Archive for Thursday, June 2, 2011

McLouth student Justin Johnston shot, killed on school trip to Costa Rica; classmates returning to Kansas

USD 342 Superintendent Steve Splichal releases information about MHS student Justin Johnston, who died early Thursday morning. He was the victim of an overnight shooting while in Costa Rica.

June 2, 2011, 10:32 a.m. Updated June 3, 2011, 12:48 a.m.


McLouth High School student Justin Johnston, 16, was shot and killed Thursday, June 2, 2011, while on a trip to Costa Rica with the school's Spanish Club.

McLouth High School student Justin Johnston, 16, was shot and killed Thursday, June 2, 2011, while on a trip to Costa Rica with the school's Spanish Club.

Lawrence junior high students leaving for Costa Rica

A group of Lawrence junior high students are scheduled to leave Friday on a trip to Costa Rica, school spokeswoman Julie Boyle said in a statement Thursday night. The trip is not affiliated with the Lawrence school district.

Justin Johnston had a knack for putting a grin on the face of anyone with whom he made contact.

“He was a real cool guy,” said Jeri Holwick, a friend and recent McLouth High graduate. “Even if I was having a bad day or one of my best days of my life, he found a way to make it just a little bit better.”

Many in McLouth were remembering the McLouth High School junior in that way Thursday and finding comfort in each others’ arms.

Johnston, 16, died early Thursday in Costa Rica, the victim of an overnight shooting. He was on a nine-day trip with 12 students and two school district sponsors for a MHS Spanish Club trip to the Central American country, school district Superintendent Steve Splichal said Thursday.

Splichal, who delivered a written statement outside McLouth High School late Thursday afternoon, said he did not have information about the incident because the investigation was ongoing.

The superintendent said students and staff would be returning before their originally planned return date of Tuesday. He did not specify when the students and sponsors would return.

Splichal said counselors were being made available for students and sponsors in Costa Rica, as well as students and school staff in McLouth.

Overflowing emotion

Thursday evening, McLouth residents packed the McLouth United Methodist Church for a prayer vigil that Johnston’s classmates and neighbors organized. The church, just across the street from the high school, was filled to the brim. The capacity of the church, including standing room, is about 350.

Local ministers read Scripture, sang and later joined in sharing prayers as those in attendance held lighted candles.

The trip to Costa Rica was the first for the Spanish Club and its sponsors. The students on the trip are in Spanish 3 and Spanish 4 classes at the school.

The trip was arranged through EF Educational Tours based in Cambridge, Mass.

No other students were injured.

Parents of students on the trip were receiving information from their children via text messages.

“The safety and security of the students and sponsors is imperative to the school district,” McLouth school leaders said in a press release. “District officials are working with EF Educational Tours to ensure their safety and to make travel arrangements for an early arrival home. EF Educational Tours is taking steps to make counselors available to the students and sponsors. District officials have been in close communication with families who have students on the trip.”

Mistaken identity

According to a report from the Costa Rican newspaper The Nation, a guard at the hotel where the group was staying shot Johnston. The shooting took place at 4 a.m.

The group was staying at the La Cangreja Lodge hotel in La Fortuna de San Carlos, according to the report, and student chaperones were staying in separate rooms from the young men and women they were accompanying.

“During the night the boys left the rooms they were checked in to and when they returned, apparently, so as not to attract the attention of security guards, they came close to a barbed-wire fence belonging to an adjoining property, but a dog startled them when it began to bark,” according to the newspaper report.

Police stated that the guard shot into the air, which frightened the boys even more, sending them running toward the hotel. The guard, according to the report, was frightened thinking he was being attacked and mistook Johnston for a thief. He shot, fatally wounding Johnston.

It was reported that the weapon, a .22 caliber pistol, was not registered. The security guard, who was identified as a 34-year-old man by the last name of Guevara, has been detained, Costa Rican police said, and the shooting is still under investigation.

The students had raised money for the trip through a variety of sources, including sales of candles and other items. The McLouth students left Monday and flew to Houston and on to Costa Rica, and they were to meet up with students from two other schools from outside the area.

“The district’s primary concern is for the Johnston family and also for the many students and staff members who are affected by this tragedy,” school leaders said in the press release. “The district’s crisis plan has been activated and counselors will be available on site for students and staff today and tomorrow.”

Splichal thanked U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran for his office’s efforts in offering international communications.

Johnston just finished his sophomore year at MHS in May.

This is the second time a northeast Kansas student was killed while on an educational trip to Costa Rica.

Shannon Lucile Martin was only a few days from graduating from Kansas University in May 2001 when she was murdered in Golfito, Costa Rica, while walking to her residence after a night out at a disco. She had been in Golfito finishing a class project to collect rare fern samples.

The KU student had a deep connection to the Costa Rican community where she was murdered. An English language center that bears her name was opened inside the Costa Rican Coast Guard Academy and is being used to teach English to Golfito residents and Coast Guard cadets.

Information from the article on translated by Jessie Mathews. Staff writers Mark Fagan, Richard Gwin and Whitney Mathews contributed to the story. The Associated Press also contributed to this story.


deec 6 years, 9 months ago

My condolences to the family and friends. My niece just got back from a similar trip so this is pretty frightening.

