospital. She will be buried Monday.
School officials classified the suspect as having a behavior
disorder, a disability that qualified him to receive services from
the Special School District of St. Louis County. Children with such
problems cannot control their behavior because their brains seem to
"short circuit" in a way not fully understood.
Officials from the Special School District, which serves 22,200
disabled students, refused to discuss the student or his record.
G. Robert Fritz, superintendent of Ferguson-Florissant School
District, which operates McCluer North, said the suspect had been
receiving Special District services since he was placed in a
special class in seventh grade two school years ago in Ferguson
Officials in neither district will talk further. They cite
federal and state laws governing student privacy, juvenile
offenders and the education of disabled students.
Even so, people who know the suspect and the schools he
attended say he was known to skip classes and, on at least one
previous occasion, wander into a girls' restroom.
The suspect has been a student in the three levels of classes
offered by the Special School District - in a separate building, in
a separate classroom in a regular building and in a regular
classroom with support services.
At one point, the boy attended a school run by the Special
School District that serves only disabled students. This is the
most supervised, controlled environment for behavior-disordered
Then he transferred to Ferguson Middle to a separate classroom
taught by a Special School District teacher. There, he had a little
more freedom and mixed with regular students at lunch and in some
Sources say the suspect got into trouble for wandering the
halls and skipping school. Educators who evaluated him did not cite
unusually aggressive behavior.
The boy improved at Ferguson Middle. The school was honored
last fall by a national organization for its programs that
encourage students to solve problems without violence.
By eighth grade, the suspect was spending more than half his
day in regular classes there. He got special tutoring alone or in
small groups from a Special School District teacher. He graduated
from eighth grade last spring with a regular certificate.
But when he started at McCluer High School last fall in regular
classes, the teen couldn't handle the freedom, even with help from
a Special School District teacher, sources say.
By October, the suspect was caught in a girls' restroom at the
high school and suspended. Ferguson-Florissant officials asked the
Special School District to re-evaluate him.
In late fall, Special School District staff members recommended
that the suspect be transferred to a separate classroom at McCluer
North that was supposed to give him more supervision and structure.
They decided to wait until the beginning of the next semester.
Before year's end, the suspect was suspended again, this time
for stealing. Over the Christmas vacation juvenile authorities
detained him for allegedly breaking into a house, neighbors say. …