Killer Recounts Santana High Shooting
Charles "Andy" Williams at his sentencing hearing in 2002.
May 12, 2013
He’s not a kid anymore, he’s a full-grown man. He’s not 5-foot-4 anymore, he’s 6-foot-4. He’s a pleasant guy with a quick smile and a friendly greeting, but he’s also a killer.
He seems at peace with himself. Time, it appears, is not only a balm for victims but also for those who victimize them.
Charles Andrew “Andy” Williams. He was the childlike gunman, age 15 by one month, who killed two students and wounded 13 others on March 5, 2001, at Santana High School in Santee.
He became a cause célèbre of sorts as a symbol for bullied schoolchildren. However, prosecutors were neither impressed nor persuaded. Neither was the judge. When he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, the court sentenced him to 50 years to life, which means he will be eligible for parole when others of his age are collecting Social Security.
Now, 12 years later, he’s willing to talk about that day and what led up to it: what he thought, what he did and why, every step of the way. Because his case did not go to trial, this is the confession we never heard in detail. And because it happened in San Diego County’s front yard, it’s our right to hear it.
Williams lives today in Ironwood State Prison.
His neighbor is a cellmate. This is not a happy way to spend one’s youth, or middle age, or old age. It might even be where Williams dies.
Sitting patiently for hours in a prison interview room, he is in his prison blues wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a ready smile. He talks fast and softly, as though wanting to keep as many words in the air as possible before they fall on a listener’s ears.
He does not deny his guilt, and agrees he should be punished. He does not plead for sympathy. He says he wants mainly to be understood. He doesn’t say so, but I suspect he would also like for the public to see him as a nice guy. He must know that will be a tough sell.
This is Andy Williams’ story of what turned a wayward boy into a kid killer.
Williams was a child of a divorce, which broke apart his family when he was 3. His mother and half-brother eventually moved away, while he stayed with his father in Brunswick, Md. Brunswick was basically a village, nonthreatening for a young boy denied the comfort of a mother’s presence.
He saw his mother infrequently, usually at Christmas, when he would travel to her distant home. He functioned suitably in school, finding approval because of his good behavior and open, joking personality. He developed some disturbing traits as he neared the end of grammar school, but kept them hidden. If he felt depressed or abandoned by being separated from his mother, he also kept that hidden. His father, no one disputes, was supportive and loving.
Asked about his early childhood, Williams says: “To me, it was normal. It was cool for me. I had loving parents.”
In December 1999, at age 13, he moved with his father to Twentynine Palms, a small city in the desert near Palm Springs dominated by a Marine base. It was a conservative environment housing many military retirees, including his grandfather, and was not a place where a kid could escape notice for getting into trouble.
Williams also benefited from the structure and values of his grandparents. In that community, he enjoyed the greatest success of his young life. He participated in eighth-grade activities, made friends, did his schoolwork, professed his Christian faith and was baptized.
But a few months in that nurturing place was all he would be given. His father, a laboratory-animal technician, accepted a job with the San Diego Naval Medical Center. Before relocating, Williams was allowed to spend the summer of 2000 in Maryland with friends. There, the discipline of Twentynine Palms disappeared, foreshadowing what lay ahead in Santee.
He deplaned at Lindbergh Field and traveled to his new apartment-home in Santee in fall 2000 to enroll at Santana High School for his freshman year. What the 14-year-old had kept concealed was that he had gotten into dope in Maryland that summer, and not for the first time. He had experimented with narcotics in Maryland before his drug-free hiatus in Twentynine Palms.
“My friends and I started taking pills and going to harder stuff like cocaine. The first time I experienced those, I was 12 years old.”
Williams recounts his first experience in Santee. “When I flew back from Maryland to Santee, I had some dope on me. I saw a church across the street that I was going to go to, and I thought, ‘I got to get rid of this dope.’
