Community rallies around AJ Wallace
Since Andrew J.R. Wallace (AJ to those who know him well) was charged with disorderly conduct Dec. 19, for allegedly threatening a 9-year-old student at Somerset Elementary School, community members, friends and even strangers have come to his defense.
Wallace, 20, of New Richmond, pleaded innocent to the disorderly conduct charge Dec. 19. The Wallaces hired attorney Lida Bannink of Remington Law Office in New Richmond. He is scheduled for a pretrial conference at the St. Croix County Government Center at 4 p.m., Jan. 15.
Jayme Watters of Somerset is a family friend of the Wallaces. Her children have been going to Melinda Wallace’s in-home daycare for five years, Watters said. In those five years, Watters has gotten to know AJ well.
“AJ is warm and friendly,” Watters said. “He doesn’t have an aggressive ounce in his body.”
Watters feels strongly that AJ was wrongly accused of threatening to harm a child Dec. 19. The alleged threat caused all Somerset public schools to go into lockdown for the entire day. Police officers were posted at each school.
Watters started a Facebook page the weekend following the incident titled “Support AJ Wallace.” Since its inception, the page has attracted 718 members. Watters said many people who don’t know AJ but feel he is innocent have reached out to him through her and the page.
She also started a fundraising campaign on gofundme.com to help the Wallace family raise money for a $3,500 attorney retainer fee.
“I felt that would be the best way for AJ to get some support,” Watters said. “I felt that would also be the fastest way to get the real story out.”
Watters said she was messaged and approached by random strangers asking her if they could help AJ in some way or donate to his retainer fee. She said at first she tried contacting people individually, but soon realized the job was too big for her and began both pages as a means to communicate with a large number of people.
As of press time, AJ’s gofundme.com page had received $2,114 in donations. Ultimately the attorney’s fees will be more than $3,500, but that was a number to start with, Watters said.
A statement written by Watters on the gofundme.com page says: “The morning of Dec. 19 began like all others; a father took his two children to school and because one of the children has autism, they get walked to their classrooms each day. Since their older brother, Andrew, was home from college on Christmas break, the children wanted him to walk in with them, and so he did. I should stop here and describe this young man; Andrew, or AJ, is 6’2”, has longer hair, and as is the trend with so many young men today, he has a full beard. We describe him as our Gentle Giant; his manners are impeccable, he is well rounded, very well liked in his community, and at every opportunity he shows kindness and concern for people he comes in contact with. On this morning, all four entered the school, the father and older brother signed themselves in, and they proceeded to the children’s classes. Along the way, a teacher recognized AJ from a football picture that had been in the paper and chatted with him. As they were leaving, they signed themselves out, held the door open for a family entering the school, got in the car, and they went on their way. It all seemed so normal; they had no idea that a child reported to her teacher that a stranger in the hall had made threatening comments. Just a short time later, the police arrived at their home, arrested AJ, took him to jail, released his name and picture to the media, and so began a day that he will remember for the rest of his life; a day that could have an effect on the rest of his life, and a day that has changed his perspective on how quickly a reputation can be scarred.”
According to Watters, AJ attends college at the University of Minnesota-Crookston and comes from a family of nine children.
“They are a family of good faith,” Watters said. “They believe everything happens for a reason. Melinda has been so thankful for the outpouring of support, but can’t say anything because of the case. She wishes she could thank all the people personally.”
Bannink issued this statement concerning public support of AJ: “The family greatly appreciates the outpouring of community support and looks forward to establishing the truth.”
Watters, who has a son in the Somerset schools, said the family is not resentful or angry about how the school handled the situation, but wishes different procedures were in place so this didn’t happen to AJ.
“The bottom line is the school did what it needed to do,” Watters said. “We were all scared (about the lockdown). But I think it was a total misunderstanding.”