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Student files suit when essay gets him sent to psych ward
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune


February 06, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS - David Riehm's high school creative writing essay takes the reader along through "a dream within a dream" in which the narrator kills his creative writing teacher. The blood splattering on the narrator's face is followed with his last thoughts before turning the gun on himself.

"Well, I guess it was all worth it. It was all totally worth it," the essay states.

The essay prompted Cook County officials to have Riehm committed to a hospital psychiatric unit for evaluation, and that reaction is now the subject of a federal lawsuit.




David Riehm and his mother, Colleen Riehm, are seeking more than $440,000 in damages for the 2005 incident in which he was "stigmatized, terrorized, and traumatized."

Cook County School Superintendent Chuck Futterer declined to comment on the suit, but he said all possible threats are dealt with in the manner deemed appropriate.

"Anytime we believe that a student threatens themselves or others, we take it seriously," he said.

Despite the graphic nature of the story, Riehm's attorney, Peter Nickitas, said this is a case of a student taken into custody for something he wrote and not what he did.

"He is a good kid who found an outlet in class," he said. Riehm and his mother forwarded interview requests to Nickitas.

According to the suit filed last month in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, David Riehm submitted an essay that described a student who is upset with his creative writing teacher's criticism of his essays. In the essay, the student shoots the teacher and himself.

The essay was submitted in October 2004, and it took awhile for the teacher to read it, according to Nickitas. On Jan. 25, 2005, Riehm was suspended from school, and Cook County social worker Steven Diercks prepared a petition for Riehm's commitment to an adolescent mental health unit in Duluth. The petition allows a juvenile to be removed involuntarily from the home. An examination Jan. 27, 2005, by a physician concluded that he wasn't mentally ill or dangerous, and a court order released him from custody the next day.

The petition said the high school creative writing instructor, Ann Mershon, feared that the instructor described in the essay represented her.

According to the petition, Mershon had warned Riehm that she did not approve of a previous essay's "obsessive focus on sex and potty language." After that, Riehm wrote essays for the class describing a character who was angry with being censored in his writing. The final essay describes the shooting of a fictional creative writing teacher:

"I winced at the shot, but she winced more as the bullet replaced her left eye. In an instant a red mist was produced from the wound, followed by a steady flow of blood, tissue, and bone fragments. I felt the warm mist speckle onto my face. The splatter distance was incredible."

Minnesota schools have to take incidents such as this seriously, said Charlie Kyte, the executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. State law requires teachers to report anything perceived as a threat, he said.

"A fair number of suicide threats that students make are discovered in writing for classes," he said.


Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service,

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