Tammy Copp-Barta 6 years, 9 months ago

WOW! Thoughts and prayers with the family .. this must be terrifying to the group down there as well as the parents waiting to get their children home.

Terry Jacobsen 6 years, 9 months ago

A parent's worst nightmare. My thoughts and prayers for the family.

Janet FitzGerald 6 years, 9 months ago

My deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victim. This is just so wrong. Heart-wrenching. :(

seriouscat 6 years, 9 months ago

Prayers going to the victim's family and loved ones. What a terrible tragedy : (

James Findley 6 years, 9 months ago

GC HAHA funny.. This however, Tragic.. Stay in you rooms when you are suppose to boys! This is practically a third world country.. I could think of a few worse things that could have happened to him.. Especially in a country where child prostitution and the sex slave trade are so rampent.

TheEleventhStephanie 6 years, 9 months ago

Sounds an awful lot like "blame the victim" mentality.

TheEleventhStephanie 6 years, 9 months ago

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TheEleventhStephanie 6 years, 9 months ago

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TheEleventhStephanie 6 years, 9 months ago

Or, maybe the Ol' Jay Dub should close comments on articles about tragedies such as this? Nahhhh, because then they wouldn't have enough "click traffic" to lure in their advertisers.

average 6 years, 9 months ago

Costa Rica, while having a slightly higher rate than the US as a whole, has a lower murder rate than several US states.

Alceste 6 years, 9 months ago

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frank mcguinness 6 years, 9 months ago

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Idigencia 6 years, 9 months ago

vertigo is posting incorrect figures. In 2009, the total US homicide rate was 5.0/100,000, based on 15,241 instances of "murder and non-negligent homicide" among a population of just over 307,000,000. Roughly 70% of those instances involved a firearm, making the US firearm murder rate 3.5/100,000. for the total US murder rate. Wikipedia ( puts the Costa Rica total murder rate at 11 and climbing, whereas the US overall murder rate is in a steady decline. In short, vertigo, your numbers are roughly reversed. Nice try at fostering anti-US hatred, though.

taucetiman 6 years, 9 months ago

If you look at the table you cite closely you will see that it is for 'firearm death rate" not "firearm murder rate" so that includes homocides, suicides by firearms and accidental shootings

Idigencia 6 years, 9 months ago

The data that you draw your conclusion from is nearly 20 years old. The fact is that firearm violence in the US is in decline, and firearm violence in Costa Rica is on the rise. Regardless of the color of anyone's skin (a point that you brought up, by the way) Costa Rica is not really on the "Top Places to Take Teenage Kids" list. Costa Rica is so riddled with violence, in fact, that some hotels have armed guards who will shoot 4 A.M. intruders on sight. Note that this student's unfortunate (and totally preventable) death will not be recorded in Costa Rica as a murder, but rather as a justifiable homicide. Armed guards are empowered to shoot to kill in Costa Rica.

Alceste 6 years, 9 months ago

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Adrienne Sanders 6 years, 9 months ago

Costa Rica is generally very safe. (unlike much of the rest of Central America.)

Kristen Murphy 6 years, 9 months ago

So sad for the victim's family. Prayers go out to the family and friends and the McLouth Schools. This is such a tragedy.

Robert Rauktis 6 years, 9 months ago

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Shane Garrett 6 years, 9 months ago

Prayers go out to the family and friends and all those in the McLouth and surrounding communities effected by this tragedy.

luvtocamp 6 years, 9 months ago

while this is very sad and so had to comprehend. My question is to the School District of Mclouth....WHY WAS THIS TRIP EVEN ALLOWED?

crimsonlaugh 6 years, 9 months ago

Why should they have not allowed it?

Sad thing is, students in the future won't be able to go because of this horrible accident.

kernal 6 years, 9 months ago

Costa Rica is relatively safe, but there are security and safety issues that are not the same as in the U.S. I hope this didn't occur because the tour organizers didn't do their homework before they left.

My condolences to the family and friends and especially to the kids on this tour.

ljgfelix 6 years, 9 months ago

It doesn't matter where it happened, just that it happened and now there are parents who lost a son, siblings that lost a brother, kids that lost their friend and a community that lost one of it's own. Thoughts and prayers to this family as they go through the unthinkable.

aletheia 6 years, 9 months ago

The headline made my stomach drop. As a parent, I can't imagine the grief this family is experiencing. My sincerest condolences to everyone involved and prayers being said for the family and friends of this young student.

gyalliwasp 6 years, 9 months ago

My 19 y.o. daughter (she attends Johnson County CC) was just in Costa Rica for two semesters- 8 months straight and had an amazing time. She lived with a host family and was well cared for. She also visited Panama, Guatamala and Nicaragua while she was there. Of course this was always a small fear in the back of my mind, but she is responsible, smart and well, I raise my children to treat life as an adventure.

This would have been my worst nightmare. I can only imagine what the family is going through. My deepest condolances.

To be honest, something like this could happen anywhere... but, gosh, I would have died right along with my daughter had this happened to her while she was abroad.

For the record though, my daughter would go back to Central America in a heart beat. She's also been to Cameroon, Africa, Kingston, Jamaica and a border town in Mexico. She's brave. I think I might be braver for letting her ... don't even know how to wrap my mind around this tragedy, being so close to home.

