EDITORIAL: Naperville teen deserved better from his school and police
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Corey Walgren should have had his mother or father at his side on the day his high school dean and a police officer questioned him about a possible sex video on his phone.
He needed an adult on his side. Somebody who would protect his rights, be his advocate and look out for his emotional well-being.
That did not happen, not when it counted. And now Corey is dead. Just 16 years old, he committed suicide.
On Wednesday, it was reported that the Naperville Police had completed an internal investigation that cleared the police officer assigned to the school, Brett Heun, of any wrongdoing. Officials at Naperville District 203 also say their staff followed the rules.
But we cannot imagine that any parent would readily agree. Not if it were their kid who was questioned by authorities on such a serious matter before they even were called.
For those first 18 minutes, according to the Chicago Tribune, Corey was forced to face questions alone from Heun and Dean Stephen Madden. Only then did they call his parents.
A little later that day, a few minutes after the officer and the dean took Corey to an office waiting area at the school to wait for his mother, he walked out of the school and to a nearby parking garage. He jumped from the fifth floor.
Lawyers will argue about the school and police officer’s legal liability. But as a matter of common sense, this is not complicated. Before interrogating a minor child about such a possible crime, the school and officer should have waited at least until a parent was contacted. The officer and the dean eventually called Corey’s mother and spoke to her via speakerphone with her son present. That call should have been set up before they said a word to Corey.
We also question the veracity of the police department’s “internal investigation.” Investigators didn’t bother to interview Corey’s mother, Maureen. Their failure to do so suggests the department’s investigation was not thorough or unbiased.
Corey’s parents allege in a lawsuit that the police and the school district acted unlawfully by not immediately making an effort to reach them before questioning their son. The police, for their part, point out that Corey was never in custody. As if that would matter to a frightened 16-year-old boy.
In that first meeting, the officer and the dean wanted to know if Corey had shown friends a video of a consensual sexual encounter he’d had with a classmate. According to records reviewed by the Tribune, Corey was cooperative and turned over a recording that the police described as “more of only audio.”
Maureen Walgren told the Trib that while on speakerphone with the officer, and with her son in the room, Heun said her son was being investigated for “child pornography” and could be placed on a sex offender registry. Incredibly scary stuff.
The police reportedly did not intend to charge Corey. They just wanted him to understand the seriousness of his actions.
“I think they wanted to scare him straight,” Maureen Walgren told the Tribune. “Instead, they scared him to death.”
Nobody will ever know if a phone call could have made a difference.
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