March 9, 2001


Teen Shooters Playing a Role to the Hilt

EDITOR'S NOTE: Once again front pages are filled with details of a shooting inside a high school in which both the alleged killer and the victims are barely in their teens. And once again, every sort of explanation is offered, each with its bit of the truth. But Russell Morse sees in this an act some puzzling sort of role-playing, which will be repeated.


By Russell Morse

Some weeks ago, Charles Andrew Williams, age 15, brought a gun to the suburban San Diego high school where he is a freshman. It was a water gun, and it was filled with urine, and he shot it at people.

On Monday, he came with a real gun and allegedly opened fire on his fellow students and school personnel, killing two and injuring thirteen.

The urine-filled gun stunt is not unlike some of the stunts performed by the characters on MTV's television show "Jackass" and similar shows which cater to the frustrated, young, white, suburban skateboarder.

They are now recognized, at least, as a "market" — according to a recent PBS documentary, marketers call them "Mooks."

The Mook is Eminem. He is Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit (a controversial hard rock group which Williams is a fan of). The Mook is staffing the WWF and XFL. The mook is the loud, in-your-face disgusting, doesn't-care-what-you-think, take-a-dump-on-your-lawn white kid. Bleached hair is optional.

Andy's pee gun didn't go over well, according to friends interviewed after the rampage. There is evidently a standard of acceptable outrage that can be considered hilarious, and it includes snorkeling in septic tanks and swallowing live goldfish to barf them back up (to describe actual segments on Jackass).

It may be that shooting up your school is the new extreme sport.

This shooting in San Diego makes less sense to me than Columbine. True, I am more jaded now. But I can't make any sense of fifteen year old Andrew Williams gunning down fellow students with a smile on his face.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the two Columbine students) were eerily methodical. They kept a diary and talked to people as they killed them. And their grand finale — after killing 12 people and wounding 2 — was to kill themselves. It was a dramatic presentation, almost like the choreographed climax of an action/fantasy film.

Andy Willliams, in contrast, on the other hand, after his destructive rampage, threw his gun to the side and fell to his knees on the floor of the bathroom, when surrendering to authorities. He said, "It's only me," as if saddened that no friend had been willing to go along with him.

Classmates recall that Andy was the butt of all jokes, but had a good sense of humor and was always laughing. As a skinny little guy his only defense against ridicule and beatings was to act the clown. He got sick of it. This shooting was an attempt to let people know that he wasn't all laughs.

So some have theorized. But then why smile as he tried to shed that image, shooting people and killing them? Central to the thinking of the Mook is not caring what other people think. If he appeared to be taking the act too seriously, his victims might see that he did, indeed, care what they thought. All too much, in fact.

A survivor of the rampage was quoted as saying, "I think it's stupid this guy couldn't deal with getting picked on, which is part of life." True, everybody gets picked on in some way or another. Even our friends tease us and our parents beat us.

Some people who are teased, however, have deep-seated anger. They have a harder time dealing with the ridicule.

In the past, it seems, such people had some options. They would become engrossed in another cerebral activity — adventure role- playing games, comic books or Star Trek, finding refuge in the idea that they were smarter or in some way better than those who belittled them. Some might get high or drink to escape. Still others committed suicide.

In the past, these were among the few options a ridiculed teenager could see. But now they have role models to look to. They have Dylan and Eric. They have Kip Kinkel, the 15 year old in Oregon who killed his parents, two classmates and injured 25 more. And now they have - Charles Andrew Williams.

Morse is a reporter for YO! Youth Outlook, a publication by and about Bay Area Teens published by Pacific News Service.

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