“However, the very first night I was home, I was smoking a cigarette on the lawn of our apartment complex and this dude came up and he was, like, ‘Hey, man, I’m out of drugs, and I got this freakin’ pipe on me, and I got no dope.’ I was, like, ‘That’s crazy. I got some dope, but no pipe. Let’s smoke dope.’ And through him, I got to meet the guys who became my friends. The very first night I was there.”
Williams quickly fell in with a group of boys who, in an earlier time, would have been called dead-end kids, who would be called losers by other teens and problems by their teachers.
I asked why he didn’t seek out the type of friends he had made in Twentynine Palms and adhere to the Christian standards he had embraced there. He simply says, “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
He had reached a crossroads in his young life, and he says he did wrestle with his devils — at least a little. “When I first went back to Maryland that summer, all my friends were using drugs and I was, like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to be around it.’ I remember praying a lot about it, saying, ‘Lord, I’m going to hang out with these dudes now, but when I get to Santee I’m going to go to church again.’ … I never did.”
The three guys Williams became closest to were A.J. Gilbert, Shaun Turk and Josh Stevens, all about his age. They spent a lot of time at a nearby skatepark and at each other’s homes when adults were absent.
Williams exploited a situation that makes working single parents tear out their hair: For many hours of each day, he was unsupervised and unrestrained from running free.
Williams says the boys drank alcohol and smoked pot at every opportunity. “A friend’s mom had Lyme disease and she, like, she had all kinds of pain pills, and so we were just stealing them and eating opiates all the time.”
Did he have an addictive personality? “Yeah, yeah I do. But looking back, I think I felt I needed drugs to function. In Maryland, it was just fun, but in Santee, it was like I had to.”
At the time, he was a small boy for his age, with a placating manner. He was prey for the bullies he ran with.
He says they punched and kicked him, stole his possessions, even sprayed his pant legs with lighter fluid and set him afire. Beating up on him was fun and easy.
Did he ever fight back? “At first, but then I thought if someone comes up and socks me, I’m going to be hurt less if I just let it happen.”
So he became a clown, hoping that amusing his companions would buy him a reprieve from the bullying. It didn’t work. The mystery is why he kept coming back for more.
“I don’t know. I thought these guys are cool, and I wanted to be cool. I’ve always wished I was a little bit braver.”
At Santana High, his schoolwork didn’t just suffer, it collapsed. Constant truancies and ignored homework marked him as a deadbeat to other students and an exasperation to teachers.
Did his dad know he was hanging around with the wrong kids?
“Initially, no, but the more we were skipping school and the more people’s parents would come and complain to him about stuff we were doing, he got the sense that I was probably in a bad crowd.”
Did he ever tell his father he needed to leave Santee?
“I never had the courage to tell him I was struggling. I didn’t want to let him down. I had no idea what to do.”
He says he was also bullied at the school. But he was reminded that after the shooting, no teacher, administrator or student on the campus said they ever saw him being bullied.
He counters that bullying goes on all the time beneath the noses of teachers and principals. “At school, they would take my money. I’d have my backpack ripped off and thrown in the trash can. In high school, if they see a kid not fighting back, they think he’s an easy target. I was little and easy, I guess.”
Was there anything in Santee or at Santana High that could have made life different?
“Absolutely. There were some real cool Christians, like, I always wanted to be a part of. But I didn’t want my friends seeing me like that.”
Next into his life came Christopher Reynolds, an adult sexual predator who was the live-in boyfriend of Stevens’ mother.
Williams says Reynolds was the one who bought alcohol and provided drugs for the boys. And, yes, there were strings attached.
“He was abusing all of us.”
What was he doing?
“He’d grab on us and try to kiss us and stuff. If he wanted to grab someone’s butt, it was, like, whatever, dude.”
Is that what he did?
“And he did some other stuff.”
“He would ... he would ... he would grab us and try to do stuff to us.”
What did he do?
“He would try to masturbate us.”
Did he do it to you?
“He did it to me one time.”
“You don’t want to talk about that, do you?