MoreOrLess 6 years, 9 months ago

Why do you take this as an opportunity to toot your own horn. How many times must you tell everyone how great YOUR daughter is and how GREAT YOU are. This isn't about YOU. People amaze me.

geekin_topekan 6 years, 9 months ago

No kidding! I counted "my" no less than eight times, "she" seven! That's 15 references to you and your daughter.

This aint about YOU lady!

geekin_topekan 6 years, 9 months ago

Umm, Pot meet Kettle?

Whose police complex are your criticizing? Yours badge shines just a bright as the next.

FormerCentralKansan 6 years, 9 months ago

Your post was extremely accurate. I'm always amazed by how self-centered people are and how they actually think we "care" about their personal life. Discretion, humility, and concern for others has been lost. It's all about ME and you HAVE to listen to ME talk about ME...ugh. It's the age of the FB and Twitter...people who lack attention in their life finally have a way to brag, spout off, and pontificate about whatever.

tomatogrower 6 years, 9 months ago

You are obviously a guy who considered her remark as a "one-up" comment. We women recognize it as empathy. Wake up to that, and you might be able to communicate with women better.

hammerhawk 6 years, 9 months ago

Your daughter looks to be an experienced traveler. A huge advantage that only comes through experience.

countrymouse 6 years, 9 months ago

My sister was on that trip. I'm so worried about her. Costa Rica is actually a relatively safe country. Thats why its such a popular vacation destination. I blame the tour and the adults in charge of this group. My family has already had problems with this tour company, EF Tours. After investigating them more, we found out that this company is the one who brought Louise Woodward to the US an an au pair. She then shook a baby to death. My advise, research the travel company you send your child off with and also look up where your kids will be staying. I hope these people get (another) law suit.

countrymouse 6 years, 9 months ago

Dear Cheeseburger, Thank you for your kind words in this tense time for everyone. Should I have clarified that the problems my family encountered with EF came about after we had committed to the trip? My parents had put a substantial deposit on the trip and would not be able to get it back if my sister did not go. Money for us, at this time is tight and to loose that kind of money would really hurt. While a bit unhappy with the tour company, we had no idea that it could potentially be dangerous. Yes, we should have taken more responsibility and checked out message boards related to the company before signing up. Yes, is a mistake on our part. Thank you for reminding us. And thank you for your concern about my little sister. Be well.

Jayhawk58201 6 years, 9 months ago

Before blaming the school and supervisors on the trip, you may want to read the whole story, which the LJ didn't print.

For those who don't speak Spanish: The boys and girls were separated in their hotel rooms, the boys snuck out, when they returned and were crossing over a barb wire fence and the guard dog started barking, which alerted the security guard who thought they were robbers (a legitimate concern there). The guard fired a warning shot, the kids ran toward the hotel and he shot the young man in the chest thinking he was a robber.

It's a tragedy, not a time to place blame. So send your prayers or shut up.

Jonathan Kealing 6 years, 9 months ago

There's a notion in digital journalism, "Do what you can do best, and link to the rest." The best we can do with this story is cover the information out of McLouth, and then link to Costa Rican news stories that lend additional context. We highly, highly encourage you to follow the links we put in stories, because they will give you additional information.

Jonathan Kealing Assistant Director of Media Strategy

jj14 6 years, 9 months ago

Thank you for providing the additional information. It was very obvious a HUGE part of the story was missing from the LJW article.

luvtocamp 6 years, 9 months ago

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orbiter 6 years, 9 months ago

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sourpuss 6 years, 9 months ago

How did the students leave the hotel without a chaperone? That seems dangerous. Weren't they told not to do that? Why were they sneaking back in? I'm a bit confused as to what happened. I don't understand why students would leave a hotel in the middle of the night in a foreign country. My condolences to the family.

Danielle Brunin 6 years, 9 months ago

Because many kids that age think they're invincible. They probably wanted the adventure of sneaking out at night in a foreign country, never imagining that it would be fatal to one of their friends. Basically, the kind of stuff that we all did as teenagers and were lucky to have survived. It is a horrendous tragedy for everyone involved, and my sincere condolences to the family and friends of this boy, as well as the security guard who will have to live with this guilt for the rest of his life.

Deb Engstrom 6 years, 9 months ago

There but for the grace of God....... go many of us and our kids.

Danielle Brunin 6 years, 9 months ago

I shudder when I think of some of the stuff that my friends and I did when we were younger. We were lucky, nothing more.

misti673 6 years, 9 months ago

They didn't leave the hotel itself...They just went to another room with the rest of our group in it...

luvtocamp 6 years, 9 months ago

Jumping to conclusions? If there were adults out in the hall way, he would of never made it out. I have expressed condolences to the family and the kids who were there and to the one who held him as he died. Kids will be kids and i do not blame this kid AT ALL! But come cheeseburger, if there were adults in the hall, this would not have happen

orbiter 6 years, 9 months ago

luvtocamp. seriously, look at yourself, you ugly-hearted monster. then maybe you will finally see that you need to show a little humility and compassion, you prideful wreck of humanity.

luvtocamp 6 years, 9 months ago

a ugly hearted monster? why do you say that? Some how this young man and his friends got out of his hotel room. Someone is to blame. Its a shame that this happen at all.
I dont understand why you find it necessary to be a bully to me.

