As the 24-hour digital autopsy about the latest school shootings
in California, Washington, and Massachusetts, continues, it
seems like the media is finally finding what's closer to the
truth in its attempt to command the ultimate answer to the
March 5Instead of demonizing Santee's shooter, 15-year-old
Andy Williams, phrases amounting to, "he was picked on, tormented,
called names, beaten for no reason, had both of his skateboards
were stolen in one week-he is a shy, country boy, big ears,
we can't believe it..." He brings a gun to school and two kids
are killed, others wounded. He says he doesn't want to live
but is coaxed out of the bathroom where he is finally cornered.
March 7In Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Bush, a 14-year-old
Catholic schoolgirl, picked up a gun and wounded 13-year-old
Kimberly Marchese with a single bullet. The information trickled
in with a shot of clarity: "She was always quiet, wanted to
be a human rights activist, nice girl, she had a big heartshe
was called vicious, vicious names, she was into cutting herself,
she'd been moved through several schools, she stood up for an
Asian girl that was being picked on..." She aims deliberately
and is lucky not to have killed Marchese. She offers to turn
the gun on herself saying she didn't want to live. A teacher
talks her into giving up her gun.
The depressing and dark truths of the shooters' home lives emerge;
broken homes, loneliness, treated as unattractive, depressed,
telling people how they really felt while little was done to
address their confessions. Williams had no one in court from
his entire family as he sat shaking in a courtroom, being arraigned
for murder. Bushwho's face was alternately pixelated and
shown fully on many news showsfound a supporter in her
victim's father, who declared her as likely a very sad lonely
girl who shouldn't be tried as an adult.
You couldn't find two more different lives as far as their experiences
go. Boy, girl. West coast, east coast. Public school, private
Catholic school. Unisex, all-girl. Middle class, upper-middle
class. Broken home, still married. Warm weather, cold weather.
Wild shooting spree, calculated hit. 15 years old, 14 years
old. But the result was the same: two completely abused, miserable,
lonely, hopeless, ignored, shuffled, suicidal kids could take
no more. Not another day. Williams not only profusely shared
his plan to shoot up his school (while recanting it of course
as a joke), saying he really didn't want to go to school that
day. Bush internalized her pain, so isolated that her plan included
As a sometimes victim of, and eyewitness to years of cruel,
sadistic, sociopathic abuse by fellow schoolmates, I can tell
you what happened. They showed up to school, didn't bother anyone,
and whether they tried to hide or extended themselves just a
little bit, they were stomped on, hunted, victimized, and belittled
probably almost every day in some way. I recall the periods
of time when I was the one who was picked on as stressful, lonely,
painful, and wary. Those few days when someone didn't provoke
me, abuse me or my property, or just plain exclude me, I walked
the halls and sat in class with open eyes in the back of my
head awaiting the next attack.
I went home, during my junior high school years and told my
parents that I really didn't want to go back. That "they" made
fun of me, were mean to me, never let me go, scared me, made
me cry. My parents saw my anguish face to face. They heard the
words. Their response was: "Look, it's school. Everyone gets
picked on now and then. Your father was called 'Big Ears' and
it really burnt him up but you just have to take it. We did."
I suppose they didn't see the difference between the punishments
meted out on me by strangers and those assessed in the home
by them and my three younger brothers, who took their cues from
mom and dad as well. If someone trespassed your boundaries,
hit you, mauled your property, robbed you, or humiliated you,
nothing was done to remedy the wrong. The only talking was the
yelling, name calling, and the conversation that was hurried
along to end the uncomfortable reality that something should
A few years later, when thoughts of suicide, nurtured by years
of knowing first hand that no one really cared enough to help
me, I told my mother, "What would you do if I said I wanted
to kill myself." Mom seemed to enjoy this momenther initial
surprise was replaced by her apt ability to diminish my concerns,
"Well, razors are awfully bloody. Guns are really messy. Pills?
You can choke on your own puke. A noose really hurts...are you
sure you wanna do that?"
From then on, I had many solitary nights in my bedroom holding
a bottle of aspirin in my hand visualizing the meaning of swallowing
them all (assuming that it would mean certain death), or holding
razors over my wrists, coming closer to running them over my
wrists each time.
