Tingle’s mother defends his innocence
Mary Brown, the mother of Matthew Tingle, is adamant that her son did not make threats to harm anyone at Tuscola High School.
But that is what Haywood County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested the 16-year-old freshman for on April 18 at his Clyde home. Tingle was charged with a Class I felony for making a false report of mass violence on educational property.
“He’s a good kid with a good heart,” Brown said. “People are misjudging him like he’s a bad kid – but he’s not.”
Tingle allegedly told classmates he planned to commemorate the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings on April 19 at Tuscola. Students reportedly told their parents who in turn reported the threats to school administration.
Brown said the students who reported Tingle were supposed to be his friends, “But they turned their backs on him.” She speculates that her son was discussing the Columbine shooters with his school friends who were talking about conducting their own act of violence as a group.
If her son is guilty of anything, she said he was guilty of being a follower.
“He wants so bad for someone to be his friend and to fit in, he can be easily persuaded,” she said.
Brown said her son has had a hard life. He was developmentally delayed at birth and had three major skull operations since birth. Tingle also has suffered from a type of epilepsy that resulted in complex partial seizures. The condition is now under control with medication, she added.
Tingle attended Eliada Home in Asheville, a treatment home for high-risk children, in 2010. Brown said Matthew had been doing great since that experience. However, she said the problems arose when he began attending Tuscola, and he started coming home complaining about being singled out and bullied.
Brown said she and her son’s therapist had complained to teachers, counselors and administrators about the bullying.
“They’d say they’d handle it, but nothing was ever done,” Brown said.
Associate Superintendent Bill Nolte said Tingle's family had complained about bullying, but didn't give specific instances. Specific information is needed about the bullying occurrence for administrators to investigate.
"When we receive specific complaints, we follow up and investigate it and make the appropriate response," Nolte said. By law, the school is not allowed to release any disciplinary information about students.
Series of events
Deputies came to the Tingle's Clyde home on the evening of April 17 to tell the THS student he couldn’t return to school until the investigation was complete. Brown said her son got upset after the officers left and walked out of the house.
She was worried about him and called the deputies to go search for him. After 45 minutes, the deputies came back empty handed and told Brown she should fill out involuntary committal papers for Tingle. Now she knows it was just an option, but at the time she said she felt like deputies didn’t give her a choice.
Tingle was found about the same time Brown was filling out the committal papers at the magistrate’s office, and he was taken to the emergency room. Brown said she was with him all night while he was drug tested and evaluated by a doctor and psychologist.
All drug tests came back clean, and the psychologist told Brown he didn’t appear to be a threat to himself or others. He was released early the next morning into his mother’s custody.
What they found
Deputies served a search warrant at Tingle’s home on April 18 because they believed there was probable cause that evidence of the offense could be found at the residence. Deputies seized an inactive grenade, a mask, trench coat, several ball bearings, syringes and “miscellaneous writings.”
Brown said the information in the search warrant didn’t tell the complete story about her son’s prior problems at school. She said he did get in trouble at school — but it mostly stemmed from defending others from getting bullied. However, she said he did receive five days out of school suspension for drawing a picture of a gun and knife during class and also for writing about the Columbine shooters.
Brown said the writing assignment was to explain whom they admired and a teacher grabbed Tingle’s paper off his desk when he started to write about the Columbine shooters. She said her son told her many times that he didn’t condone what the shooters did, but he could understand why the constant bullying made them so angry.
The search warrant also stated Tingle regularly wore a black trench coat to school, which is what the Columbine shooters wore. But Brown said he dressed that way because he thought it would scare people away.
“He wasn’t trying to mock anyone — he wore it because of the bullying to try to put up a shield,” she said.
Brown said her son got the grenade at a military surplus store more than a year ago and got the mask from a friend who attended an Insane Clown Posse concert where the band members throw out their masks during the performance. The ball bearings were something Tingle and his two older brothers were playing around with, seeing how far they could shoot them with a homemade sling shot behind their home.
“I understand that if something is reported they have to notify authorities,” she said. “But they’re treating him like he’s already been tried and found guilty.”
Hoping for good outcome
Tingle is still in custody under a $10,000 bond and being held at a juvenile facility outside Haywood County until his May 1 arraignment. Brown said detectives told her he would probably be taken to a mental health facility to be evaluated. However, her son’s lawyer told her he was not in a hospital environment at all.
Brown was able to speak to him on the phone Tuesday, April 23. He told his mother again that he didn’t do what he was being accused of and that if he gets out, he didn’t want to return to Tuscola. He told her he would consider graduating from the Alternative Learning Center.
Though Tingle was in special needs classes and below grade level on most subjects, Brown said he was an ‘A/B’ student who really cared about getting an education.
Brown said the school decided to expel Tingle for the rest of the school year, but would consider letting him finish his education in the future, whether he is at home or incarcerated.
She said what has happened to her son may be an overreaction to the recent incidents in Boston and Sandy Hook Elementary.
“I understand they have to make sure students are safe, but I can’t understand how they can just take three or four teenagers’ word for it,” she said.
In the end, Brown hopes her son’s name is cleared. Her other hope is that the school will take bullying more seriously in the future so another incident like this is less likely to occur.