Cass91941 6 years, 9 months ago

It's a shame that this happened. He was such a good kid and was always there for people if they needed someone to talk to or to just plain cheer them up. He was my best friend and a great guy. Gone but not forgotten. R.I.P. Justin. Love ya, bud.!

Danielle Brunin 6 years, 9 months ago

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. :(

ljgfelix 6 years, 9 months ago

I'm so glad that you wrote something on here about how great of a guy he was. I think people are getting too wrapped up in the how or why instead of the fact that a great kid is no longer with us. Thanks........I'm so sorry that you lost your friend like this.

Cass91941 6 years, 9 months ago

I couldn't agree more. People need to quit focusing on all of that. He died and it's a sad tragedy and fingers need to quit being pointed at the others on the trip. I'm sorry also, but thank you.

someone8 6 years, 9 months ago

This is such a horrible tragedy. People really should quit pointing fingers and ultimately think about the family, friends, and the community of Mclouth that lost someone. It is horrible how people behave on these message boards. My prayers go out to all involved!

Cass91941 6 years, 9 months ago

I couldn't agree more! Quit pointing fingers and blaming the chaperone's on the trip. You can't be everywhere at once. It could have happened regardless or at another time. Prayers are appreciated, thank you!

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 9 months ago

This is a tragedy, no doubt. Losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare. Justin will be in my thoughts for some time.

But I'm sure that a previous poster was correct when he pointed out that it is much more dangerous in some of the US states than it is in Costa Rica. In fact, my sister and her family are moving out of California due to the fact that the city that they live in is now nicknamed: "Murder City".

I hope that this does not lead to additional prejudice towards Hispanics, there is absolutely no justification for that from this event. Someone commented that "You want Spanish immersion? Try Texas or Spain."

I have an additional suggestion, and that is KU. I am sure that the University of Kansas has an intensive Spanish one semester course available for anyone that is actually interested in the language of another culture.

But of course, American languages are also available to be studied. And I'm not talking about English, I'm talking about the Native American languages. The ethnocentrism that so many European Import Americans exibit sickens me.

The important thing in this event is that a family's worst nightmare has occurred.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 9 months ago

"The ethnocentrism that so many European Import Americans exibit sickens me." Huh?? What?? "Splain yourself, Lucy!"

mchl 6 years, 9 months ago

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mchl 6 years, 9 months ago

Make no mistake. This tragedy has nothing to do with its location. You can send a group of unfamilary people running towards my door at 4 am and you will be reading a similar story about a shooting in Lawrence, KS. It is unfortunate that all involved were put in this situation, by no choice of their own!

Brandi Simpson-Glover 6 years, 9 months ago

I think it sounds like a good made up story about why the "guard" shot the teen. and a gun that wasn't registered? sounds fishy to me.....poor kid, I feel so sorry for the family, staff and friends/classmates

cinnamontwist 6 years, 9 months ago

This is awful! My heart goes out to the friends and family of this young man.

When I was in high school our advanced Spanish class took a trip to Mexico. We were told in no uncertain terms (some got special one on one meetings with school personnel) well before the trip that any trouble we caused or got into would be taken seriously, that the law in Mexico is not innocent until proven guilty, but guilty until proven innocent and the adults with us would not be able to get us out of any trouble with authorities there. We were also not allowed to wear shorts in Mexico City because of the way it would be perceived. We were well versed (I guess as well as a 15 year old could be) on cultural differences and practices. Fortunately, we all returned safely and even the normally rowdy kids were well behaved from what I can remember.

friendlyjhawk 6 years, 9 months ago

Student trips aren't to blame. Chances for students to expand their horizons are important, usually involving fund raising and work on the student's part. There is no blame, just a rotten tragedy. Blessings to the family and to the other students at this time. A hard life lesson tho. No does mean no. Don't means don't. Wish he could have learned that another way.

mellowyellow 6 years, 9 months ago

There are rules about not leaving the group or the place you are staying when traveling with students. Too bad these kids thought they were above those rules & made a horrible mistake. Let it be a lesson learned to all....tragic, yes.

luvtocamp 6 years, 9 months ago

I am not sure these kids thought they were above the rules. Theses kids are going to be kids. They are going to push the envelope.... we all did at that age. I cant wait to hear the rest of the story.. the part about where the adults were at night time. If the adults thought that just telling the kids lights out and stay in your room was going to be enough..... then the adults are idiots and have forgotten what it is like to be a teen. I dont blame these kids at all. Everyone says that no one is to blame... yes someone is to blame. this young mans parents sent him with adults on a trip of life time and trusted the adults would take care of their son. Someone dropped the ball and a young life was lost and other mcclouth kids will live with this for the rest of their life. My heart goes out to all the students and the adults who were on this trip.

mchl 6 years, 9 months ago

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somethingtosay 6 years, 9 months ago

So let me get this straight the adult chaperons are supposed to stay with the kids the 16 hours of the day they are awake, then when they get back to the hotel, those same adults are supposed to stay up all night, sitting outside the rooms to make sure they don't leave. This continues for 9 days straight. Sounds logical to me....Get real!! I don't stay outside my kids door all night long, every night, to make sure they stay in their room and don't sneak out. I tell them the possible consequences of their actions and trust they will make the right decision.

luvtocamp 6 years, 9 months ago

YES.... its called the adults take turn at walking the hall ways. I have seen this done at another school! The chaperons were tired.. tired as hell. But they did it for the saftey of the kids! And being safe at home is a little different than being in a new country with kids his own age and no parents. 24 months from being able to serve his country... well then hell lets just make it 16 to serve if you seem to think its old enough.

