‘ PULLING A COLUMBINE’

WHO WAS TO BLAME FOR THE SAN­TANA HIGH SCHOOL SLAY­INGS – BABY - FACED TRIG­GER­MAN CHARLES ‘ ANDY’ WIL­LIAMS, OR THE SO CI­ETY THAT PRO­DUCED HIM?

Real Crime - - Contents - Words Dr. Abby Ben­tham

No one be­lieved Charles Wil­liams when he said he wanted to recre­ate one of the worst school shoot­ings in US his­tory

Mon­day 5 March 2001 should have been a day like any other. But for the staff and stu­dents of San­tana High School in San­tee, Cal­i­for­nia, it would prove to be the worst day of their lives. At 9.20am, when the school day had barely be­gun, gun­fire rang out from the boys’ re­stroom. The shoot­ing spree that fol­lowed lasted just six min­utes, but at its end two boys lay dead and 13 other peo­ple were wounded. Later, friends of Wil­liams said that he had been warn­ing for weeks that he planned to ‘ pull a Columbine’ – so why did no­body stop him?

Wil­liams was an un­likely as­sas­sin – 1.63 me­tres tall and young- look­ing for his 15 years, he was gen­er­ally known as a fun guy who liked jok­ing around. Yet boil­ing in­side him was a mur­der­ous rage, which com­men­ta­tors have been quick to at­tribute to his en­vi­ron­ment. Fol­low­ing the shoot­ings, re­ports started to emerge of a bro­ken and dys­func­tional home, bul­ly­ing and es­trange­ment, and an un­car­ing school sys­tem that was ill- equipped to sup­port the most vul­ner­a­ble.

“His fu­ture’s gone”

In an ar­ti­cle pub­lished less than a week after the slay­ings, Time mag­a­zine de­scribed Wil­liams as a “lost boy”, its words not only echo­ing Wil­liams’s mother, who lamented, “He’s lost. His fu­ture’s gone”, but also evok­ing the lost boys in J. M. Bar­rie’s Peter Pan. In Bar­rie’s novel, the lost boys are those “who fall out of their prams when the nurse is look­ing the other way, and if they are not claimed in seven days, they are sent far away to the Nev­er­land.” In both Peter Pan and Time, the in­fer­ence is clear: if those pesky women had done their jobs prop­erly, those help­less young boys would be safe.

Cov­er­age of the Wil­liams case is notable for the heav­ily gen­dered at­ten­tion that crit­ics pay to the lack of con­tact the boy had with his mother. Since his par­ents’ di­vorce 11 years ear­lier, Wil­liams had lived with his fa­ther in Brunswick, Mary­land, while his brother lived with his mother in South Carolina. Con­tact be­tween Wil­liams and his mother was lim­ited to a visit at Christ­mas time and an oc­ca­sional call or card on his birth­day. Re­ports about Wil­liams’s re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther vary, with many de­scrib­ing his fa­ther as lov­ing and en­gaged and oth­ers call­ing him ne­glect­ful and per­mis­sive. What­ever the facts in that re­gard, nei­ther par­ent was present at Wil­liams’s ar­raign­ment, both claim­ing to be too dis­traught to at­tend court in sup­port of their son.

Friends in Mary­land re­called Wil­liams as a happy, wellad­justed boy with a strong net­work of friends, although the fact that he would call the moth­ers of his friends ‘ Mom’ seems to sug­gest that he longed for a ma­ter­nal in­flu­ence. In 1999, when Wil­liams was 13, he and his fa­ther moved to Twen­ty­nine Palms near Palm Springs, a struc­tured and nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment where Wil­liams be­came ac­tively in­volved in the church and grew close to his grand­par­ents. Six months later he was up­rooted again, when his fa­ther took a job in San­tee, near San Diego. Wil­liams found it dif­fi­cult to set­tle there, the more cos­mopoli­tan at­mos­phere prov­ing a dif­fi­cult ad­just­ment for a boy who had only ever lived in ru­ral en­vi­ron­ments. At San­tana High School, Wil­liams made friends with a tough crowd and be­gan drink­ing al­co­hol and smok­ing mar­i­juana on a daily ba­sis.

It was at school that the first of the ‘ red flags’ be­gan ap­pear­ing, but no­body took heed of the signs that Wil­liams’s life was spi­ralling out of con­trol. Liv­ing in a sin­gle- par­ent fam­ily with a fa­ther who worked meant that Wil­liams was of­ten un­su­per­vised and was lack­ing bound­aries. His once- de­cent grades plum­meted and he tru­anted reg­u­larly, pre­fer­ring to hang out with his friends and get stoned and drunk. Years later, Wil­liams claimed that at this point in his

It was at school that the first of the ‘ red flags’ be­gan ap­pear­ing, but no­body

took heed of the signs

life he was also ad­dicted to pre­scrip­tion painkillers, which he stole from his friend’s mother. Nei­ther his fa­ther nor the school ap­pear to have taken steps to get Wil­liams back on the straight and nar­row. They also seem to have been obliv­i­ous to the fact that he was get­ting badly bul­lied at school and was al­legedly be­ing sex­u­ally abused by an older man.

