The Waffle House Shooter Was Homeschooled … and So Was the Austin Bomber, and That Bomb Maker in Wisconsin

This past weekend, 29-year-old Travis Reinking from Illinois shot and killed four people in a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee. While police are still trying to identify motive, it is possible that race played a role—the man was white while his victims were African American. But what hit me in reading the most recent coverage is that Reinking was homeschooled.

According to the Chicago Tribune:

Reinking was regarded as somewhat of a loner, who was considered by some to be socially awkward, according to friends. He came from a Christian family and was home-schooled, but he also took some classes at nearby Tremont High School. Reinking took a strong interest in photography and was often seen with his camera.

That’s my background—Christian family, homeschooled. He’s around my age, too. If he ever did NCFCA speech and debate, as many Christian homeschoolers of our era did, I might well have met him.

Mark Anthony Conditt, the Austin bomber, who blew himself up while being apprehended by police in March, was also from a Christian homeschool background.

According to Buzzfeed:

An acquaintance of Conditt’s, who did not wish to be identified, told BuzzFeed News that she and Conditt were in the same homeschool community in Pflugerville between the ages of 8 and 13. She said that she had playdates with Conditt, who “seemed like a regular boy who liked to have fun and play games.”

“His family seemed very nice,” she said. “I was completely shocked when I heard — I had no idea it would be someone I knew.”

Cassia Schultz, 21, told BuzzFeed News that she ran in the same conservative survivalist circles as Conditt in high school.

Schultz said they were both involved in a group called Righteous Invasion of Truth (RIOT), a Bible study and outdoors group for homeschooled kids, created and named by the kids and their families, that included monthly activities such as archery, gun skills, and water balloon fights. Conditt and his younger sister would usually attend the activities along with 15 to 20 other kids, according to Schultz.

Conditt is somewhat younger than I am—reports list him as 24—and Texas is farther from where I grew up in the Midwest than is Illinois, where Reinking grew up, so I would not have met him. But reading about Conditt led to another bomb maker who blew himself up this year—this time accidentally—who was also homeschooled.

According to the ACJ:

 

A Wisconsin man who accidentally blew himself up in his apartment last month — requiring authorities to later burn down the entire building — had a homemade bomb lab, explosive chemicals, guns and ammunition on hand, according to unsealed search warrants in the case.

Benjamin D. Morrow, 28, also had white supremacist literature in his Beaver Dam apartment, according to the Fond du Lac Reporter. Search warrants made public Thursday gave a glimpse into the life of the food company quality control technician, who had a background in chemistry.

Agents with the Wisconsin Department of Justice searched Morrow’s computers and other electronics for evidence of conspiracy after finding white supremacist literature amid the rubble of his home. No evidence was found to show that Morrow was working in concert with others to make and use bombs, but the investigation remains open, the Reporter said.

Morrow’s online obituary described him as a devout Baptist who “accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour at the age of four-and-a-half.” He was homeschooled through high school and graduated from Pensacola Christian College in 2013.

While there, he earned a pre-pharmacy degree, with minors in chemistry and math, the obituary read.

The bomb making supplies authorities found were incredibly dangerous. Thirteen jars of explosive TATP, also known as the “Mother of Satan” bomb, were found in Morrows refrigerator.

Soon after news sources reported that both Morrow and Conditt had been homeschooled, a Facebook friend announced that she had gone to college with Morrow. She didn’t remember him, but their time there overlapped. Morrow isn’t that far from my age either, and if he did NCFCA I could have run into him, as well. The networks in Christian homeschool circles have a way of connecting people like that.

Here we have three white twenty-something men in three different states, all of whom killed black people or had white supremacist literature on in their homes, all of whom grew up in Christian homeschooling families, and all of whom carried out atrocities (or accidentally blew up apartment buildings) in the same two month span. It hits rather hard.

And then there are the moments of irony, like the Waffle House shooter’s mother’s claims that shootings in public schools occur because the Bible and prayer were removed from those institutions.

According to Heavy:

Many of Judy Reinking’s posts on social media are laced with Christian references. Some of her posts were about parenting, including home schooling…

In 2015, she shared a graphic on school shootings. It reads: “I don’t remember a single school shooting when I was a kid. What I do remember is our teacher having us begin the day reciting the pledge of allegiance, reading from the Bible and praying. We also had the Ten Commandments on the wall. Maybe getting rid of those things wasn’t such a good idea after all!”

Here’s the thing—I’m willing to bet a lot that Reinking’s homeschool started with prayer and Bible reading. I know my parents’ homeschool did. Beginning the day with prayer and Bible reading was standard among Christian homeschoolers in our community and beyond. And yet, Reinking’s son still grew up to go on a shooting spree.

I am not saying that homeschooling should be viewed as suspect. Far from it. The Parkland shooter, after all, went to public school, for example. No one background has a monopoly on violence. But that’s rather the point, isn’t it?

Homeschool advocates promise that homeschooling will fix all manner of ills. Growing up, I thought homeschooling made me somehow better than other kids. It was a common attitude. We looked down on public school kids. But it turns out that homeschooling can be just as fallible as any other way of educating children.

Homeschooling doesn’t produce perfect children. No method of education does—or could.

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