ku_tailg8 6 years, 9 months ago

The chaperones are not at fault here. These kids made a bad choice. Unfortunately, someone paid a huge price. Please don't blame the adults otherwise you lose the chance for saying 'kids will be kids'. This sounds like a good kid but he and his friends made some bad choices. Its a sad story and my prayers go out to the family.

tomatogrower 6 years, 9 months ago

Agreed. A kid his age should not need a babysitter. He wanted to push the envelope, and he paid the price. It's tragic, and I feel for his parents, but even in McClouth why would he be running around at 4:00 in the morning?

misti673 6 years, 9 months ago

It is not the adults fault... i was a student on the trip and our adults made sure we were in bed by curfew, because of EF tours and the way the hotel was set up the boys were in a different building than the rest of our group, they came to our building and went to a room that had some of our group in it, the adults were asleep, you cant expect them to stay up 24/7 or else they wouldnt be able to take care of us during the day. When we got to the hotel my teacher told our tour guide that she did not want them in the seperate building but he assured her that they would be safe. Do not blame the teachers for any of this...

mellowyellow 6 years, 9 months ago

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Sparrow22 6 years, 9 months ago

Please, I'm asking everyone to keep these comments respectful. I knew Justin and he did not deserve this. I knew people in an accident that was reported on this website, and the negative comments made by people tore a grieving family apart. Remember that we were not there to witness this, so we do not know the entire story. If you are not here to express condolenses please consider the family and friends of Justin who have lost an amazing sixteen year old who was very close to our hearts.

Thank you.

MarcoPogo 6 years, 9 months ago

Who cares? Sporting KC sucks! They need to ban soccer stories!!!

Boston_Corbett 6 years, 9 months ago

This is a terrible terrible tragedy. But those who think there is a problem with safety in Costa Rica, and that our youth should not travel to experience another culture should think twice, however.

More than one international student attending KU has encountered muggings and robberies or other crime while living in Lawrence. Many more than one. The most recent one was the young lady who was attacked by that crazy man while jogging out near Clinton Lake last summer. Of course, the LJW never mentions this aspect of these crimes, when and if they are reported, which they rarely are.

Another point, the reference to the tragic death of Shannon Martin is really irrelevant to any point here other than a backhand innuendo suggesting Costa Rica is unsafe.

Prayers to all in McLouth.

kansasjack 6 years, 9 months ago

These posts that blame Justin and defend the chaperons, tour company, or hotel are severely misguided. There is the idea of personal responsibility, but can we place that burden on a 17-year old child?

There were many poor decisions that led to this tragic accident. First thing I ask is why were high school kids staying at hotel that barbed wired and armed security? Couldn't have the school or tour company provided better accommodations? I've been to parts of South America where hotels commonly have armed security, but never did I see this in Costa Rica. It is safe country and as Vertigo mentioned, the homicide rates there are actually lower than in the US.

I wonder if the tour company even checks out the rooms they book? There are lots of complaints here, even one that says their hotel was in the red light district.

RIP Justin Johnston

Alceste 6 years, 9 months ago

Down that away....that's called "Architectural style" that has nothing to do with crime! hahahahahahahahahahahahah

Shelley Bock 6 years, 9 months ago

I lived and worked in CR when I was 22 to 25. I'd agree with Informed about the security concerns, which bordered on paranoia. The tragedy here is that this young man and his companion didn't realize that fact..

Costa Rica is not country over run by trigger happy bandidos. I found it safer and more friendly than the US. Granted, this has been years ago, so my frame of reference maybe outdated.

Comments for the La Nacion article mirror some of the same feelings expressed here. Sad tragedy and condolences to the family have been expressed by many, including myself.

sallyone 6 years, 9 months ago

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mellowyellow 6 years, 9 months ago

You are right that we don't know the whole story. It is a shame that a teenager lost his life when he should have been having the time of his life. These posts are for people to express their opinions freely. Condolences can also be expressed in another forum.

sallyone 6 years, 9 months ago

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sallyone 6 years, 9 months ago

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sallyone 6 years, 9 months ago

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Deja Coffin 6 years, 9 months ago

My thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and family of Justin. In a small community like Mclouth you either knew Justin, his siblings, his parents, or friends and so the devastation of a life lost too soon is felt throughout the whole community. I just hope the family knows that myself and the entire Mclouth community are here to support them in any way possible. Prayers to you all.

Jeremiah Jefferson 6 years, 9 months ago

I can say with out a doubt that there is nothing south of the US border that I want to see or a place I would like to visit.

kansasjack 6 years, 9 months ago

Wow...i found a review of the hotel on trip advisor.

I would not want my kid to stay there. It was ranked 60th out of 65 hotels in that town. One review said cockroaches shouldn't even stay there. I think the quality of the hotel just shows that the tour company is focused on the bottom line moreso than the comfort and safety of their travelers.

ku_tailg8 6 years, 9 months ago

Safety was fine here. I would sleep fine if I knew some perp would be shot trying to enter the area.

SpartanRock 6 years, 9 months ago

what is the point of focusing on the tour operator? bottom line?

