By Bob Wooten -- Top of the Morning
Being young and foolish is far too often a fatal combination.
Stories about teenage tragedy -- car crashes, drownings, fights -- have been crossing my desk for as long as I can remember. The gruesome details emerge from the police report, and the grief-stricken family and friends offer moving accounts about the victim's youth, vitality and potential.
Usually, I'm left wondering how the story could have ended differently. How could the deadly moment have been avoided?
The question thickens the air around the story of Brendon Barker's death.
Barker, a 16-year-old student at Strasburg High School, died at the hands of his girlfriend's father.
On Jan. 6, Jody Lynn Bradley, 48, found Barker with his daughter, Sarah Bradley, in the attic of the family's home on Wakemans Grove Road near Edinburg, leveled his .44 Magnum at nearly point-blank range and shot the boy in the head.
On Thursday, after 10 hours of deliberation over two days, a Shenandoah County Circuit Court jury found Bradley guilty of second-degree murder. Jurors recommended a sentence of nine years in prison for the murder, plus another three for a related firearms charge.
The testimony during Bradley's trial paints a classic portrait of teenage romance and rebellion and a father's growing frustration with the relationship. The kids were smoking pot together, and the boy was found in the house on one occasion more or less in the buff.
Bradley obtained a no-trespassing notice against Barker barring him from coming on the property, a notice both teens flouted on a frequent basis, even after Bradley vowed to shoot the boy if he found him at the house again.
The love-struck teens didn't take that threat seriously, and that was the first missed opportunity to head off this slaying. Either could have called time-out on the relationship. At minimum, they could have met away from the Bradley property.
Jody Bradley, the adult in this toxic mix, also missed an opportunity to head things off when he failed to act on the no-trespassing notice. When Bradley found Barker in the attic he could have called sheriff's deputies and filed charges, which would have sent the boy to jail rather than the morgue.
Instead, Bradley treated the no-trespassing notice like a hunting license.
These what-ifs will haunt the survivors for the rest of their lives.
Meanwhile, Jody Bradley stands a chance of walking out of prison 12 years from now, a relatively small price for a teenager's life. Wall Street scoundrel Bernie Madoff got 150 years in prison for crimes that involved money, not murder.
If life has become this cheap, parents all over Shenandoah County should be worried. Plenty of teenagers smoke dope. Plenty let their hormones race ahead of their judgment.
Being young and foolish calls for assertive parenting, and maybe even police intervention, but not a summary execution.
* Bob Wooten is the managing editor of the Daily. Contact him at 800-296-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org