I have a unique perspective on school shootings and why I think they happen. As you can see from this photo, we were a pretty normal and happy-looking family. However, at one point in my life, I was in the mental state of one of those shooters.
The following is my personal story I would like to share with you. This is something I have wanted to share for a very long time, in hopes that more people will listen. I can’t stress enough how important that one word is: listen.
My story begins in 1982. I was in fourth grade at Marshdale Elementary in Evergreen, Colorado. My class was taking a tour of the library when I saw some people in the back room concentrating on something. My curiosity got the best of me, and I snuck away to see what they were doing.
There was a teacher there, Mrs. Ho. I stuck my head in the room and inquired as to what they were working on. She said, “These are computers, and I’m teaching them how to program.”
There was a Commodore Pet computer with a tape drive, and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. She offered to teach me how to use them, and from that day on, I was there every day after school, either learning programming or playing a math game called Lunar Lander.
In 1983, my parents purchased an Apple IIe for me, and from that point on, I was a full-fledged computer nerd. Unfortunately, along with that came the public status of nerd, dork, and a host of other names. Even more unfortunate is that it didn’t end with name-calling.
I started getting beaten up, almost on a daily basis, from being pushed around on the bus and laughed at by everyone, to being held down on the ground while snow was packed down my shirt and glasses. My glasses were always broken, and I never had fewer than two sections wrapped in tape to hold them together.
After walking into class late, with messed up hair, foggy glasses, and a wet and frozen chest, I had the pleasure of getting yelled at by the teacher for being tardy. If I tried to explain what had happened, I was told to be quite and that class had started. So, I shut up, sat down, and got ready to be sent to the principal’s office and/or detention.
That was fourth grade, and it was a hard start to my newly discovered love, passion, and hobby: computers.
These beatings continued throughout fifth, sixth, and seventh grade.
The worst year of my life, to this day, was 1985. I attended West Jefferson Middle School in Aspen Park, Colorado. I was in seventh grade, and the beatings, teasing, and humiliation had gotten unbearable. There were three guys in particular who really beat on me. Between periods, when we had to walk to a different bungalow, they would grab me. Two would hold me down while the other would pound with his knuckles into my chest. The bruises from the day before would hurt worse and worse with each daily beating. They would say incredibly mean things to me and embarrass me in front of the entire class.
When I walked home from school, there was one section of the road I had to go through, and these bullies always got ahead of me somehow, got up on this hill and threw rocks at me. I had to run through a hailstorm of rocks to get home. The bruises on my body and head hurt so bad each night.
One day, we had a free day where we could do whatever we wanted in class, and the teacher let us play Dungeons and Dragons. The mean kids invited me to play, and I was so excited. I thought maybe these kids were finally going to accept me. After 15 minutes of rolling my character, getting really lucky rolls and great stats, I had an unstoppable character. It was one of the best they had ever seen. Oh, I was so excited to start killing monsters and slaying beasts.
As we adventured into the first hallway of the dungeon, the Game Master said, “Roll the dice!”
I rolled, in great anticipation of what was going to happen next. And… my character fell down a pit, was impaled on a spike, and died. I was out of the game, and they all laughed at me.
At that time, I had found a Bulletin Board System (BBS) and started talking with others like me. Nerds. They had all kinds of advice on how to be cool at school. One tactic they had was to write on their notebooks the following words. I had no idea what they meant, but if these words were going to make me cool, I would try anything. So, I wrote “AC/DC,” “Metallica,” and other words that meant nothing to me.
The next day, I walked into class, proudly put my notepad on the desk, and eagerly waited for everyone to notice how very cool I was now. One of the bullies noticed my notebook, and I thought, This is it, I’m going to be cool now.
He walked up and asked if I like Metallica, and I confidently answered, “Oh, yes!”
He asked what my favorite song was by them, and I not-so-confidently answered, “All of them?”
He proceeded to tell me what a loser I was and that I had no idea what I was talking about. Then, he pushed me down onto the floor and kicked me while all of the other kids laughed. I was humiliated.
The low point of this teasing occurred when we had a substitute teacher. We were in a bungalow, and she had to go use the restroom. After she left, the three bullies grabbed me and started pushing me around. The rest of the kids in the class were laughing and pointing at me. Then they started to chant, “Bear claw!”
Two of the bullies held me while the third pressed with all his might on my temples. I passed out and woke up to the teacher standing above me, looking down at me with a not-so-happy expression. Apparently, the kids had told her I was trying to be a class clown by playing dead, and she didn’t think that was very funny.
I got sent to the principal’s office, and as I tried to explain my story, no one would listen. That day, I got two hours of detention. They put me in a room, turned off the lights, and locked the door.
For two hours, I pondered about how bad my life was. How everyone hated me. How no one liked me. How humiliated I always felt. How much mental and physical pain I was in. How my life would never change. I stewed and thought about how I could end all of this. I decided it was going to be violent, very violent.
That night, I waited for my father to start reloading his ammo like he usually did. And when he left the door open to go use the restroom, I stole one of his handguns and carefully packed it into my backpack.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night as I fantasized about killing these three bullies and anyone else who got in my way or laughed at me.
That next morning, as I sat on the bus, riding to school, I was so excited that all of this was going to finally end.
Lucky for me and the bullies, and who knows who else, all three of them decided to ditch class that day.
By that night, I had collected my thoughts and started to think about what the consequences would have been had I killed them. And I put the gun back.
Not one day goes by that I don’t still think about what my life would be like had the bullies not ditched school that day. I’m thankful every single day that I never carried that plan out.
There are several lessons I learned from this story.
To the victims like me: I say, hang in there. Things will change and things will get better. Don’t let yourself get consumed in the tunnel vision of no escape. When you think you just can’t take anymore, please just keep hanging in there. Things will change, I promise. Please don’t kill others or yourself.
To the teachers and principals: Please wake up and listen! Just because a victimized kid is not articulate or is afraid to say exactly what is going on, don’t penalize them by not listening or sending them to detention. Please be more aware of bulling and teasing. It’s so easy to sit back and say, “Oh, kids are mean. It’s a part of growing up.” For the average person that goes through a little of it, sure. But for the kid who lives in fear and humiliation and physical pain on a daily basis for years, it changes you.
To the parents: Don’t just listen to your child, ask questions. In my parents’ case, they had no idea at all of the pain I was going through. I never talked of it, and I never showed them my bruises. As far as they knew, I was a happy little computer nerd. But try to be more aware of your children and who they really are. If they are nerds, give them strength. If they are bullies, give them compassion. If they are normal bystanders, teach them action.
To the other children, witnesses, and bystanders: Please take action. Don’t just sit there and laugh. Stick up for the weak and less fortunate. Otherwise, you just might find yourself between a very weak person and a bully, and that is a far worse position to be in than risking sticking up for what is right in the first place.
To the bullies: I honestly don’t know what to say to you other than the obvious. Don’t bully. But I know you will not listen. Hopefully, others will intervene when you take things too far for too long.
Every time there is a school shooting, the first knee-jerk reaction everyone has is, Why would the psycho do that? What is wrong with that kid?
My first question is, Who didn’t listen?