Sigmund 6 years, 9 months ago

SpartanRock (anonymous) says… "what is the point of focusing on the tour operator? bottom line?"

The first principle of negligence is reasonably foreseeable harm must be compensated. When parents entrust their child to adults (tour operator, chaperones) they incur a duty to care for those children until they are handed back to the parents. If there is a breach of that duty that causes (actual or proximate causation) harm to the child, the adults can be held personally liable for the damages. I think it was foreseeable that a group of teenagers would sneak out of a hotel room in the middle of the night. A hotel surrounded barbed wire is gives notice to the chaperones and tour company of a dangerous environment which needs heighten care. There is a question of whether the guard who shot the child is a superseding cause which relieves the chaperones and tour company of liability, or a foreseeable intervening cause which does not.

ku_tailg8 6 years, 9 months ago

If the kids were in their room then this wouldn't be a story. Sometimes you have to take responsiblility for your own actions. If a girl was raped then you folks would rip the security at the hotel. Sounds like the security was doing their job. Its sad and I pray for the families but if these young people were in their beds this wouldn't have happened. Costa Rica isn't America nor is any other place young men and women travel to.

tomatogrower 6 years, 9 months ago

I can't think of too many places in America where I would want a kid running around at 4:00 am, but this is a foreign country, and I'm real sure this boy didn't know enough Spanish to get get by. I am real sorry for the parents, but they should have told him to follow the rules.

I've been to Costa Rica. It's a relatively safe place with lots of friendly people. They do have high security there however. I even saw a bank guard with a huge gun. He was friendly and greeted customers with a smile, but I have no doubt that if the bank was being robbed, he would have used the gun. What is interesting is that the crime rate isn't any higher than anywhere else, I just don't think they have a well, trained police force, so they feel they have to protect themselves. It's a tragic loss, and I hope that other school trips will use this to warn other students about leaving their rooms without an adult in the middle of the night. At least his tragic death might save some other young person.

misti673 6 years, 9 months ago

The barbed wire fence was there because there were cows on the other side of it... just sayin

onlymee 6 years, 9 months ago

In the last 10 years four other students from the state of Kansas died while in Costa Rica. In 2006 three students and a high school Spanish teacher drowned at Palo Seco Beach, on the central Pacific coast, after swimming into strong currents (TT, June 23, 2006). In 2001, University of Kansas student Shannon Martin was stabbed in the pacific port town of Golfito (TT, May 21, 2003).

akt2 6 years, 9 months ago

Does anyone remember sneaking out of the house as a teenager? Add in the fact that they are usually awake till the wee hours. I don't think this is the fault of this young man. The security guard is responsible. Shoot first, then ask questions. Since he works at a hotel he should be somewhat accustomed to people on or around the grounds of the hotel at all hours.

tomatogrower 6 years, 9 months ago

No akt2, I can honestly say I never sneaked out of my house as a teenager. I did other things that I probably shouldn't have, but I did them within my curfew. Why would I worry my parents by doing that? Of course, people didn't live in mcmansions back then, so it would have been really hard to do.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 6 years, 9 months ago

Why haven't our education facilities at all levels learn to stay in the United States? It is not safe out there. Students get killed, put in foreign jails with horrible conditions for very long sentences after being charged with bogus crimes such as being spies. Will we ever learn? How many students must be killed, or incarcerated before it sinks in? Thank you, Lynn

Danielle Brunin 6 years, 9 months ago

"Safe out there?" Ever been to Detroit or Baltimore?

frank mcguinness 6 years, 9 months ago

You should probably keep your kids inside all the time because accidents happen. I hear that a kid died on K-10 recently. An entire family died near mclouth last year when a mother drove her kids without seatbelts and had an accident. You could also just bubble wrap your kids?

tomatogrower 6 years, 9 months ago

So you let your kids run around in the middle of the night in the US? Thousands of students travel to foreign countries every year, and most of them follow the rules. If he had been running around McClouth at 4:00 in the morning and probably riding with some buddies who were drinking, and died in a car accident, would you say no children should live in Jefferson County?

And let me remind you of the many tragic deaths that have occurred in Jefferson County in the last 15 years. Probably a higher rate than many counties of that size. In fact, Jefferson county has a reputation of having a lot of parents who condone underage drinking and "pushing the envelope". I remember the pictures of that kid's room who died a few years back. It was full of pot bongs, beer cans and guns. Boys will be boys, I guess. Then there are the boys who think it's ok to rape and murder young girls. Should I judge all of Jefferson county by these incidents? Don't throw rocks at foreign countries until you have examined your own.

Sparrow22 6 years, 9 months ago

Thank you for finally saying it! We all have to examine what we do before we look down our noses at other people

Jeteras 6 years, 9 months ago

I agree,, My children will never leave this country unless they are with me. US citizens are viewed as CASH BANKS for ransom as well.. This is a sad story... They do not live by the same rules as we do and kids up here dont realize that. Sneaking out of the house at 3 am up here is due cause for being grounded, but out of this county trespassing could get you jailed or killed VERY easily.. Dont believe it ,,, just drive south and walk down a street in Juarez, Mex..

frank mcguinness 6 years, 9 months ago

Really, you want to compare juarez mexico (the front line in the drug wars) against costa rica where tens of thousands of americans retire or where there is no government millitary. Please. Pretty narrow minded

kernal 6 years, 9 months ago

Thank goodness more of the students involved in this "night out" weren't shot or killed. Did the chaparones not explain why there were security guards and why the students were not to leave the grounds unsupervised? I can't believe the kids would have snuck out if they understood what the possible ramifications were.

