Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blowing up schools: it's not just for losers anymore

Today's story in The State offers a picture of a would-be school bomber, Ryan Schallenberger, who idolized Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and had planned a Columbine-style massacre at Chesterfield County High.

The big difference: this kid -- whose parents bravely turned him in after a shipment of ammonium nitrate arrived in the mail -- does not fit the profile of Harris or Klebold.

“His fingernails aren’t painted black or anything — none of this Gothic” stuff, the 4th Circuit solicitor said. “That’s what makes it all the more frightening. If he had some of that, you could say, ‘Oh another one of those.’ ”

And yet, the confident 18-year-old, who had been offered an academic scholarship to Clemson University, stands charged with threatening to use ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel to blow up Chesterfield High School — the very school where he was in contention to be the salutatorian of his senior class.

And today prosecutors plan to charge him with the even more serious crime of actually possessing the materials he would need to do just that — just a month and a half before graduation.

“Friday, he was playing practical jokes on other students,” Chesterfield Police Chief Randall Lear said. “He is a social kid and is rather independent.”

Do you ever wonder at just what stage the I'll-kill-everyone virus began to infect the school system? When I was in school in the 1970s, you could actually drive to school in a truck with a gun rack and rifles. No one cared, because at that time no one walked into a school and started blasting away. If you were a social outcast who got picked on by others, you either developed a drug problem or joined a band or just went home and watched TV. Maybe, possibly, you took out your vengeance or anxiety in some way creative or artistic, or maybe not. I'm not trying to see the past through rose-colored glasses or argue that kids were somehow smarter or better or more generally decent when I was younger, because they weren't. But they sure as hell weren't as violent. The whole idea of blowing up the school, killing all the classmates you hated -- I don't think anyone much had that thought, to be honest. If they did, they sure didn't act on it.

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