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    Santana High School: Five years after shootings in Santee, former student still feels impact

    March 5, 2001, 9:22 a.m.

    The bell rang to end English class, and I headed out towards my group¹s hangout spot near the Santana High School library for morning break. When I got there, a cluster of my friends were already talking.

    ³I saw Lorae this weekend,² Ben said, ³and we went to the beach.² We all rattled off our typical weekend activities — our usual conversation for a Monday morning. As we talked, a strange noise came from inside the boys¹ room. I glanced over and saw a campus security guard waltzing toward the boys¹ bathroom door, which was about 100 feet away from me. The nark will take care of it, I thought. I¹m sure everything¹s fine. I turned my attention back to my friends¹ conversation.

    The noise started up again from the same place, and suddenly people flooded from that direction. My mind registered the sound as those little poppers that make a high-pitched snap when thrown on the ground. The noise stopped for a moment, and when I looked back my friends were gone.


    The popping noise started up again. At the same time, my friend Travis Gallegos, 70 feet away from me, leaped from the ground and bolted from the quad, leaving a bloodstain on the concrete from the bullet that grazed his lip. At the sight of this, my brain finally registered what was happening — someone had a gun.

    I turned away from the bathroom and staggered through the hallway towards the large quad. My brain was still coping with what was happening, so I didn¹t realize I should hurry. In a corner by the snack machine, my friend Sheena was hyperventilating, and her boyfriend, Andrew, was begging her to keep moving. Keep going, I told myself. Andrew will take care of her.

    I turned the corner down the hallway, and my friend Travis Menard fell in beside me. The two of us walked briskly out the back of the school in silence. I looked around, but saw and heard nothing. Travis and I parted ways when we reached the parking lot. I headed down the street bordering the school.

    Frightened students were running down the street, and others jumped into their friends¹ cars. Sirens sounded nearby. Tiffani¹s car was already full. I spotted my friend Timmy. He was slipping his cell phone back into the pocket of his jeans.

    ³Can I borrow that?² I asked him. He promptly handed the cell phone over, and I called home.


    ³Mom, there was a shooting at school.² It seemed surreal to be saying those words. ³Can you come pick me up?²

    There was a shocked pause. ³Are you okay?!²


    ³I¹ll pick you up by Starlight Circle.²

    ³Okay.² I hung up and handed Timmy his phone, then I waited at the light to cross the street to reach the next block.

    + + +

    When I saw Mom¹s van, she was speeding down the street towards me. I don¹t remember what we said when I first got in. I only remember how much I shook when I got home. I kept shaking for a couple hours.

    + + +

    I became glued to the TV. For the next 48 hours, the news kept repeating the facts: 13 were injured and two had been killed. There were reports that the shooter had decided he¹d had enough of people bullying him, and enough of life. The shooter would¹ve shot himself if an off-duty cop had not been on campus registering his daughter for school at that moment.

    I knew many of those who were injured. I knew one of the boys -— a teammate of mine on the cross-country team — who was killed.

    Two days after the shooting, we returned to school. I spent my lunch hour with my fellow cross-country runners sitting silently by their side in our coach¹s classroom. At the same time, Miles McPherson, of the Miles Ahead Crusades, led a prayer and worship time at the flagpole. Several students accepted Christ.

    Of course, Santana High School was devastated. The atmosphere was somber, yet there was a loving sense of support among the students. A girl I hadn¹t talked to since elementary school, hugged me as we grieved over the makeshift memorial of flowers, balloons, and signs outside the boys¹ bathroom. My English teacher made no attempt to continue with Othello for another week. She gave us play dough to relieve our strain as we mulled over what happened – trying to make sense of it.

    The following week, everyone at school was given a T-shirt in the gym after school. On the front it read, ³Sultans Forever.² The back read, ³One School, One Heart. In Memory of Randy and Bryan.² The shirt summed it up — Santana was suddenly a unified community, if for only a few months.

    On Friday evening that week, a rally was held nearby at Shadow Mountain Church. Two Christian victims of the Columbine shootings came and encouraged us to not give up hope because God would work everything out. Following them, a couple of my new friends gave similar messages. To conclude the evening, Jaci Velasquez, a Christian musician, sang ³On My Knees² for an altar call.

    At least ten people accepted Christ that evening. One was a fellow runner, Keira deVigne. Keira was ASB president and a senior on her way to UC Davis. Our family sometimes gave her rides to meets, and she came to my church at least once before, curious. She said she recognized something different in my family throughout the cross-country season the previous fall.

    At UC Davis, Keira became involved in the Campus Crusade for Christ club. The following year, she took on a leadership position. Instead of spending her next summer tanning on the beach, she ministered at the beach with a group from Campus Crusade. She enjoyed some sun, but spent many hours talking to people at the beach, training for evangelizing, and praying with her team.

    The following winter, she spent half her winter break at a Christian conference instead of relaxing with family and friends. Since graduation she and I have had several conversations about faith, what God¹s doing in our lives, and she has encouraged me in Christ. In 2004, she got married to a man serious about his Christian faith.

    In 2004, the shooter, Charles ³Andy² Williams, was moved to an adult prison. He has finished high school courses, and begun college courses -— not just any college courses, but Bible courses. He was sentenced to 50 years to life, but he has decided to be a prison pastor, and is receiving help from a Christian college in Florida to complete his degree. Before the shooting, he went to church, but was unable to overcome a troubled past.

    Of course it¹s good to hear that he¹s dedicated his life to God — but when I remember Randy and my friends who are emotionally wounded for life — it¹s hard not to feel deeply conflicted.

    + + +

    While others seemed to move on after this tragedy, I clung to my anger and bitterness. I jumped every time a balloon popped, doubted God¹s love, and was terrified of guns-all because of this event forever etched in my memory.

    During my freshman and sophomore years at Biola University, God revealed to me how He could work His plan, even through something as horrifying as this shooting. He chose to protect me, and many others, that day. Bullets were fired aimlessly in every direction, but many were untouched. Since that day I realized I can be taken from this earth at any moment. My faith in God was renewed and strengthened after nearly facing death. Now, when I¹m stressed over mounds of schoolwork or a relational conflict, I¹m reminded of how fast everything can change, and how I need to trust God in every circumstance.

    He will take care of me.

    When death comes close to you-whether your own life is threatened or death claims someone you know — you have to respond. Those 15 people who were injured or killed that day sparked a response by bringing many lives to Christ.


    Amanda Paulson is a senior at Biola University.

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