I was forced to return to school, because the option was yelling
and beating, and I suspect I knew that I would suffer in the
long run left without an education, even though I got little
of that in public school as ignored and distracted as I was
about who was going to fuck with me next.
There were frozen days on the playground, where all were forced
to go for an hour every day, unless it was pouring rain or snowing.
Being lost in this crowd meant being out of eyeshot of any 'protective'
adult types. Despite my pleas to my teachers to be allowed to
stay inside and hide in the library, despite numerous efforts
to feign sickness and sit in the nurse's office, I was shoved
out the door into the arms of my most aggressive 'enemies'.
I can't tell you what I did to offend those kids, most of whom
were typically quite well off, white, Army Brats, or chronic
detention squatters with arrest records. Just as the victim
of a bully can be from anywhere, the predators had variations
in status. The one thing the vicious, sick kids had in common
was a desire to be powerful, the need to control and be applauded
at every moment; they loved to be feared. I know some of them
were miserable bastards, with divorced and bitter parents. I
know some of them were outcasts because they were always moving;
I know some were physically abused and had dubious parents.
In public school, you get 'em all. None of them cared if I was
a benign person who would actually never say no to helping someone.
It clearly didn't matter that I'd never so much as approached
some of them. Nor did it matter that I'd been around some of
them since I was five years old.
Sometimes I was physically attacked; shoved, tripped, books
knocked out of my hands, boxed in and pushed around by a mass
of them. I was kicked, flat-footed, hit by flying objects (including
mucus, erasers, notebooks, books, darts). Other times I was
blamed for things I didn't do. There were times when my books
were covered with insults and humiliating cartoons. Once Tootsie
Rolls were chewed and spit into my jacket sleeves on a bitter
cold day. Sometimes my locker was defaced or invaded and trashed.
My property was stolen or broken. Most of the time it was more
fun and much easier for kids to merely humiliate me.
Taking my shoes during a sock hop and hurling them into darkened
folded bleachers was the cause for much fun at the one and only
school dance I ever attended. Calling me ugly, a dog, mooing,
were all easily improvised in any setting. Shaming me with labels
of stupidity, wierdness, smelliness, dirtiness were also common
events in my junior high school days.
I cried all the time; in school, at home, into my pillow, alone
in the woods, while watching TV. No one, not teachers, my parents,
or any one else acknowledged my tears. I had a few friends who
consoled me, but they too were treated like outcasts of acceptability
and humane treatment. Being a girl it was easy to call me ugly,
to snap my bra strap, to call me fat in gym class when we wore
shorts and ran. I wrote depressing poems and more alarming letters
to my closest friends. Despite being in one genius class and
a selective art class, my protestations and obvious severe depression
were never acknowledged by anyone to the degree that action
When Andrea Jacoby, a short, wirey girl with one eye, who was
clearly gay and very masculine--an Army Brat and addicted to
fighting and being accepted by the cool boys in class--smashed
my upper arm with a filthy, powdery eraser, I turned to her
in flushed-hot rage and called her an "Ass". My reaction only
fed her delight.
"She said 'ass'! This fuckin' idiot said I was an ass!" I turned
to my right to see a group of girls who, only the week before,
were my tightest friends, laughing and pointing at me. Not long
after, these same lovely girls (all from wealthy broken homes
or Army brats) decided to talk openly about how I never washed
my hands after using the bathroom. While I was sure they were
correct overall (since hygiene and order were not practiced
in my ultra neglectful home), I couldn't understand why they
had to do this to me. I sat there, at my desk, turning crimson
and purple, my temperature popping into beads of sweat and a
rush of anxiety that made it impossible to work, think, or relax.
Never did I turn around to see a teacher who might be concerned,
who looked like she or he saw what was going on. Not one adult
stood up for me or punished the offenders, which empowered them
all the more.
I wasn't their only victim. There's never just 'one' victim
for these roaming packs of mean, miserable, ignorant kids. They
take relief where they can get it. Sometimes it was me, sometimes
the wheelchair girl, the fat kids, the zit-faced students, the
clumsy ones, the black or hispanic ones, the geeks, the smallest
ones, the freakishly big ones. There was no shortage of victims.
