JS Archive

Oct 2006: Home life, not school, hardened Hainstock

Mike Nichols Mike Nichols

To John Klang, the board of education on which he long sat was a good thing, something deserving of 20 years of service.

To Eric Hainstock, the boy charged with walking into Weston High School the other day and murdering him, the board of education was something entirely different.

It was, quite literally, a cruel joke.

The “board of education” in the Hainstock house was a paddle with those very words written upon it in what was surely supposed to be an amusing pun, a paddle that prosecutors once said his dad used to whomp on him.

Shawn Hainstock, a 2001 abuse complaint alleged, also spanked his son with a belt, kicked him, threatened him with juvenile court and foster care – something that, actually, would have been a blessing. Instead he lived in a home that was a curse.

Everyone wonders what schools can do to stop these kids. The answer: nothing.

Certainly, they try. The abuse complaint filed against Shawn Hainstock, which eventually resulted in a deferred prosecution agreement and then was dismissed, suggests it was the school that notified authorities of the abuse after the boy wrote about it in class.

As a result, Eric Hainstock was placed with a grandmother until April of 2002, when he was allowed to return to his home. Not that it was ever much of one.

Eric Hainstock’s parents divorced in 1993 after a short marriage, and Judge Patrick Taggart found in a 1995 opinion that both had “serious limitations.” Both were instructed, among other things, not to take the boy, who was 4 years old, to any taverns.

Although unemployed and on disability, the father seems to have had some redeeming qualities.

The boy’s mother apparently wanted so little to do with him, or with child support payments, that her parental rights were terminated entirely in 2000. That was shortly before police were told that the boy had a problem that affected his behavior and that his family could no longer afford medication or counseling.

One of the reasons, court records suggest, that his mother was not better at supporting him? She apparently remarried and got pregnant not long after the divorce was finalized and, according to a 1996 letter sent to the Sauk County Child Support Agency, couldn’t work for a while because of pregnancy-related discomfort.

There’s a whole lot of discomfort going around now.

Eric Hainstock is 15 years old and if he is found guilty he should spend his life in a cell. But 15 is not 25, and you have to acknowledge that it takes some kind of odd crucible to warp a kid that young.

That doesn’t happen because some board of education somewhere – a real one – didn’t mandate enough counselors or anti-bully programs. Schools aren’t parents, much as some parents would like them to be.

That’s more than unrealistic. When a kid has a warped view of a parent to start with, that can, we now know, also be dangerous.

John Klang had a home that included a wife and three children and still he spent 20 years of his life going to meetings that had a lot more to do with everyone else’s kids than his own.

Then, after he became a principal, one of those kids who seemed to have crazed ideas, according to police, killed him. Could there possibly be a more thankless job?

Eric Hainstock had a home, too, of course, though he might never see it again. Probably won’t see the juvenile court his father once threatened, either.

No, he’s in adult court now. In fact, he’s in the same court – the court of Judge Taggart – his parents once duked it out in.

How apt.