After Andy Williams, 15, was arrested for opening fire on his classmates in Santee, Calif., last week, his mother Linda Williams wept before a TV crew and said, "He's lost. His future's gone." No grownup in his life seems to have been looking out for that future before the shooting. Charles Andrew Williams had been a lost boy for some time--hopelessly adrift in a dysfunctional, anonymous suburban landscape, craving acceptance but too often meeting rejection instead.
His schoolmates bullied him. His mother rarely saw him. His father neglected him. Even his friends taunted him--and may well have goaded him into his shooting rampage. A Williams associate told TIME that more than two months before the attack, one of the boy's closest friends boasted that Williams had taken one of his father's guns and hidden it in bushes behind a park they frequented. The weekend before, when Williams began saying that he was going to "pull a Columbine" on Santana High, two of his friends called him a "pussy" and dared him to do it.
Others were sufficiently concerned to pat down his clothing in search of a gun on Monday morning before he entered the school. But nobody said anything to the school authorities. At 9:20 a.m. on Monday, Williams took out a .22 revolver--secreted either in his trousers or in his yellow backpack--in the boys' bathroom of the school and started firing, first into the room and then into an adjacent courtyard. Many students initially thought it was fireworks and moved toward the popping sounds until they saw others falling wounded to the ground.
San Diego County sheriff's deputies, who responded rapidly to the first emergency calls, cornered Williams in the bathroom. He handed over his weapon, which had been reloaded and was cocked to fire again. Six minutes of shooting and 30 rounds left Bryan Zuckor, 14, and Randy Gordon, 17, fatally wounded and 13 others hit. It was the worst school shooting in the U.S. since the Columbine massacre two years ago.
As the town of Santee buried the two dead children last weekend, parents, teachers and counselors were struggling to understand what had turned the baby-faced Williams into a stoned, smirking gunman who had changed their life forever. Doctors said all 13 wounded victims were set to make full recoveries. But slowly Santee started to learn things about itself that it didn't like to hear--that despite street names such as Peaceful Court and Carefree Drive, it was far from the idyllic, pacific suburb that many of the adults in Santee imagined. "There's a lot of hate around here," says Gentry Robler, 16, a sophomore at Santana High. He reels off the high school cliques: the gothics, the freaks, the dorks, the jocks, the Mexican gangsters, the white supremacists. "This is a school that was waiting for something like this to happen." But who would have guessed that it would be the skinny, jug-eared, timid freshman wearing a silver necklace with the name MOUSE on it who would make this happen?