Published May 03, 2016
After Spencer Ore was banned from a Montana high school in 2013 for bringing two pistols to campus and was accused of making threats, his parents sought help with the hope that one day he'd reintegrate into society.
Margaret and Stephen Ore visited him every weekend while he was in juvenile detention. They invested in nearly two years of treatment for underlying behavioral problems.
When his doctors and probation officers said Spencer, now 16, was well enough to return to public school, the Ores moved across the state to enroll him at a school in quiet, rural Twin Bridges.
But last month, parents at Twin Bridges discovered Spencer's past and successfully sued to block him from attending the school, a rejection that left the Ores wondering whether a boy like theirs can get a second chance to get an education in an age of school shootings.
"We were just hoping that he could be accepted into that community and have a chance to be a regular kid," his mother said.
For the 31 parents and grandparents who sued, it's a risk they are not prepared to take.
"The bottom line is we feel like we're getting a dangerous child shoved down the throats of all the people here in the school," said Bart Baumeister, one of those who filed the case. "It's upsetting."
Spencer's parents said he was on antidepressants and medication for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder when he took a loaded .357 Magnum and unloaded .22 handgun to Harrison High School on Jan. 25, 2013.
A peer told the principal about the weapons in Spencer's backpack as the school bell was ringing just after 3 p.m.
Psychiatrists have since told his parents that the combination of those drugs, along with his then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder, could potentially make him unstable.
Spencer told two stories about why he packed the guns that day. In one, he planned to run away after school to live off the land in the Rocky Mountains. In the other, he wanted to prove that automatic weapons aren't necessary to carry out a school shooting.
"There was no one set plan," Spencer said. "It was just a bunch of racing thoughts running through my head."
Spencer spent a year between detention centers and therapy programs, but he was back home with his parents when things got worse for the Ores in January 2014.
In what his attorneys later called an attempt to impress a girl, Spencer talked in Facebook messages about committing new crimes. When he wrote, "this time ill blow up the whole (expletive) school," the girl protested.
"No i dont want to hurt anyone," Spencer wrote back. "I wont."
Spencer was sent back to treatment. He had violated his parole by using an unauthorized electronic device -- an iPod he had traded for a pair of shoes at a previous treatment facility.
Spencer showed major improvement at Normative Services in Sheridan, Wyoming, the most drastic coming when he was entrusted the responsibility of heading a house of 14 boys.
He was released back to his parents in early fall and remains on probation until his 18th birthday. Along with mood-stabilizing medication to treat bipolar disorder, psychiatrists prescribed Spencer something else: social interaction, specifically at school.
Spencer has attended Boy Scouts in the new town, but the Ores dropped any notion that he might attend Twin Bridges when school officials told them last month that some parents were encouraging their kids to provoke him in order to get him expelled.
Because of those threats, the Ores did not object when the school parents filed their lawsuit. In early February, the judge then removed the order that required Twin Bridges to allow Spencer to enroll in the school.
He was turned away from private schools, and he flunked an online course, indicative of the challenges that can come with computer-based learning.
The Ores plan to ask Harrison High School to provide at-home tutoring, but they're not sure their request will be considered. "We're kind of back to square one," Margaret Ore said.
Superintendents at Harrison and Twin Bridges school districts declined to comment for this story. State education officials could not comment because the Montana Office of Public Instruction does not discuss individual students.
Spencer has been helping his father, a contractor, build and renovate homes while he's been out of school, but it's not what he wants to do. He aspires to attend college, study forestry and pursue a career in wildland firefighting.
He misses competing in cross country meets and attending home basketball games with his friends.
"I'd like to go back to school, hang out with other kids my age," Spencer said, shrugging slightly in his plaid button-down. "I just want to be a normal kid again."