I Was a Suspected School Shooter
By now, the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting has faded into memory for many people, a horrible event already superseded in the headlines by other horrible events. At the time it shocked me to a degree I thought I could no longer be shocked, a reaction no doubt shared by everyone who heard the news. But it also stirred up some more complicated emotions for me along with the sadness—it reminded me that when I was a teenager, the people around me thought that I was capable of what the Newtown killer did. At one point, I was more of a potential murderer than a potential murder victim.
I grew up in a Barre, Vermont, a town with a poverty level on par with an urban slum, a rural pocket of ugliness decorated with a halfway houses and abandoned storefronts. The town bred drug addicts, premature deaths, and weirdos, but I was still too weird for it. As a kid, I possessed an eccentric streak and was prone to long periods of silence punctuated by bursts of hyperactivity. On top of that, I possessed a dark sense of humor, and I was naturally attracted to outlandish outfits. I tried to tame these tendencies and stay under the social radar in middle school and early high school, but it didn’t help. It was like my classmates could smell that I wasn’t quite right. I was bullied mercilessly for years, even by my “best friends,” in the manner of the worst stereotypes of tween girls. My friends would send mixed messages, being affectionate one moment only to commit spontaneous acts of physical and borderline sexual violence and emotional terror the next. What I wore, what I ate, and who I talked to were all controlled. Imagine Mean Girls only the girls weren’t as popular or attractive and were much more vicious. We were probably only friends by default—we were bullied together by the more popular kids, thus we stuck it out together, but we never mistook our forced alliance for love.
The summer of 1997, before my sophomore year of high school, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to fit into my current environment regardless of what I did, and I was sick of the unhealthy relationship that I was stuck in with my “friends.” I was still shy and withdrawn, so my rebellion was expressed through my clothing instead of my words—excessive amounts of eye makeup, dog collars, offensive tee shirts, the whole avant-garde nine yards. This acting out wasn’t directed against my parents (they didn’t care how I dressed) but towards my friends and the rest of the school. I figured letting my weirdness show regardless of the potential backlash was better than continuing to try desperately to fit in only to be mildly tolerated at best.
There was no goth subculture at my school back then, so I stood out like a black thumb; I was the most bizarre-looking kid in town. My style was met with equal parts disgust and fascination by my classmates, and the bullying predictably escalated—I was verbally and physically assaulted on a regular basis, receiving death threats at least once a month. Teachers not only didn’t bother to defend me, they would often chime in with comments about my appearance, maybe in an effort to impress the more popular kids, who were usually the offspring of the grown townspeople with high standing in the community.
The other form my rebellion took was a book of charts and rhymes and short stories I had been working on for a while—by the time I was 15, it was 23 pages long and full of frustration and silliness. I shared it with my friends and it became the source of a bunch of inside jokes. Oh, and I killed some people in it too, people I knew who I thought were malicious—I referred to them by surreal fake names and described their deaths in cartoonish detail; most of them were murdered by a disco ball at the Elks Club. Here’s how I described it:
“Nuffiunda calmly took a knife out of her pocket and cut the rope. For the kids below, there was no more hope. The disco ball swung uneasily and in a matter of seconds, maybe just four, it was no longer above the dance floor. A loud crash vibrated the room, as several kids below had met their doom.”
As time went on, I started to prefer escaping into the private world of writing to trying and failing to impress my frenemies, and that attitude resulted in them banishing me and another girl from the group. We became loners in the truest sense: Only two people signed my senior yearbook and she was one of them. We were really the bottom of the high-school social totem pole, and the girls we used to call our friends were now our biggest perpetrators, starting untrue rumors that we spent our free time having sex with each other and that I fucked a bunch of guys—the usual teenage stuff.
The author posing for a photo that probably made sense at the time.
Then on May 1, just 11 days after the Columbine shooting, my life took a drastically dumb turn.
It began normally enough: My fellow loner and I were waiting for a ride, sitting on the steps of the school. Parked in front of us was the car of the main rumormonger and our chief tormentor. My friend told me to stand guard while she wrote a mean note and put it on her windshield—the note threw around the words “fat” and “whore” and she signed it with the name of one of the characters from my Elks Club story.
“She’ll know who wrote it if you sign it with that name,” I said. “You can’t write that.”
She agreed and rewrote it, signing off, “Love, The Trenchcoat Mafia.”
I shrugged. “Well, at least she won’t know who wrote it,” I remember saying. I didn’t even think we’d get in trouble. Then our ride arrived and I heard reports about a wave of Columbine copycat threats around the nation on the car radio. I think I let out an audible “fuck”—we hadn’t even been sneaky about the note. There were about ten kids who had watched my friend put it on the windshield.
Predictably, the police got called, and school officials wanted to talk to me. But they weren’t interested in the note, which I admitted being an accomplice to; they just wanted to see my “death plan.” Apparently my old friends had responded to the note by telling the vice principal that my surreal, jokey Elks Club story was a prom murder spree manual and that I was going to kill a bunch of kids at the upcoming Junior Prom, which was talking place, by sheer coincidence, at the Elks Club. (Not that that was a surprise; everything in that fucking town took place there.) The school had also been informed that I was in the process of building bombs. Now, most people I knew had access to firearms, as it was a big hunting town, but I didn’t have any guns in my house, I didn’t know how to build a bomb, and weapons didn’t interest me at all.
Within a few days, rumors of me wanting to go berserk went far and wide, and even made front pages of the local newspapers. Since I was a minor, my name wasn’t mentioned but there was constant mention of a “girl who wrote a short prom killing story.”