Conversely, many of these students were quite popular. Sometimes
they were academic achievers, sports stars, seriously good looking
and well liked, or just obnoxious and funny. They flattered
and charmed the school staff, they had respectable irreproachable
families; they were rarely dispensed with more than an official
If there was a fight, more often than not the victim was punished
just as severely as the assailant. It didn't matter that I was
a zombie; that I showed up at school with dirt rings round my
neck. It didn't matter when my grades dropped; when I called
in sick a dozen times in one semester. It didn't matter that
I cried often or that my parents didn't seem to see the problem.
I was on my own and felt utterly valueless and worthless in
Don't get me wrong. My revenge fantasies were brutal. When Jacoby
clapped that eraser on my clean clothes and upper arm, I imagined
grabbing her by the hair, jamming a pen in her one good eye,
and smashing her tiny evil head into the cement flooring until
she vomited and died.
When John Rogers made it his job to hiss at me from across the
librarymy one sanctuaryand tell me how 'beautiful'
I was (knowing full well I was dressed in brown, used, dirty
clothing, with knots in my hair), I imagined taking a knife
and gutting his throat. The imagery of stamping on his head
and dropping cinderblocks on his face made me physically shudder
and wince. When my brothers stole my underwear and fashion mags
and jerked off on them without any punishment to follow despite
my screaming to my mother, I created murders that shut my brain
down they were so violent and fiendish.
I didn't think anyone would miss me, including my family. My
fantasy was to die and make them all feel awful. I'd write a
letter blaming them all for every transgression so they would
know what they drove me to do. Ultimately, I couldn't go through
with it, despite my extremely able access to guns (my dad was
a hunter and collector and my brother collected guns with impunity),
I was scared to die. I was afraid to suffer, or mess it up and
wind up worse off. Resigned to a life of complete gloom, I went
through the motions for years, rarely smiling. For a time, things
like insomnia and obsession and eating disorders became my expression.
By the beginning of my senior year of high school I could take
no more. Refusing to get out of bed, I said I was never going
back. I'd made it all the way to my senior year but I could
take not a minute more. I'd gotten so freaked out about suicide
that I ran to my retard class teacher, in the middle of a period,
knocked on her door, and said that I had to leave immediately
because I wanted to kill myself. She appeared responsibly panicked,
covered her class, and rushed me to the principal's office.
There, she said, I would wait until the school psychiatrist
would help. Outwardly I protested, saying I just wanted to go
home, inwardly, I was relieved and thought, "Finally, someone
will help me."
I sat there on a bench for about four hours. No one spoke to
mekids getting in trouble, the kinds of kids who could
turn on me in a nanosecond sat beside me awaiting a lecture
from the vice principal. Parents and other adults awaiting meetings
arrived and didn't seem to see me. It was terrifying and mystifying.
Did I not just say I was going to kill myself or not?
Finally, I was brought into one of the shrink's offices. He
spit out a few disinterested and impatient questions. I opened
up immediately but also shut down as the only thing he seemed
to say was, "Un-hunh? So then what? Okay..." Within ten minutes
the end of day bell rang. He cut me off mid-thought and said
he had to go. He showed me out and that was it.
No one spoke to me of this ever again. Not my parents, not the
school, not the shrink. It was as if it never happened. I guarantee
you this is the experience of Elizabeth Bush and Andy Williams
and Dylan Klebold and all the others that came before and will
make their mark in years to come.
The question is, will society ever start making an effort to
stomp out the bullies and take THEM into examination? Will people
start thinking before they have children, for whom they don't
have the mental or emotional capacity to care for, guide, and
nurture? As long as the hard long arm of the law slams down
on these minor-aged offenders, as long as the punks who tormented
the victims appear on a thousand video clips declaring the evil
of their victim's acts, as long as the blame is placed on gun
laws and only by whiff, the parents, these killings will continue.
I suggest for your own children's sake you teach them to look
to all other kids and find the uniqueness in them. Teach them
never to hurt others and explain how terrible it really is.
Encourage them to seek out and befriend people they see being
victimized. The lives your children save might be their own.
Copyright © 2001 Viki Reed. All Rights
Viki Reed is a regular contributor to