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Pastor says parents had no warning signs that teen planned shooting at Jackson Middle School

Posted at 5:36 PM, Mar 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-02 18:30:41-05

Pastor Michael Murphy remembers Keith Simons as a kind, fun-loving boy who liked to give out high five's and fist bumps but also turned closer to his faith last year when he decided to be baptized.

"We went through scriptures. We talked about it and he accepted the Lord," Murphy said.

The pastor of New Harmony Worship Center called it "mind-boggling" that the same boy had an eight-step plan of attack to shoot up Jackson Middle School.

Murphy insisted his parents had no warning signs that the seventh grader was plotting to hurt others.

"What made him change from this sweet kid that we knew to this?"

Police: Boy who committed suicide in school bathroom planned school shooting

It's a chilling question that no one has been able to answer since Feb. 20 when the 13-year-old boy hid a rifle under his clothing, boarded a bus and brought the weapon into the school, along with dozens of rounds.

At the start of the school day, Simons walked out of a restroom with the gun, but then retreated and shot himself in the head. His death was ruled a suicide.

"I think it's a blessing that the Lord didn't allow a tragedy in scope that would have been far beyond just him losing his life," Murphy said. "We just feel, at that moment, he just decided, 'I can't do this.'"

According to Jackson Township Police Chief Mark Brink, disturbing documentation related to conducting a school shooting was found on Simon's cell phone, including "an admiration" for the Columbine shooters.

Brink said Simons created memos between February 14 through February 20 that mentioned "leaving a lasting impression on the world" and "I'm going to die doing it."

Part of one entry reads, "...this will be bigger than anything this country's ever seen...I've been planning this for a few weeks and thought about it for months, I will never be forgotten. I'll be a stain in American history and the Simons history..."

Murphy said the writings were shocking to the teen's family who had never heard him mention such disturbing sentiments.

"This whole thing is not who we knew him to be," Murphy said.

Murphy said Simon's parents are separated, but both saw him before school on February 20 and didn't notice anything unusual.

"Both the father and mother saw him that morning, hugged him, said, 'Hey, I love you,' and shortly after that, he went to school," Murphy told News 5.

Brink said Simons had 80 rounds with him either in magazines or his backpack. The gun came from the mother's home, but ownership of the gun hasn't been determined.

Murphy was told by the boy's father, who is an Army reservist, that the rifle had a barrel lock on it, but the key has been missing for a year.

"They do not know how in the world that he was able to remove the lock from the gun," Murphy said.

Murphy said the parents are heartbroken and searching for answers. They've received a lot of support from the community, but have also been subjected to "hateful comments" on social media.

"This is not a time to assign blame. This is a time to show love, mercy and pray for this family and pray for this community."

However, Chief Brink said part of the on-going investigation involves determining how Simons had access to the gun to determine if any charges should be filed.

Murphy said he was with the family when they decided to donate Simon's organs, which were given to five people, including children.

Murphy is preparing for the teen's funeral on Saturday, knowing that finding the right words for the eulogy will be difficult in this situation.

"How do we make sense out of this? We don't make sense out of this. We make purpose out of this," Murphy said. "Something is wrong with our society that our kids are losing hope."

Some family members have told Murphy that Simons may have been bullied on the bus and at school which could have caused emotional turmoil.

Jackson Local Schools Superintendent Chris DiLoreto said the district has looked into that since the shooting.

"We've found no formal or informal complaints regarding the student being bullied. We've had no disciplinary issues with the student, no violations of our student code of conduct," DiLoreto said.

Murphy hopes the community will come together because of the tragedy, while the boy's family continues to wonder why Simons hatched such a frightening plan before taking his own life.

"That's something we've been trying to figure out. Was it something that we missed? Was there something we didn't see?"