Lindhurst ShooterOn May 1, 1992, the third day of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, CA, the world had gone mad…at least in California. Newspapers and television had covered the trial of the four police officers and their subsequent release. Then, television exposed the reactions of those who believed justice had been done and those who saw a terrible miscarriage of justice.
(The world had gone mad)
The media was covering the riots continuously, day and night. During the day, my friends and I waited impatiently to hear about new developments. On Friday afternoon I had gone home and was talking to a friend on the telephone while watching the breaking stories on television. She was worried about her daughter who lived in L.A. close to the area where the riots were the worst. There were fires, looting, people getting pulled from their vehicles and getting beaten. No one knew what would happen next, or even where.
She gasped as the news changed. Rioting had broken out on other fronts. Now there was rioting in East Palo Alto. My friend began crying and saying something I couldn’t understand. Then I knew. Her son attended Stanford, which was in Palo Alto. She was being emotionally stretched in two directions, one where her daughter lived and one where her son lived.
I tried to console her but to no avail. She was a mother who worried because she had not heard from either of them. They might be okay or one of them might be in trouble. I tried to sympathize and calm her but it was difficult over the phone.
Then I saw a new announcement racing across the screen. “A hostage situation in Northern California. 85 students being held.” I watched with little interest. “Must be in the Bay area,” I told myself and continued watching the riots. Another announcement. “A hostage situation in Yuba County.”
This got my attention because I had recently moved from Yuba County and my youngest daughter, Sarah, still went to high school there. Another announcement. “Lindhurst High School shooting and 85 students still being held.” My adrenalin was surging. “That’s my daughter’s high school,” I thought. “I’ve got to go,” I said into the phone as I raced towards my car.
In my mind I was forming a plan. I would get a rifle from a friend on my way to Marysville. I used to live very close to the high school and I knew every part of the campus. Once I arrived I would find the ditch that skirts the back of the school grounds. I would be out of sight if I stayed in the ditch and I could get past the police. I could get close enough to get one good shot at the gunman. It was not a smart plan but a plan of desperation. I believed my daughter was a hostage, or had been shot or killed.
As I drove, my thoughts were clear. I had no choice but to carry out my strategy. Fortunately, I called my son to let him know I was on my way to Marysville. Before I could say anything he blurted out, “Dad, Sarah is okay. She escaped. I just talked to her. She’s at mom’s house.”
My anger dissipated immediately. My daughter was out of danger and I no longer had the desire to attempt a foolish deed. I turned around and went back home.
In the meantime the drama at Lindhurst continued. The media was now reporting four people killed as well as eighty-five hostages still being held upstairs in the school’s library. Police had begun negotiating trying to find out why the young gunman still held hostages.
At the beginning of the school day students had looked forward to the afternoon. As soon as morning classes were over a rally was scheduled to be held in the school gymnasium. But Eric Houston, a former student who been despondent over losing his job, called the school with a message. Eric had dropped out of school and realized he would have few opportunities to stay employed without a high school diploma.
Blaming the school and one teacher in particular for giving him failing grades, Eric now threatened to shoot up the school. In response, the rally was cancelled. Many students went home and missed the tragedy which happened. Eric showed up at school with a shotgun and a sawed off twenty-two. He found his Civics teacher and shot him in the chest, then killed a student from the same class. With students screaming and ducking for cover, Eric killed another student and tried to shoot another girl.
At that moment a young black student, Beamon Hill, heroically stepped in front of her and was killed by a shotgun blast. Eric shot nine other students and one adult before going from class to class checking doors, and herding students up to the school library. There he terrified students for eight hours, threatening and pointing his guns at them, sometimes firing into the ceiling.
Other students, including Sarah, thought it was just a drill as they were escorted quickly out of their classrooms and across the field. They laughed, joked, and complained that the teachers were being too insistent. It was only after they saw students, bloody and crying, did they realize it was not a drill.
Later, after eight hours, Eric gave up his hostages, trading them for aspirin and pizza. Then it was over, just as suddenly as it started. Except for local media, the incident was downplayed because it was not connected to the “big news”, the Rodney King riots.
For weeks afterward, psychologists were available for those who were traumatized. Tents were put up so students could attend classes but not in the classrooms where bullets were fired and people died. School went on, but not without tension, not without numerous bomb threats to disrupt classes.
Finally the school year was over and school officials tried to minimize the damage. A memorial park was established, Sarah was asked to draw a charcoal picture of Mr. Brens, the civic teacher, and a few words were written.
Two years later, when Beamon Hill’s parents tried to get a diploma for him in his honor, school officials balked and then relented, afraid of public pressure. Because of this inane tragedy, a movie was made, web sites were established, and the world attempted to become normal again.
However, the calamity is still remembered by those who live in the area. The high school is still a quiet, rural high school in a blue collar district. But who can really know the effects of this catastrophe on those who were in attendance? Some of those students changed their names and moved away, hoping for a new start. Others still wake from dreams, still seeing a young man with guns, still seeing students or adults screaming or running, still seeing those who were bloodied and dying.
I knew many of those who were there, having met them through sports events, or through my daughter. That terrible day cannot be covered up by the Rodney King tragedy. Those who were killed or wounded will not be forgotten. That day will continue on in the memories of those who were there, or those who were touched by those who were there.
By Dan Roberson