(Nervous laughter.) “Naaah.”
How did that contribute to March 5, 2001?
“When something like that happens to you, if you’re not willing to stop that, then you’ll just roll over for anything. That was really hard for me to deal with. If I was … if I was … if I was OK with that, then what am I?”
You never told your dad?
“No, but he told me later he knew that no 28-year-old is going to hang out with a bunch of kids, but I had told him nothing ever happened.”
(Reynolds, now 40, is in Oklahoma serving two consecutive prison sentences totaling 40 years, based on multiple counts of lewd misconduct. He was invited by mail to respond but did not.)
Not long before the shooting, Williams says he and Stevens concocted a scheme to run away to Mexico. They, of course, bragged of their scheme to all their buddies. Later, as the date neared, Williams says Stevens backed out. To save face, he spread the word that Williams was the one who had chickened out. As word spread, Williams became a laughingstock among his friends.
SATURDAY, MARCH 3
Saturday was what most kids would consider a dream day. Although Williams was grounded for misbehavior, his father took him hang-gliding as a belated 15th birthday present. When he got home, his dad lifted his punishment to allow him to get together with his buddies.
That night, Williams and a group of friends partied at Stevens’ house. As the evening drew late, Williams says, he and the others became drunk. He says Josh was angry at something Reynolds had done to him and resurrected the shooting talk.
“He went and got a sheet of paper and diagrammed the school. He said what hallway he was going to. He told A.J. (Gilbert) where he was going to go. He told me where I was going to go.”
Williams would be stationed in the boy’s restroom.
Williams says Stevens wanted him to use the .22 revolver in his dad’s gun case, while Stevens and Gilbert would take two small-gauge shotguns from the case and saw off the barrels for ease of concealment.
Did anybody else know about the plan?
“Saturday night, we were telling everybody. Josh was telling everybody because he thought it was cool. I was telling everybody, hoping in the back of my mind that an adult would find out about it (and stop it). But every single person who was told about it seemed like they were encouraging it. Probably about 50 people total, including a couple of adults, knew about it. I think a lot of them didn’t take it seriously.”
What happened to the diagram?
“Josh threw it in the trash.”
So, that indicated he was backing out of the scheme?
SUNDAY, MARCH 4
On Sunday afternoon, Williams’ father took him to Lakeside to look at a condo they were planning to buy and make their new home.
“When we first talked about (the move), I said, ‘Awesome.’ I was getting away from these people. To me, it was like a positive thing. But later in my mind, I thought I was better off dying.”
Sunday evening, Williams joined his buddies at a girl’s house. By that time, he says, Stevens had changed the story and said Williams was the one who bragged about shooting up the school.
With the fresh memory of the Mexico-trip ridicule still burning in his ears, Williams did not back out. He says the Columbine shooting of two years earlier never entered his mind as a template.
Apparently, his resolve wavered, and when he returned home Sunday night, he says he got a phone call from Reynolds, who said Stevens had told him of the school-shooting scheme.
Williams remembers Reynolds telling him, “If you don’t go through with it, I’ll kill you.” Williams says he took that threat seriously because of Reynolds’ intimidating, mesmerizing presence.
MONDAY, MARCH 5
Williams didn’t sleep well Sunday night. He says he kept thinking about suicide. His last thought of the night was, “This is it.”
When he awoke Monday morning, it wasn’t just another school day.
“I got up and accepted that today I’m going to die. I’m glad it’s over. I showered. I looked in the mirror. I got the key and opened the gun cabinet. I got out the pistol. I got the .22 bullets and put them on the bed.” He found about 40 bullets and took them all.
“My whole plan was, I’m going to do this and then I’m going to die. And so, I was just thinking about suicide the last couple of weeks, and I guess that was the day.”
