Easy-going with a shy smile, James Alenson was a good student with a dry sense of humor who got along well with peers, recalled former classmates and his former speech team coach at Wilson Middle School in Natick.
“I cannot imagine him getting into a confrontation with anybody,” said Deanie Goodman, who coached the boy for two years on Wilson Middle’s speech team. “He was a really sweet kid, somewhat shy, a little bit quiet, and really easy-going. I could not believe this would happen to a kid like that.”
Alenson was not a master orator and had joined the speech team at his parents’ urging. But he was a good sport about going to weekly practices after school and cheered his younger sister, a team member and a great speaker, Goodman said.
Former classmates said that Alenson, tall and lanky with sandy blond hair and blue eyes, kept to himself and never caused trouble. But he would not allow classmates to pick on him, often retorting back when teased, students said. They do not recall him getting into physical fights.
“When people would make fun of him, he wouldn’t let it go,” said Cassie Kosky, 15, a freshman at Natick High School who had gone to school with Alenson before he moved. “He wouldn’t flip out, but would come up with a remark.”
Former Natick classmates said Alenson was typically an A student at the middle school. Antone Wilson, 15 and a Natick High freshman, said that whenever he would ask Alenson for the answers to a test, Alenson would say no.
Wilson emphasized that while quiet, Alenson was no pushover.
“He wouldn’t let people bully him around,” Wilson said.
Jeff Scannell, 15, has known Alenson since the boys were about 9 years old and they attended the same speech therapy class. In eighth grade last year, they were in the same math and English honors classes. Alenson liked to spend his time reading and writing and rarely interrupted class, Scannell said.
“He was a nice kid to be around,” said Scannell, a Natick High freshman. “He wouldn’t say one bad thing about another student. He was easy to talk to.”
Lynn Rome, whose son attended the eighth grade with Alenson, said her son and his friend described Alenson as an “extremely bright, studious, and very friendly boy.”
Samantha Abrams, 18, a senior from Sudbury said she was a “peer connector” for freshmen, including Alenson. “He was really quiet and shy,” Abrams said. “He was just an innocent little kid and he didn’t deserve anything like this.”
The parents of slain “sweet, funny, kind” student James Alenson broke their silence yesterday saying that they are devastated by the loss of their 15-year-old boy, who was stabbed to death at his suburban school.
“He was always embarrassed by the adjectives we had to use to describe him; sweet, funny, kind, considerate, gentle. An innocent. Always the first to offer help, incapable of telling a lie, he was a genuinely good person in a world that under appreciates how much joy that brings to the people around them,â€ the statement said.
Alenson worked part time for a community organic farm in Natick and spent his summers at a camp in New Hampshire, where he was hoping to become a counselor, according to the family.
Alenson’s family, including his two siblings, moved from Natick to Sudbury last year so Alenson could be in a safer and better school, family members have said. Lincoln-Sudbury classmates said he hadn’t made many close friends yet, but he was universally described as a sweet and quiet straight-A student.
Those of you who are trying to make James Alenson out to be some kind of aggressor or tormentor, in this case, should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that James Alenson was not a good kid. One of the things about this website is that if I defend or berate someone on this site I usually hear from their friends or family within a few days telling me how wrong I am. I have yet to hear from anyone that knew James Alenson to tell me otherwise.
On the other hand…
In seventh grade, John Odgren had several explosive episodes, was verbally abusive, and at times became physically aggressive, his parents, specialists, and teachers said, according to a state hearing report.
His parents had argued to the state agency that their son needed better services than he had received from the Wachusett Regional School District, which had placed him in an alternative school in Fitchburg. At that school, he was so miserable he came home and “often spent evenings wrapped in a blanket, crying,” one of his parents testified.
The state agreed that the placement was not appropriate and ordered Wachusett to pay for Odgren’s attendance at a smaller program in Belmont that his parents had found.
The report, giving an overall description, said that Odgren became aggressive at times when confused or ordered to do work, but did not offer details other than to say he was suspended three times for physical aggression within a two-month period at Caldwell Alternative School in Fitchburg. His parents, at the same time, were expressing concern for his physical and emotional safety at Caldwell, whose principal declined to comment.
The report made one mention of him having “explosive episodes” in fall 2002 in Wachusett’s special education program, but did not detail those. Wachusett school officials declined to comment about Odgren, citing student confidentiality.
Odgren, according to the state report, was diagnosed with depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in 2000 and later placed in a special education program at a Wachusett elementary school. In 2002, in the sixth grade, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. His parents complained that he needed training in social skills, according to the state report, but never received it.
Shortly after beginning seventh grade in a Wachusett school, his performance deteriorated, according to the report, and the school system placed him at Caldwell Alternative School in Fitchburg for students in grades 7 to 12. The school serves students with emotional and behavioral problems and learning disabilities.
But he floundered at Caldwell, where the other students “teased, used foul and aggressive language, and were rude and disrespectful to each other and to the teacher,” according to the report. Odgren’s behavior grew more troubling, resulting in the suspensions and his failing three subjects.
In March 2003, his parents took him out of Caldwell and placed him at Pathways Academy in a special education program at McLean Hospital in Belmont for students ages 12 and 13. There, his behavior dramatically improved, the report stated.
Odgren told his parents the program was “like heaven.” His father testified that after about six weeks at Pathways, Odgren “demonstrated spontaneous empathy for the first time.”
It is unknown whether Odgren went directly from Pathways to Lincoln-Sudbury and whether school officials were made aware of the state report that described a history of physical aggression. Beginning this school year, he was a sophomore at Lincoln-Sudbury enrolled in Great Opportunities, a program for students with significant emotional and/or psychiatric disabilities. Lincoln-Sudbury officials have said they had no knowledge of any violent behavior involving Odgren.
According to the state’s report, Odgren needed to be in an educational environment where he would not be threatened and would “be free from peers who tease, bully, or have behaviorally based disorders.”
In the days after the stabbing, Lincoln-Sudbury students told reporters that Odgren had been teased by schoolmates for wearing a trench coat in the halls like the killers in Columbine High School. Police have not said why Odgren allegedly stabbed Alenson, who was described as shy and sweet, in a boy’s bathroom.
Odgren’s mother , Dorothy, a nurse at a Worcester clinic, is a fierce advocate for her son, said Kathryn Mattison, a Princeton child and family therapist. Dorothy Odgren is a fixture at area conferences on Asperger’s, she said, adding that she met Dorothy Odgren when she was a school nurse at Princeton’s Thomas Prince Elementary School, which Mattison’s children attended.
He was known to have “explosive episodes” yet his parents allowed him to have an extensive knife collection? What the hell were they thinking? And why should it be the state’s responsibility to make sure that he gets training in social skills? If they were so worried about him being in a school where the students teased, used foul and aggressive language, and were rude and disrespectful to each other and to the teacher then they could have homeschooled him because as far as I’m concerned that sounds like every school in the world. If your child has a learning disability it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure he gets help. Not the state’s and not the schools’ but the parents’. And for those of you who either have or know someone with Asperger’s and are saying “oh poor John Odgren”, stop using your disability as a crutch. Stop acting like a damn victim. So God dealt you a bad hand. Suck it up. There are a lot of people worse off than you and there are a lot more people who don’t constantly whine about having Asperger’s. John Odgren is a danger to society pure and simple and needs to be put away for a long time. Don’t like what I have to say? No one is making you stay here.