What Happened to Johnnie Jordan?

What Happened to Johnnie Jordan?

The Story of a Child Turning Violent

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On an icy night five years ago, Johnnie Jordan -- just fourteen years old -- brutally murdered his elderly foster care mother, leaving the state of Ohio shocked and outraged. He could not tell police why he did it or even how it made him feel; all he knew was that something inside him made him kill. At the time, few people predicted the swift emergence of a class of young so-called "super-predators" -- criminals like Johnnie who injure and kill without conscience, personified to the nation by the Littleton, Colorado, tragedy in 1999.

In What Happened to Johnnie Jordan? acclaimed journalist Jennifer Toth, author of The Mole People and Orphans of the Living, once again takes a look at the people in our society whom we so often discard and altogether ignore. As Toth investigates Johnnie's crime and life, she unravels the mysteries of a child murderer unable to identify his emotions even after they converge in acts of fury and rage. In the course of her research, Johnnie grows dangerously into a young man who "will probably kill again," he says, "though I don't want to." Yet he also demonstrates great kindness and caring when treated as more than just a case number, when treated as a human. Through Johnnie's harrowing story, Toth examines how some children manage to overcome tragic beginnings, while others turn their pain, anger, and loss on innocents.

More than a beautifully written narrative of youth gone wrong, this is the story of a child welfare system so corrupted by bureaucracy and overwhelmed with cases that many children entrusted to its care receive none at all. It is also the story of a Midwestern town struggling with blame and anger, unable to reconcile the damage done by so young an offender. From Johnnie's early years on the streets to his controversial trial and ultimate conviction, What Happened to Johnnie Jordan? is a seminal work on youth violence and how we as a society can work to curtail it. Ultimately, Toth ponders one of the most difficult and important questions on youth violence: If we can't control the way children are raised, how can we prevent them from destroying other lives as well?
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  • Free Press | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416576679 | 
  • September 2007
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Chapter 1

The glory of the winter's setting sun flashed red and pink across northwestern Ohio's frozen horizon as Charles Johnson drove his tired green Chevrolet home from Sears with a space heater he hoped would save him from his wife's icy feet in bed. The two-lane rural highway was almost empty, but Mr. Johnson kept to the thirty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit. At seventy years of age, with the remains of his hair grey and the memory of thousands of wide, proud smiles recorded in deep creases in his weathered red-brown skin, life was no race to Mr. Johnson. But this evening, he was hurried. He knew his wife was anxious for him to get... see more

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