Early Monday morning, Williams says Gilbert knocked on the door to return a bicycle. “I told him he could have it because I didn’t have any use for it anymore. A.J. said, ‘I’m not gonna go through this with you.’ He went into my room and he seen the pistol and the bullets on the bed, and he said, ‘So you’re still going to do it?’ And I said, ‘This is it for me.’ And he said, ‘All right.’
“I put the pistol and all the bullets in my backpack and went out to the bus stop.
“We met up with the kids we usually met up with. A.J. was saying, ‘All right, dude, nice knowing you.’ And we kind of said our goodbyes again. He asked where I was going. I said the boy’s bathroom, and he was, like, ‘Man, you know most murders happen on a Monday.’ I told him nobody was going to die.”
Williams says he believed .22 bullets were not powerful enough to kill people. He says he had seen them bounce off coffee cans during target practice.
Shortly after 9 a.m., Williams remembers taking his backpack into a bathroom stall and closing the door. He nervously loaded the pistol and opened the door and saw standing beyond the stalls, at the urinals, freshman Bryan Zuckor, 14, and the taller Trevor Edwards, 17, a junior, who was directly in front. He decided he didn’t want to shoot anyone he knew, so he closed the door. “I felt like, ‘Dude, you either got to go through it or not, but you got to make a decision.’ And I was, ‘All right, I’m going to do it.’”
What was in your mind, standing in the bathroom stall?
“Like, I’m not somebody that’s going to hurt people, and I was aware that what I was going to do was going to hurt somebody. But at the same time, I couldn’t go back out to my friends — I can’t go back out and put myself in a position that they’re going to ridicule me. It was just the easiest way out.”
He opened the stall door again and both boys were still there. “So I shut the door again, and I thought, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ And I thought, I don’t have it in me to hurt nobody. And then, for whatever reason, I was like, ‘I’m going to open this door again, and if they’re not there I’ll pull the trigger. But if it is them, then I’m just going to walk out.’ But when I opened up, I didn’t see a tall dude in front of me so I pulled the trigger.
“I didn’t know it was Bryan. I expected to see a tall person in front of me and a shorter dude to my right, but when I opened up the shorter guy was in front of me and the taller guy to the right.”
You put the gun real close to the back of Bryan’s head before you killed him.
“I was about 2 feet away.”
What went through your mind at that moment?
Williams continues. “I swung around and I shot Trevor. I think it hit him in the neck. He fell, and after about 10 to 15 seconds he asked me why I did it. I told him to shut up.”
Did you say that angrily?
“No, I was just — that was the only thing I could think of. That was a typical 15-year-old response to everything.”
He then wounded student teacher Tim Estes while the few others in the bathroom scattered. As school security officer Peter Ruiz came in to investigate, he was shot three times.
And then what?
“I reloaded and I guess I went out a little way and shot at people in the crowd. Then I reloaded again.”
In all, Williams believes he reloaded four times and expended almost all of his 40 rounds. He wounded 13 people, staff and students, and killed another student, senior Randy Gordon, 17, whom he did not know.
When the police came, Williams hastily threw down the revolver and surrendered, as they demanded.
He was taken to the sheriff’s office and interrogated. He gave as his reason that he was mad at how things were going in his life. He told deputies, “I was just, like, screwing up in school and … I didn’t want to move again, and my dad kept yelling at me. He’s been bitching at me for a while. And everybody else is being stupid.”
He also told deputies that he had not been bullied or even teased, and that neither parent had ever abused him.
Today, Williams says he was ashamed to admit he had been bullied. Asked if he intended to kill people, he told interrogators right after the shooting: “I didn’t want anybody to die. But if they died, then, oh well.”
Not long after the shooting, a forensic psychiatrist diagnosed him with a “major depressive disorder.”
Andy spent a year and a half in Juvenile Hall, where he was praised as a model inmate and did well in his schoolwork. He was in a controlled, protected environment — perhaps reminiscent of Twentynine Palms.
In August 2002, he instructed his public defender to enter a guilty plea to two counts of first-degree murder. He said he wanted to spare the wounded survivors and the families of the two murdered students the pain of sitting through a trial.