Crav­ing ac­cep­tance, meet­ing re­jec­tion

Like many other schools, San­tana High was a tribal place. Stu­dents seg­re­gated them­selves in broadly de­fined cliques: jocks, nerds, freaks, goths, Mex­i­can gang­sters, white su­prem­a­cists, etc. Gentry Robler, a 16- year- old sopho­more, told jour­nal­ists after the shoot­ing, “There’s a lot of hate around here. This is a school that was wait­ing for some­thing like this to hap­pen.” After the killings, news re­ports were filled with de­scrip­tions of the bul­ly­ing that Wil­liams suf­fered from out­side his friend­ship group and within it. Wil­liams was small and slight – no match for the much big­ger kids, who

tak­ing a gun and hav­ing power over life and death would of­fer the ul­ti­mate means of re- in­scrib­ing his mas­culin­ity

phys­i­cally and ver­bally as­saulted him, stole his be­long­ings and hu­mil­i­ated him on a daily ba­sis. Ridiculed even by his clos­est friends, Wil­liams sought so­lace in a tiny stuffed mon­key named ‘ Spunky’, which he took to school ev­ery day and be­lieved to be his only friend.

Ten years after the shoot­ings, Wil­liams told re­porters that dur­ing this pe­riod he and his friends were be­ing sex­u­ally abused by 29- year- old Chris Reynolds, the boyfriend of the mother of Wil­liams’s friend Josh Stevens. Reynolds would buy the boys drugs, cig­a­rettes and al­co­hol in re­turn for sex­ual favours, and the re­sul­tant guilt and self- loathing seems to have im­pacted on Wil­liams’s men­tal state. Although the claim of abuse was met with scep­ti­cism in some quar­ters, it does fit with the sud­den dip in Wil­liams’s aca­demic per­for­mance and per­sonal be­hav­iour. The na­ture of the abuse is also con­sis­tent with known mod­els of grooming and child sex­ual ex­ploita­tion, and Reynolds has since been un­veiled as a sex­ual preda­tor and has been jailed at least twice for of­fences against chil­dren.

Yet for all the warn­ing signs, no­body at San­tana High or in Wil­liams’s fam­ily seems to have no­ticed what was hap­pen­ing. When in­ter­viewed years after the shoot­ings, Wil­liams’s dad said he knew his son was in with a bad crowd but that he sim­ply told him, “I don’t like these guys, but that’s your choice to hang out with them.” The school sim­i­larly brushed away any sug­ges­tion of cul­pa­bil­ity, claim­ing that there was no ev­i­dence that Wil­liams was bul­lied, in­sist­ing that staff were never aware of any se­ri­ous or con­cern­ing in­ci­dents.

How­ever, Wil­liams in­sists that he re­ported the bul­ly­ing to staff on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and at one point even told a mem­ber of the school se­cu­rity team that he in­tended to bring in a gun and “shoot up the school”. It seems un­likely that just two years after the Columbine mas­sacre, those in author­ity would ig­nore a self- con­fessed wannabe school shooter, but even if Wil­liams’s claims in this re­gard are un­true, there are many who feel the school should have done more. Speak­ing on be­half of the Zuckor fam­ily, who filed a claim against the school dis­trict, at­tor­ney Ken­neth Hoyt said, “Andy Wil­liams ex­hib­ited signs and symp­toms of a trou­bled per­son… there needs to be some in­ter­ven­tion. We be­lieve that the school should have pro­ce­dures in place.” Daniel Shi­noff, at­tor­ney for Gross­mont School Dis­trict, de­nied that the school was cul­pa­ble, say­ing that re­spon­si­bil­ity for the tragic events of 5 March 2001 lay squarely with the shooter.

Whether the school was aware of Wil­liams’s prob­lems or not, it is a fact that Wil­liams re­peat­edly told his peers that he in­tended to steal one of his fa­ther’s guns and use it in a Columbine- style atroc­ity. When pressed, he would laugh and claim to be jok­ing, which sug­gests that, ini­tially at least, he was sim­ply pos­tur­ing, hop­ing to gain re­spect and no­to­ri­ety.

Toxic mas­culin­ity

Although talk­ing about his plan got Wil­liams the at­ten­tion he seemed to crave, it did lit­tle to im­prove his stand­ing among his peers. Most of his friends mocked him for his per­ceived in­abil­ity to carry out the threat, and Wil­liams has claimed that in­stead of try­ing to stop him they called him a “pussy” and urged him to go through with it. Josh Stevens did tell Chris Reynolds what Wil­liams was plan­ning, but Reynolds, keen to be per­ceived as a buddy rather than an author­ity fig­ure, did not re­port the threats. Like the boys he hung around with, Reynolds dis­played a kind of toxic mas­culin­ity rooted in a need for so­cial dom­i­nance.

