Two years ago, Corey Walgren, a 16 yr. old high school student in Naperville, Illinois, jumped off the roof of a municipal parking garage after being questioned by police on his school campus. Corey had been interrogated by a police officer about an alleged sex tape, accused of possessing child pornography, a felony which can lead to placement on the state’s sex offender registry. Records later showed that there were in fact no illegal images on Corey’s phone.
Corey had been interviewed, alone, by police at his school. His parents were not present when he was questioned by police, in fact, Maureen Walgren, Corey’s mother was on her way to meet with authorities when Corey left the school and headed for the parking garage.
Police intimidation, embarrassment, fear of being placed on a sex offender registry or a combination of all these things most likely led to Corey’s death. A death that should never have happened in the first place.
Prompted by Corey Walgren’s suicide, a new Illinois law now requires that parents be present before police questioning of students on school campuses. If a parent or guardian is unavailable, a designated advocate such as a counselor or social worker must be present. (The law specifically states that parents do not have to be present for questioning if the police determine “urgent and immediate” action must be taken.) The law does not prohibit police officers from making arrests on school grounds.
Existing Illinois law had required that police “immediately attempt to notify parents” after a minor is taken into custody. Since Corey had never actually been taken into custody while questioned in the Dean’s office and the police officer never intended to arrest him, Naperville police determined the law hadn’t applied in this instance.
Initially, law enforcement including the Chicago Police Dept. and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association were opposed to the new legislation, finding it too rigid in the event a parent couldn’t be located. Once the addition of having an advocate available if parents couldn’t be located was added to the legislation, the bill was passed by the state Senate and signed by Illinois Gov. Pritzker.
By providing increased explicit protections to students interrogated by police on school grounds, hopefully this new legislation will help prevent tragedies such as the suicide of Corey Walgren.
Doug and Maureen Walgren, Corey’s parents, sued both the city of Naperville and Naperville School District 203 following Corey’s death. They accused officials of causing “extreme, intolerable and excessive emotional and psychological distress” and breaking the law by interrogating Corey without first having notified his parents. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit earlier this year.
Corey’s parents have appealed and currently court records show that both sides have entered into mediation.
The ages of those using smartphones and computers is getting younger and younger. The incidences of teens getting caught up in sexting, exchanging inappropriate phone images and downloading pornography is increasing. Teens fearing embarrassment or alienation by their peers or negative consequences from their parents when accused of even small things, never mind a sex offense, often react quickly out of fear and without forethought. Too many teens may view suicide as “the only way out” of these situations.
Other states might do well to follow Illinois and enact similar proactive type legislation in order to prevent future senseless suicides of our children.