He will be eligible for parole in his mid-60s.
Williams seems to have adjusted well to prison. The guards told me he is not considered a problem, and they are noticeably at ease with him. He’s close to becoming a journeyman brick mason and is two classes short of an associate degree. He hopes to finish a bachelor’s degree by correspondence.
He is kept in protective custody because he refused to stab another inmate at another prison, he says, a demand made on him by a prison gang. Because of that, for his own safety, he will never be allowed to leave protective custody, which suits him just fine.
He has a girlfriend who has been committed to him for several years. He has even thought of marriage, though lifers are not allowed conjugal visits. His father visits him monthly, and his mother flies in from Georgia at least twice a year.
He is quick to admit that he deserves to be punished — and severely. He thinks the 50-year minimum sentence was too much, considering his youth, but that 20 years would have been too lenient. He believes 30 years would have at least given him the hope of someday having a positive life in society.
Has he ever thought of writing to his victims?
“I’d like to, not necessarily to explain myself but to pray that everything is going well with them, and to (let them) know how sorry I am.
“I feel I owe it to (the victims) not to mess up in here. I’ve already made a very bad decision that affected them, and I can’t continue to make bad decisions.”
Do you know who all 13 of your wounded victims are?
“I don’t have them memorized, not anymore.”
I ask if he’s happy, and he says, “Reasonably. I have no complaints.” But of life in prison, he says: “It’s, like, it sucks. I hate it. But whatever you make of it, that’s basically what it is. It can be miserable if you let it. It’s degrees of badness.”
Does what you did ever hit you really hard, to this day?
“All the time. Like, what the hell did I do?”
Do you think of yourself as a murderer?
“I think it’s hard to separate who I am from what I’ve done. Obviously, I committed that crime, so you’d have to classify me like that, but I don’t necessarily think I intended to kill somebody. ... I do know that the people I shot did not deserve to be killed or wounded, and I will never stop regretting that.”
Do you dread March 5 coming around?
Did you for a while?”
“Absolutely. I wouldn’t eat. I’d seclude myself from everybody. But after a while, that became just like a shell, you know what I mean? I don’t necessarily treat it like it’s every other day, but …
We can analyze Williams’ account of March 5, 2001, and say that much of it makes no sense. He says it doesn’t to him, either. There are incongruities in his story, so what is the value of reading his words?
That’s an individual judgment. When talking about such crimes, the experts say much but often know little. Angry people can say, “Give ’em the needle.”
Sympathetic people can say that we should try to understand the abuse a killer had suffered. To a point, yes, but not to the extent that it makes us diminish the damage done to innocent people.
Another thing we can all do is listen — and despair of our ignorance.
The grown-up Andy Williams is a pleasant guy with no evident antagonisms. But he’s in prison. Most cons are the same way while they’re in prison. Anyway, that doesn’t tell us why he went off the tracks as a child.
One of his evident problems was that he wasn’t aggressive and wouldn’t fight. But why should someone have to fight not to be bullied, if indeed, bullied he was?
Williams chose his friends in Santee and became one with them. They were troubled kids.
A.J. Gilbert, 23, died in 2008 while on parole. Shaun Turk, 27, is serving time for murder, in the same prison as Williams. Josh Stevens, 27, is in prison in Florida on a probation violation.
In a reply letter to my prison query, Stevens denies bullying Williams — it was just teasing, he says — and claims the hatching of the plot to shoot up the school was nothing more than idle talk by kids. He insists that no one who heard of it took Williams seriously.
This is an old, familiar theme, but Andy was a latchkey kid — coming home from school to an empty house. He was free to roam, free to get into whatever mischief appealed at the moment.
His father was not a disciplinarian, but isn’t permissiveness our parenting philosophy du jour?
Williams turned his youth into a crime story, and helping other children avoid doing the same is our job. All of ours. And we can do that without excusing Williams.
