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Pearl, Mississippi — Mayberry, North Carolina, never really existed except on television. Its biggest crime problem was Otis, the genteel town drunk — nothing the sheriff, Andy Taylor, couldn't solve armed only with a little smooth Southern talk and folksy wisdom.
Growing up in Mississippi, Tobe Ivy watched The Andy Griffith Show and dreamed. Dreamed of growing up to be another Sheriff Taylor, the lawman portrayed by Griffith as a gentle small-town boy turned keeper of the flame of old-fashioned virtue and values.
In his walk, talk, and kindly ways, Griffith reminded Tobe of his own father. Griffith's character was humorous. But he was also a hero to be emulated.
Today, Tobe Ivy is a police lieutenant in Pearl. He's one of two juvenile police officers here. His beat is kids. His heart aches. "And it will forever," he says gruffly.
It's been just under two months since this small Bible-Belt town was rocked by three murders — allegedly the work of teens in a satanic cult.
On October 1, Tobe Ivy got the call. Shooting at the high school. He burst into the school's "common room" to find a scene of carnage. The dead and the wounded, the bleeding and the panicked everywhere.
How and why it happened, in Pearl of all places, haunts him.
"I've long thought of our little town as a kind of 1990s version of Mayberry," he says. But Sheriff Taylor never had to deal with anything like this.
In Pearl's combined city hall and cop shop, Tobe Ivy and his colleagues believe they've solved the case. Mayor Jimmy Foster, a former police chief; Pearl's present police chief, BillSlade; Ivy's partner, Lieutenant William "Butch" Townsend, and others have worked the clock to break the case.
A big, quiet sixteen-year-old sophomore, Luke Woodham, did the shooting, they say. He stabbed his mother to death at home, then came to school and opened fire on his classmates with a 30-30 deer rifle. Two students, including Woodham's onetime girlfriend, were killed there. Seven other students, apparently targeted at random, were wounded.
Pearl police say they've found evidence Woodham didn't act alone. They say six other teenage boys were involved. Police say these boys saw themselves as good students and socially ostracized because they didn't play on sports teams or in the award-winning school band. So they allegedly conspired to get rid of their "enemies" and win respect.
They are accused of forming a secret club called "The Kroth," a name believed taken from satanic verses. One boy, "a self-proclaimed Satanist," according to prosecutors, cast himself as "the father" of the group, with Luke Woodham as a loyal follower.Whether any of all of this can be proved in court remains to be seen. It is a far cry from Mayberry.
Tobe doesn't look like Andy Griffith. For one thing, God didn't make him tall. He's short and stout, "just plain ol' fat, I'd call it." He shrugs. But he has Mayberry ways. His squad car is a pickup. He talks with a drawl as deep as the Delta. He moves slowly, languidly. And his small-town values are intact after this confrontation with tragedy.
"Whatever happens in the future," Tobe Ivy says, "our Pearl will never be the same. And let me tell you something: if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. Parents need to know that. They need to be aware, be alert, and love and hug their kids." He pauses and gets a faraway look in his eyes. "Just like folks in Mayberry did. The America of Andy Griffith may have been funny, people can ridicule it, but it had something we need to get back."