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Byers' Beat: A lesson about character

St. Louis high school students saw something criminal and they did not hesitate to act
Credit: SLMPD
St. Louis Police celebrate with students

ST. LOUIS — Jonathan Griffin says he tries to teach about character to the kids at Carnahan High School of the Future.

One afternoon, the second-year principal said he realized the students just might be hearing him.

It’s a story that I didn’t want to be lost amid the coronavirus crisis. My plan was to interview the kids after spring break. 

So much for that.

I did the best I could, interviewing Griffin and gathering court documents and a police summary.

It began at about 12:30 p.m. Jan. 29. The sun was finally peeking out from behind some winter clouds and shining on the school in Dutchtown – one of the city’s highest crime neighborhoods.

The students in Dominick Martin’s Spanish class raised the shades to let in some of the rays.

When they did, three men climbing in and out of a nearby apartment window caught their eye.

Out they carried a 65-inch TV. A Playstation, with the remotes. A blue backpack. A battery jump box.

Martin’s back was to the windows.

The kids had a choice. Look the other way. Or, take action.

They chose the latter.

They told Martin.

The teacher snapped a picture of the burglar’s car. And the principal told him to call police.

Officers soon found the car in Martin’s picture and followed it to a pawn shop. There, they found the men trying to pawn a jump box they had stolen from the victim. They found other stolen items from the same victim inside the car. And one of the men, who was seen in the teacher’s picture, was wearing the same clothing when police arrested him.

It was enough for police to make a case on at least one of the three men: Maurice Owens.

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Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Officer charged him with burglary and stealing. A spokeswoman for Gardner did not say what happened to the other two men.

Owens is a 39-year-old with two drug-related convictions. On March 12, police say Owens was involved in shooting. He’s now being held without bail.

Griffin is only two years younger than Owens.

Griffin said he was struck by how determined the kids were to make sure Owens and the others paid for their crime.

“I was amazed about how they were comfortable with sharing that information with the police,” he said. “They were like, ‘We can’t believe it. We witnessed this, and we are going to make sure we get the bad guy.’”

A group of Third District officers and Capt. Ryan Cousins returned to the school about a month after the crime, armed with donated Domino’s pizza and, a St. Louis staple, Ted Drewes frozen custard, to show their appreciation to the kids who helped them build their case.

Cousins presented a Captain’s Letter Award for a “job well done” to the 25 students in Martin’s Spanish class.

“These students were able to think quick by gathering all the important information and notifying their teacher who contacted police,” according to the district’s Facebook post. “Officers were able to arrest all suspects involved.”

And because of them, the victim got all of her belongings back.

Because of them, a young principal feels inspired.

“They saw the stuff they were taking and they felt moved to report it, and that’s good because sometimes you’re looked upon a certain way if you want to tell on a bad guy,” he said. “I was really excited.

“They showed great character.”

Watch for Christine Byers' column every Friday. She will go beyond the headlines of the week's top stories.

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