John Tyler High School Student Held in Teacher's Death

Photo: Todd R. Henry

TYLER, Texas (AP) Todd R. Henry, a special-education teacher at John Tyler High School, who had a passion for music was fatally stabbed Wednesday morning in a Texas classroom, and police took a 16-year-old student into custody.

Henry, 50, worked with students who were either emotionally or behaviorally challenged, according to his older brother, Jody Henry.

"He loved it," the elder Henry said. "He told me it was his calling. He had never been happier than when working with these kids."

District Superintendent Randy Reid said the male suspect approached his teacher about 8:50 a.m. and stabbed him in the neck with a sharp object. A teacher's aide and two other students were in the classroom, and the aide subdued the suspect before calling district police, Reid said.

Reid said the student had been in and out of the district "a couple of times," but declined to provide further details, citing privacy laws.

According to the Tyler school district's Web site, the student was detained at the Smith County juvenile detention facility in Tyler.

"It is our understanding at this time that there was nothing in the classroom that incited this situation," Reid said. "It was a random act."

The high school was locked down after the stabbing and students were eventually sent home for the day, according to a statement on the district's Web site. Reid said classes would resume Thursday.

Jan Shaw Henry, the teacher's wife of 10 months, said he had been injured by a student before. Todd Henry missed the first two weeks of school recovering from shoulder surgery after he broke up a fight at school last year, his wife said.

"He worked in a prison for 10 years. Do you think this man was afraid? Get real," Jan said in a telephone interview from her Tyler home, surrounded by close friends and family. "We'd be eating out and a student would walk up and shake his hand. He'd look at me and smile and say, 'That's what it's all about."'

Police did not offer a motive behind the stabbing and referred further questions to Angela Jenkins, a school district spokeswoman.

Jenkins said about 2,000 students attend John Tyler High and the district will provide additional support, security, and counseling for students and staff as needed.

She said Todd Henry began working for the district in 2003 at a school for special needs students and transferred to the high school four years ago.

Late Wednesday afternoon only a few cars remained in the parking lot, and all entrances were blocked off with heavy steel barriers.

Jose Mundo, a 16-year-old junior at the school, said he learned of the stabbing through a text message sent by a friend during the two-hour lockdown. He said Henry was his band teacher last year. "He was cool with you," Mundo said. "He was a nice guy."

Those who lived and worked nearby said they were stunned to learn of the slaying.

"Nothing like this has ever happened here as far as I know," said Don Dozier, a custodian for 15 years at Westwood Baptist Church next to the school.

The stabbing stunned the tight-knit community of 110,000, located about 90 miles southeast of Dallas.

"It's quite a shock," said city of Tyler Communications Director Susan Guthrie, who received a text message from the police chief soon after the stabbing. "Everybody was very shocked and saddened by the news."

Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass interrupted the morning City Council meeting to observe a moment of silence, Guthrie said.

Henry, a native of Chicago, grew up in Huntsville, Texas, after his family moved there in 1973. He was a confirmed bachelor until he married Jan, also an educator.

Henry earned a degree in psychology with an emphasis in music therapy, working for at least a decade as a music therapist, mainly with inmates in the state's prison system, his wife said.

He was self-taught on several string instruments, played in several bands on the weekends and did some studio work.

Photo: Todd R. Henry

"He was an amazing guitar player and just an all-around great guy," said Matt Robb, minister of instrumental music at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, where Todd Henry filled in on guitar for the church orchestra. "He was so gifted. Music was like his first language.

"When he picked up that guitar you could tell that it came from his heart and soul. It brought so much joy to his life and joy to the people who heard him play."

On his Web site, Todd Henry gave an inkling of how powerful he believed music to be.

"I know that music can be a direct link to feelings and passions and is therefore a powerful tool," he wrote.

September 23, 2009 - John Tyler High School Stabbing Leaves Teacher Dead