Misfits who don't kill

Outcasts who grew up without resorting to violence talk about what kept them from a Littleton-style massacre


Charles JonesRussell MorseHazel Tesoro
April 22, 1999 2:00PM (UTC)

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Odd boys out

By Russell Morse

Freaks. Outcasts. Weirdos. These words are now casually thrown around by Columbine High School students in reference to the two boys who opened fire, killing 12 of their classmates and one of their teachers. One girl dismissed all the taunting and name calling they endured as "just stupid teenage stuff."

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But for many of us who've been viewed as square pegs in round holes -- and tormented for it -- it's been enough to prompt the fantasy of killing our tormentors. I remember sitting in biology class trying to figure out how much plastic explosive it might take to reduce the schoolhouse -- my biggest source of fear and anxiety -- to rubble. I scowled at those who teased me, and I had fantasies of them begging me for mercy, maybe even with a gun in their mouths. Those visions of having power and control over them excited me.

Was I a sick person in need of immediate psychological assessment? Was I a warped mind among millions of high school students who dealt with their frustrations by smoking pot or playing the violin? I don't think so. I'm sure there were thousands of other students who had the same fantasies I did. We just never acted on them.

Even today, looking back on high school brings up bad memories. Sure, I was a little eccentric -- quoting William Burroughs in drug awareness class and flicking boogers at pretty girls -- but that didn't warrant four years of torture and harassment. If only I had known then that the beautiful, trendy people who made my life so difficult only picked on me because they themselves were insecure, it might have helped. Maybe if I had more people to tell me they loved me and that I was beautiful, too -- even though I was different -- I would not have spent so many years isolated and afraid. Maybe that's all Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold needed.

I'm not trying to put blame on anyone for the tragedy in Littleton. But we should know that in every high school across the country, there exist kids with the capacity to repeat what we saw this week in Littleton. And yet, we act baffled when things like this happen, paralyzed with fear and unable to formulate any kind of response or prevention.

An insightful choir teacher at Columbine High School said Harris and Klebold were "extremely bright, but not good students." In "Hamlet," Shakepeare warns us that "Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go." Yet every day, thousands of us go unwatched. I went unwatched. So did Eric and Dylan.

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Scared to shoot

By Charles Jones

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I carried a gun to school when I was younger. I just never had the courage to use it.

In seventh grade I was an easy target. If it wasn't because of my size, then the clothes I wore made me the butt of jokes. My personal sense of style and fashion left me open to bitter jibes.

Imagine: I was a young black man standing 4-foot-5, with very light skin and freckles and a reddish Afro as high as a cloud. I wore turquoise jeans and Pro-wings. I was teased a lot, and I cried a lot, sometimes in class.

One day, when the teasing got to be too much for me, I decided to fight back. I got into a fight with another 13-year-old named Larry. Needless to say he beat the hell out of me. I was too weak to defend myself with my fists, but my pride kept drawing me into more and more fights.

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So two days after my 13th birthday, I snuck my mother's pearl-handled .22-caliber revolver out of the house and brought it to school. I hid it from my teachers but I knew where to get it if someone messed with me again. I had every intention of using it, against one boy in particular. I played out the scenario time and time again in my head.

What stopped me? I began to think about what would happen to me if I did try to shoot him. I fantasized about being killed by the police in a shootout. I became sick with fear, and changed my mind. I was afraid of dying at the hands of police. Two friends of mine had already been killed by gun violence. I also knew that the other boy could have had a gun. The last thing I wanted was to give him the pleasure of wounding me and laughing in my face -- or even killing me.

That fear was enough to get me to hold back.

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Suburban emptiness

By Hazel Tesoro

As a kid I had similar thoughts of rage. Only three months after moving to Stockton, Calif., from San Francisco, I was getting into fights on a regular basis. I was the outcast. I often dreamed of building a nuclear bomb and destroying everything. It is still a wonder to me why I chose not to act upon my violent fantasies, as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did. Theirs, obviously, was a crime of passion.

I cannot blame those kids in Littleton for what they did. Growing up in suburbia is enough to drive anybody mad. It was the move from the city to the suburbs that almost pushed me over the edge, stuck in the boonies with television as the only form of entertainment. Coming of age in the suburbs is like being raised in a padded cell.

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Charles Jones

Charles Jones writes for YO! Youth Outlook, a newspaper by and about young people.

MORE FROM Charles Jones

Russell Morse

Russell Morse is a writer for Pacific News Service in San Francisco.

MORE FROM Russell Morse

Hazel Tesoro

MORE FROM Hazel Tesoro

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