The Good Men Project de­fines toxic mas­culin­ity as “a nar­row and re­pres­sive de­scrip­tion of man­hood, des­ig­nat­ing man­hood as de­fined by vi­o­lence, sex, sta­tus and ag­gres­sion. It’s the cul­tural ideal of man­li­ness, where strength is every­thing while emo­tions are a weak­ness; where sex and bru­tal­ity are yard­sticks by which men are mea­sured, while sup­pos­edly ‘ fem­i­nine’ traits – which can range from emo­tional vul­ner­a­bil­ity to sim­ply not be­ing hy­per­sex­ual – are the means by which your sta­tus as ‘ man’ can be taken away.” To the diminu­tive Wil­liams, bul­lied and branded a “pussy” by his peers, the pain and hu­mil­i­a­tion he suf­fered at the hands of his tor­men­tors must have felt like proof that his be­lea­guered mas­cu­line per­for­mance was lack­ing the po­tency and im­pact de­manded by so­ci­ety. Tak­ing a gun and lit­er­ally hav­ing power over life and death would of­fer the ul­ti­mate means of re- in­scrib­ing his mas­culin­ity and en­sur­ing that he was feared and not for­got­ten.

Josh Stevens told Time that Wil­liams was in­spired to kill by the nu- me­tal band Linkin Park. Their mu­sic, which ex­plores themes of lone­li­ness and alien­ation, per­sonal suf­fer­ing and in­ner de­mons, res­onated with Wil­liams, who claims to have felt sui­ci­dal in the run- up to the shoot­ings. Their de­but al­bum Hy­brid The­ory, re­leased in 2000, con­tains an an­gry, angst- rid­den song called In the End.

The lyrics take on a chill­ing sig­nif­i­cance in the af­ter­math of the San­tana High School shoot­ings: “In spite of the way you were mock­ing me/ Act­ing like I was part of your prop­erty/ Re­mem­ber­ing all the times you fought with me/ I’m sur­prised it got so far...” It’s hard to say whether the song pushed Wil­liams over the edge, but it cer­tainly seems to have meant some­thing to him; in a note he left for his fa­ther prior to the shoot­ing, he quoted the line, ‘“I tried so hard, and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter.”

In the years since the at­tack, Wil­liams has made var­i­ous claims seem­ingly de­signed to re­duce his cul­pa­bil­ity. In an in­ter­view with Miles O’Brien of PBS NewsHour in 2013, he said, “At 15 I didn’t com­pre­hend the fi­nal­ity and the wrong­ness… I didn’t think that two boys were go­ing to die, I didn’t think that 13 peo­ple were go­ing to get shot. I just thought that I was go­ing to make a lot of noise and that the cops were go­ing to show up.”

Whether he in­tended for things to go as far as they did or not, the fact re­mains that op­por­tu­ni­ties to pre­vent the tragedy were missed, both at home and at school. In his book School Shoot­ers: Un­der­stand­ing High School, Col­lege, And Adult Per­pe­tra­tors, Dr. Peter Lang­man iden­ti­fies com­mon pat­terns in school shoot­ing cases. He notes that shoot­ers are of­ten small in stature, so­cially marginalised and the vic­tims of trau­ma­tis­ing events. Ro­man­tic and aca­demic fail­ures are also com­mon, as is stress re­lated to change or loss.

Skinny lit­tle Charles ‘ Andy’ Wil­liams – who re­lo­cated twice in two months and was bul­lied, abused and fail­ing aca­dem­i­cally, was es­tranged from his mother and sting­ing after a break- up – ticked all of the boxes, but no­body no­ticed. Per­haps if they had, two teenagers wouldn’t have been mur­dered in the school they should have been safe in, and the child who pulled the trig­ger wouldn’t have been tried as an adult and sen­tenced to 50 years in jail.

above The boys’ re­stroom where Wil­liams killed his first vic­tim. Bryan Zuckor was shot at point­blank range in the back of the head and died where he lay, on the dirty floorop­po­site A quad­ran­gle at San­tana High School lies eerily empty one day after the shoot­ing. 15- year- old Wil­liams had re­peat­edly warned his peers of his plan to “shoot up the school”

Right Randy Gor­don, 17, a tal­ented track and cross coun­try run­ner, was chat­ting with a friend when he was shot in the back. He died in hos­pi­tal

above School se­cu­rity guard Peter Ruiz, 22, was shot three times by Wil­liams as he tried to usher stu­dents to safety. One .22- cal­i­bre round passed right through his shoul­der

be­low The Linkin Park song In The End is said to have in­spired the atroc­ity. Its lyrics talk of pain, hu­mil­i­a­tion and fight­ing, be­fore mus­ing “I’m sur­prised it got so far”

above Charles An­drew Wil­liams be­ing led away from theEast County Re­gional Cen­ter Court­house fa­cil­ity fol­low­ing his ar­raign­ment for mur­der, at­tempted mur­der and as­sault with a firearmbe­low A stu­dent grieves at a makeshift shrine out­side San­tana High School

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