A 16-year-old high school student who was shot five times and killed by a South Carolina school officer had a form of autism, news reports say.
Trevor Varinecz, who died within hours of being shot by school resource officer Marcus Rhodes, had pulled a knife and stabbed the officer, according to NewsChannel 5 in South Carolina. His mother told the TV station that Varinecz had suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning version of autism.
Horry County prosecutors say Officer Rhodes was justified in the shooting.
The incident took place on Friday morning at Carolina Forest High School in Conway, South Carolina, when Varinecz is said to have pulled a knife on Officer Rhodes and stabbed him several times. The officer responded by shooting Varinecz five times. Rhodes was hospitalized for his wounds, and released from hospital several hours after the incident. Varinecz died shortly after altercation.
According to an Associated Press report, the county coroner said one of the bullets struck Varinecz in the chest and killed him.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a condition marked by inappropriate social interactions, “awkward movements” or “odd mannerisms,” and a “lack of common sense.”
Though in this case both the officer and the deceased minor are white, the NAACP released a statement Saturday condemning a “deeply troubling trend of excessive use of force by school resource officers.”
“There are serious questions that must be aggressively investigated,” the NAACP said in its statement. “Was the officer trained in the techniques to work with individuals with autism, or mental illness? Did the officer use all available means to contain the situation without using deadly force? Should school resource officers be allowed to carry guns in schools?”
Deputy Solicitor Fran Humphries of the Horry County Solicitor’s Office told NewsChannel 5 that Rhodes was “justified in his deadly force,” and that a final determination on the case would be issued soon.
According to a profile of him in the Myrtle Beach Herald, Marcus Rhodes has been a school resources officer since 2000, and has been at Carolina Forest High since 2002.
“I have always been interested in helping children learn how to make good choices in life,” he said in that profile. “Teaching the dangers of drugs and alcohol to them was an ideal position for me. … We do a lot of mentoring students and help keeping them on the track to graduation. We are also on-site to make sure they have a safe school environment in which to learn.”
“There are many dedicated law enforcement officials who serve selflessly every day but may need better training on how to handle confrontations safely,” the NAACP stated. “The unfortunate incident in South Carolina underscores the urgency of implementing national standards on the use of force, training and monitoring practices so that law enforcement officers do not cause the unnecessary loss of life.”