One Internet site lists 115 school shootings in the United States since 1980, and the pace has accelerated over the years. Many of the other school shooters are dead. Williams is alive and available to listen to.
It’s only my guess, but I suspect he thought a guy with a gun comes across as really tough. No one punches the dude with a gun, and no one dares ridicule him. This was a way to show everyone the real Andy Williams. He could make his own movie.
Speculation aside, to understand the mind of any person is to walk down a hallway with many closed doors, not knowing behind which is concealed the truth we seek.
We are left to repeat a question: Williams asks, “What the hell did I do?” That’s right, Andy. What the hell did you do?
© Copyright 2013 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.
Santana Shooting Victims Recount Journeys of Recovery
The thoughts of Santana High School killer Charles “Andy” Williams will be interesting to many and perhaps fascinating to some. We must also remember that they likely will be painful to one group of people — a reminder of what they have lost or suffered.
Two teens died at his hand, good young citizens and loving sons who were shot down.
Thirteen others were wounded by Williams. They were just doing their jobs or heading to class. None had ever done Williams any harm.
They likely will find little comfort in Williams’ words today.
The news business must plow all ground, regardless of what it digs up. We learn from what we sift through our fingers. As we read Williams’ words, we can hope for insight into a tragedy that might, somehow, help us prevent a recurrence. We must remember …
Remember, and give respect to the suffering of:
• The parents and other family members of the late Bryan Zuckor and Randy Gordon.
• Survivors Heather Cruz, Trevor Edwards, Tim Estes, Travis Tate Gallegos, Barry Gibson, Matthew Heier, James Jackson, Karla Leyva, Scott Marshall, Melisa McNulty, Peter Ruiz, Triston Salladay and Raymond Serrato.
• The faculty and students of Santana High School who experienced tragedy that day — March 5, 2001.
The following are comments from survivors willing to share their thoughts with the public:
Melissa McNulty had the misfortune of being near the boys’ restroom at Santana High School when she glanced in the direction of a commotion to see a boy looking directly at her. His face was obscured by the pistol he was holding, and it was pointed directly at her. Then she felt a sting in her arm “like a massive rubber band snapping me.” Her arm went numb.
McNulty, a sophomore, had become one of Williams’ victims. “I was just a body to be shot at. I didn’t know him.”
She spent a month in the hospital and endured multiple surgeries to correct the injury done to her arm. Some of the damage has been longer-lasting.
“My (post-traumatic stress disorder) affects me every day and gets worse any time there is a mass shooting,” she says. “To this day, middle schools and high schools don’t feel like safe environments. Any big public place bothers me.”
It also bothers her that Williams seems to make excuses for what he did. She believes that he’s wrongly blaming his actions on being bullied and depressed.
McNulty, 27, still lives in Santee and will graduate as a registered nurse this month.
“I’m angry and a bit resentful,” she says. “I don’t think he has matured and he doesn’t realize how he’s affected many people. He injured a lot of lives.”
Matthew Heier was shot by Williams, but he seldom thinks of the stranger who was his assailant, except to wish him well.
Heier, then a senior, was walking in the area of the boys’ restroom when he heard shots, saw one student lying on the ground bleeding from the mouth and security guard Peter Ruiz running toward the crime scene. Suddenly Williams, whom he did not know, emerged and shot him in the hip as he tried to run.
The wound later developed into a painful mass that required surgery, and Heier still carries bullet fragments in his body.
“I have no anger, none at all. I don’t even think about it. March 5 is just another day,” he says. “If I live with anger, what does that do to my life? It will affect my children. Honestly, I’m going to put these negative things behind me.”
Heier, now 29, lives with his wife and three children in Lakeside and is active in Sunrise Church in Santee. He previously worked as an emergency medical technician and now does retail work while trying to become a firefighter.
“We need to just forget — no, don’t forget but forgive. I’ve forgiven him, man. It’s over and done with. If I dwell on it, I can’t move beyond it. Obviously, he made a bad choice. People died. But at some point, we need to move on.