luvtocamp 6 years, 9 months ago

Everyone want to blame this kid and say that he should of know better. This kid lived in Mclouth Kansas... he does not know danger. He was just going to do what most kids do when they think they can get away with it. Its a thrill ride to sneak out and not get caught. So everyone who says he broke the rules... Do you do the speed limit going to work? Do you text when you drive? do you always ware your seatbelt? I bet everyone has broken one of these laws as adults.... this kid was 16 and I believe he should of been better watched and I blame the adults on this trip. As for the guard. He was doing his job, we dont know what he encounters ever night while on watch. He might have been afraid for his life.

tomatogrower 6 years, 9 months ago

"Do you do the speed limit going to work? Do you text when you drive? do you always ware your seatbelt?"

And if I had died when I broke these rules, I wouldn't blame the police officer who didn't pull me over and ticket me, or the car manufacuturer who made a car that went over the speed limit.. The boy didn't thnk, didn't pay attention when he was told to stay put, didn't feel like anything could happen to him, he was wrong. I'm not saying it was his fault, and that it wasn't a tragedy. I'm not saying the guard shouldn't have been more cautious. It was a tragic event that could have happened even in the United States, if they had taken a trip to a big city. There are just some kids no matter how often you tell them to follow the rules, they won't. Most of the time nothing happens. But it catches up to some, and tragedy occurs. Students who are travelling will be told this story to impress them with the importance of following the rules. Will they listen? Some will, some won't.

ferrislives 6 years, 9 months ago

Although I understand the questions being raised, if this were my son and I read these comments, it would be very disheartening. There is a time and place for questions. Now is not the time; it's time for his family and friends to grieve. Save the questions for later.

mellowyellow 6 years, 9 months ago

This is the forum for questions. Condolences can be placed here or more appropriately on the obit page. tomatogrower - you have got it right - thanks for sharing your thoughts.

ferrislives 6 years, 9 months ago

Well lets hope this never happens to your own child.

mellowyellow 6 years, 9 months ago

ferrislives - what makes you think that hasn't happened?

ksriver2010 6 years, 9 months ago

My condolences to the family. I am sorry for your loss.

That said, let me state the obvious - why the bloody h*ll are they going to Costa Rica? I blame the school, not the security guard, and certainly not the student.

If you want to see visit culture for Spanish class, do like the rest of us did (if we could afford it) - go to Spain. Or save money and go to Dodge City or Garden City. Or do like my bilingual Mormon friend did for his "missionary" work - go to Dallas.

Sigmund 6 years, 9 months ago

ku_tailg8 (anonymous) replies… "If the kids were in their room then this wouldn't be a story."

If children never made bad decisions there would be no need for chaperones. Parents recognizes that is not the reality that is why they do not allow their children to go to foreign countries without adult supervision. Adults who are paid to take children on trips or to act as chaperones can be liable if harm comes to the child because adults failed in their duty.

Sigmund 6 years, 9 months ago

ksfbcoach (anonymous) replies… "The usual liberal posters on here always attack the business or company involved. Very anti-business attitude on here."

Been called lots of things by people on these boards but this is the first time for "usual liberal poster" with an "anti-business attitude."

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 9 months ago

Well, everyone in town has dipped their oar in the water on this one, so I guess I will join in. As a memober of the Navy, we often made port calls in various countries. But prior to anyone going "on the beach" we received firm instructions about our behavior ashore, what sort of possible hazards existed for American servicemen, common sense behavior and respect for the particular country we were visiting and do on.

I would be curious to know about the qualifications of the adult chaperones and just what sort of indoctrination was given to these students, who are still school age childern, to inform and warn them of the dangers of their misbehaving conduct in a foreign country. Students this age have the capability of being responsible, but also can demonstrate some pretty stupid behavior and in this case it was a disaster.

What bothered me even more was the story in the print edition that some Lawrence students were headed to the same destination. I wonder if any of the planners of this trip have taken such serious consequences into account with this Lawrence group?

costarica4u 6 years, 9 months ago

I understand how confusing such tragedies can be when you know nothing about the Costa Rica so let me explain some doubts I've seen on some posts: Regarding to this hotel you mus understand that it is located on a rural area which is the reason there is a barbed wire fence... its not a sort of jail-style fence to keep people out, its meant to keep cows and other animals out, as well as to show that it is a private property, that you are not allowed to walk in as you please. Now regarding the "security officer" he just wasnt one, its common practice here for small businesses here to hire untrained security personnel mostly illegal aliens from neighboring countries and give them a gun with no permit at all (such was the case here) this is obviously a huge mistake from the hotel. That is why it is better to spend a few more bucks and stay in a well established hotel and do some background checking... On the other hand, making reference to prior deaths in the country is really just trying to hurt the country's reputation... take the ones quoted here: a group of students drowning.. WTH?? they unfortunately drowned on a beach clearly dangerous for its DEMARKED dangerous rip currents! beware... an a girl murdered in one of the most dangerous areas in Costa Rica which is like say a ghetto (dont know if this is a correct term) i wonder if she knew this or not...