“I hope he’s being rehabilitated. And if he’s doing well, good on him.”
“If it had to happen, I’m thankful it happened to me. It gave me sort of a new perspective and has turned into a positive thing. It’s made me more grateful to be able to watch my daughter grow up.”
Tim Estes is talking about a moment in his life that could have been his last. He was a student-teacher at Santana High School who stopped in the boys’ restroom before going to another class. He heard gunshots reverberate through the enclosed room, and then looked up to see a boy with a blank expression on his face pointing a gun at him.
Estes turned to run, but was hit in the back by a bullet that exited through his abdomen. Though wounded, he assisted another victim until he was evacuated by a helicopter.
Today, the 45-year-old is the head football coach at Santana High School. He didn’t know Williams and has little interest in any explanation Williams might make. “To me, he’s trying to search for forgiveness. Do I forgive him? No. He took two kids’ lives, and he’s got to pay for it.”
Of Williams’ explanations, Estes says: “It doesn’t matter what he says as long as he stays where he’s at. I don’t believe he didn’t intend to shoot anyone, but at least it sounds like he’s living up to what he’s done.
“If he had done (suicide) at home, it would have been a sad story. Instead, he made it a terrible, tragic story.”
Ruiz was patrolling Santana High School in his new campus-security job when he heard what sounded like firecrackers in a nearby boys’ restroom. He entered and saw Bryan Zuckor and Trevor Edwards lying on the floor and one stall door closed. Trevor shouted to him, “Get out, get out.” As Ruiz turned around to radio for 911, he felt a bullet hit him in the lower back and then two other bullets going through the side and shoulder. He struggled outside and then collapsed.
Ruiz currently lives in North Park.
“I only agreed to be part of this story to remind people that Andy is not a saint or a kid who had a bad day. I came from a single-parent home and now my son splits time between his mom and me, but it doesn’t mean we are going to shoot up a school. We all were given free will, and we know right from wrong. He knew what he was doing that day, even if he’s talking now about bullying, peer pressure, being neglected in a divorced family.”
“I’m not living on the street, but I do struggle to make sure I have a roof over my son’s head, that he has food in his stomach and clothes on his back. Andy has all that given to him and more in prison. Knowing that I’m somehow paying for those things for Andy as a taxpayer just sucks!”
“It’s unclear whether in prison, Andy has really learned how much he hurt us. The two young men he killed will never have a chance to enjoy life again.”
A Father's Questions
Jeff Williams is a man whose worst memories start with, “What if?”
He’s the father of Charles “Andy” Williams, the man responsible for him during his half-year in Santee and at Santana High School. He is the man who watched with growing dismay as his son descended from nice kid to kid killer.
Williams is a gentle-voiced man of 53 who now lives in Mesa, Ariz. Each month, he makes the 200-mile trip across the desert to visit his son in prison. He will probably go through several cars doing that.
The long drive provides lots of time to think about what he might have done differently. “I would have stayed in Maryland or Twentynine Palms and taken a lower-paying job and kept Andy under the influence of his grandparents. In Santee, I would have been more forceful on the school stuff.”
There are things the elder Williams says he should have noticed or intervened in, but didn’t.
“I never smelled alcohol on him and he never came home acting stoned. He’d come home with scratches and bruises, and he’d say he fell on his skateboard. I wasn’t aware of any bullying.”
Williams also didn’t realize early on that his son’s school work and attendance were on the verge of catastrophe. It was only three days before the shooting that he went to school to talk with administrators, a visit in which he believed he got the runaround.
He recognized but did nothing about the threat of Christopher Reynolds, later a convicted child molester. “He came to the apartment a couple of times. I had suspicions something happened between Chris and Andy.”
Williams was in the process of buying a condo in Lakeside, a prospect that seemed to delight his son. They visited what would have been their new home the day before the shooting.