Sparrow22 6 years, 9 months ago

PLEASE! I am saying this again. Why are we throwing stones at a child? Why are WE smearing blame? Justin died, but can't we all leave this alone? An entire town is greiving and this is what everyone else is doing, debating whos fault it is? I asked earlier for everyone to be respectful, and what I have read on here has brought me to tears again.

Yes I knew Justin and yes he was an amazing kid. Please just remember that not only people who didn't know him will read this but the people who DID will see your comments. Its a shame that this is what this comment page has turned into. A place for everyone to point fingers and rip people apart, when more than a few of us never knew a single one of these people. It is not for us to determine whose fault it is, can we not just say it was an accident and not try to argue over someone half of you would never have heard or cared about if it hadn't been for this.

Now please be respectful of all the people who are MOURNING. Think of a time you lost someone, think of how it felt, now apply that to this situation and leave it ALONE.

Sparrow22 6 years, 9 months ago

Dear informed I have to appolgize I proably shouldnt have said all that. I had just found out before all this and I was very upset. I understand and see your point. Thank you for helping explain this. I did not come here to seek solace I came to try to find out what happened.

And yes this is actually very tame and I will admit my anger came from not only this story but from another also. I knew the family that lost the three girls in an accident outside Meriden and the thing the people said ripped apart their surviving family. I will hope that you will forgive my outburst.

tongie 6 years, 9 months ago

sparrow: I had a friend die in a car accident and I got on here and read the mean things people say on here so my advise is to stop getting on here and reading these comments because this is what people do, they question things, they make comments to the story, etc. They aren't always the most appropriate comments but that is why it's a free country people can say what they want whether or not it hurts someones feelings or not. My condolences to you and everyone else who knew Justin.

akt2 6 years, 9 months ago

I guess according to some of our posters sneaking out was unheard of when they were teens. They didn't stay up late either. Weird. They probably walked 5 miles in the snow to school too. When you study the teen brain you will learn that the frontal lobe is the decision making part of the brain. This part of the teen brain does not fully develop until they are in their late teen years. If you spend time with teens this kind of knowledge helps you to understand them better. This teen is not to blame. His parents are not at fault. The chaperones are not to blame. The trigger happy security guard is to blame.

tomatogrower 6 years, 9 months ago

With all these teenagers sneaking out of their houses at night you would think nighttime would be a lot noisier. akt, you are the exception, not the rule. I know very few people who didn't stay home in the middle of the night as teenagers. And where were your parents? Why weren't they sleeping in the room with you, or patrolling the hall? That's what some on this forum suggested that the adults on the trip do. And if they had adults sleeping in their rooms, then they would be accusing the adults of being perverted.

These trips are only for people who want to see the world. You can wrap your child in bubble wrap, lock him/her in at night, never see anything outside of your house, but they could still get cancer or choke on the bubble wrap. The kid wanted to see another culture. He apparently was one of those kids, like akt, who doesn't follow rules. Mostly it wouldn't have mattered, but this time it did. He could be used as example of what not to do, and it will safe the lives of some kids, others will never listen, and it will happen again. But that's life. I'm really sorry for the parents and family members left behind, but I'm equally sorry for any parents who lose their child for whatever reason. Traveling to a foreign country does not cause death.

Trouble 6 years, 9 months ago

You didn't sneak out because no one wanted to hang out with you. In Tongie!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 9 months ago

According to KCMO news the security person has been charged with homicide.

mellowyellow 6 years, 9 months ago

Borrowed from comments on USA Today article....I think it says what needs to be said....

"Everyone involved is surely devastated that this happened: the chaperones, the other children, the families, and the hotel staff, including the security guard who shot the boy.

Chaperones cannot stay awake all night sitting in hallways to be sure that the kids do what they're told to do. For a trip of this magnitude, the adults at school and chaperones obviously told the students what to do. It's possible that the students and their families even had to sign papers agreeing to the conditions and rules of the trip, especially since it was to a foreign country. Once at the hotel, the students would have seen the armed security guards roaming the premises.

I'm so sorry that the poor boy died, but when he deliberated disobeyed the rules that the adults surely explained to him, he made a choice to put himself at risk. I hope his horrible fate will help other young people understand that many rules are in place for their safety and it's best to follow them. God bless his soul and grant comfort to those involved."

PennyBrite 6 years, 9 months ago

For those of you who are asking WHY did they go to Costa Rica, it's pretty common for Lawrence Junior Highs to take a group of kids there. I think Southwest and West junior high have kids there right now that left Lawrence in the last few days. I'm not positive but I think they take a group every year. Also, they use the same EF Tour company that McClouth used.

loragh 6 years, 9 months ago

This is a sad tragedy. We have taken students to Costa Rica many times as well as to Mexico and Spain. This is one of the reason we sponsors must really express to the students the importance of the rules and the fact that when we are in a different city, state or country we must be careful and not take anything for granted. We are a rural town and many of our students feel pretty comfortable in their own area and think life is the same every where.
Parents-this is a horrible tragedy but no one was really at fault. The boys were curious and probably felt like they were just as safe there as they are in their own town. The guard was startled, it was dark and he did warn the kids to stop. But at 4 in the morning anyone would feel threatened and react accordingly. Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in the WORLD. And travel is the most amazing way of learning.
My prayers are for the family and the many people involved in Justin's life.

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