“I wanted to get him out of that apartment atmosphere and give him a choice to go to (El Capitan High School), which was within walking distance. But he wanted to take the bus and continue at Santana. That’s what he wanted to do. I told him it was his choice. Twelve hours later, he’s shooting kids. … It was the oddest thing. He was never violent. He was a really nice kid, sort of a clown.”
Of the buddies his son chose in Santee, the elder Williams says: “I told Andy I preferred he not hang around with those kids, but it was his choice. Looking back, I don’t think it would have done any good, but I wish I had been more forceful about who he was hanging out with. He learned a hard lesson.”
RELATED SIDEBAR (NOT WRITTEN BY FRED DICKEY):
Experts Weigh In On Santana High Shooting
Reactions to Williams’ remarks from prison:
Druck is a trauma counselor, specialist in youth violence, executive coach, author of books such as “The Real Rules of Life” and founder of the Jenna Druck Center, which he started after his daughter died in a bus accident. Minutes after the Santana High School shooting, he helped set up a makeshift debriefing and counseling site near the campus.
Druck is a Carmel Valley resident.
“Williams is a truly complicated fellow. At times, he shows signs of insight and remorse. At other times, he describes himself and what he did with frightening callousness. It’s difficult to say whether he genuinely feels any of these things he claims, even at an elementary level, or has simply learned ‘his lines’ from the years in prison.”
“He may have been suicidal (not homicidal) in his own mind, but it does not appear he was ever in any real danger of killing himself.”
“He claims he was a victim of bullying, shaming (by a teacher) and sexual abuse; that he was an addict; and that he was in a trance during the shooting. And yet, he is able to describe in vivid detail who was there and exactly what happened.”
“It is comprehensible how a severely fragmented (mentally and emotionally), depressed and deranged young man with access to guns, no real supervision, deep feelings of inadequacy and a brain impaired by alcohol and drugs could dig himself into a dark hole and commit heinous acts.”
Borba is the author of 22 books on parenting, character education and bullying. She helped form Senate Bill 1667, legislation in Sacramento aimed at preventing school shootings. She travels frequently to give talks on those topics, is a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and has appeared on dozens of national and local TV and radio shows. Borba also works in the United States and overseas with military families.
She lives in Palm Springs.
“Andy Williams is a sad, textbook case of learning the stages of ‘violentization.’ School shooters don’t ‘snap’ overnight. There’s always a slow trajectory into violence and then a final straw in which the youth feels there’s no other option.”
“Studies show a strong correlation between school shooters and those who have been bullied. Take bullying seriously.”
“Positive adult role models can make a difference. Andy had none. Even if parents are ‘ineffective’ or absent, one caring, concerned adult can make a difference in an at-risk child’s life.”
“There’s a fine line between homicide and suicide, and a youth can go either way. Andy was depressed, and he was suicidal-homicidal. ... There is a critical need for high school counselors who are there to do ‘mental work,’ not just academics and vocational work.”
“Seventy-five percent of students who commit homicide or suicide tell a peer beforehand. Andy had a plan — and he told his peers. But no one ever took him seriously. Peers, parents and educators need to step in.”
“Andy Williams is alive — and is telling his story. We need to listen, and even more important, put into place proven practices that will reduce another tragedy.”
As founder and president of the nationally renowned organization Reality Changers, which tries to transform at-risk youths into academic achievers, Yanov focuses on signs of trouble in teens and offers targeted intervention.
His nonprofit group is based in City Heights.
“Encourage youths to develop, seek out and accomplish their goals. If a young man believes he can do anything in life or a young woman believes that her future is limitless, what are the odds that he/she will choose to fire a gun at someone? One out of infinity?”
“These goals or life options must be perceived as both real and realistic. Sure, everyone can say they want to become doctors, but only with regular, positive interactions with people in the medical industry will such dreams have a higher likelihood of coming true.”
“Lastly, words and expectations matter — from parents, teachers, friends and peers.”
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