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Unfiled May 4, 2007
Virginia Tech Foretold
By Mark Ames Browse author Email

Of all the schoolyard rampage massacres and massacre plots over the past 10 years, one stands out to me as perhaps the most foretelling of the Virginia Tech slaughter two weeks ago.

On January 28, 2001, Al DeGuzman, a 19-year-old student at De Anza Community College, dropped off some rolls of film to be developed at a local Long's drugstore. De Anza, in Cupertino, California, is where many of my high school friends went for junior college. The rolls DeGuzman brought to be developed weren't filled with your stereotypical 19-year-old's photos of raucous beer bong parties and girls gone wild. Instead, they were snapshots of himself brandishing a variety of home-made bombs while wearing a t-shirt that read "Natural Selection." The girl working the film department that night, Kelly Bennett, a chubby 18-year-old San Jose State freshman, saw the photos and called her father, a police-man.

"I knew that theory from school about survival of the fittest and only the strongest will survive," Bennett said. "I knew if this guy was going around advertising that, that he was not all there... I was 100 percent positive that this guy was weird."

The photographs would be ready in a day. Police staked out the drugstore and waited for DeGuzman to show - which he did, almost exactly twenty-four hours after he dropped the film off.

DeGuzman and Cho (left) even looked the same.

When he handed Kelly his receipt to pick up the photos, she was terrified and even surprised. He seemed much smaller and less fright-ening that she'd expected. She almost didn't believe it was him. But he held the receipt; there was no doubt. She signaled the stakeout cops, who moved into the drugstore, up separate aisles. DeGuzman spotted them, turned around, and tried walking out the door as inconspicuously as he could - but he didn't get far. Police detained him and brought him in for questioning. When they searched his bedroom - he lived with his Filipino parents in a middle-class section of San Jose - they found the rage murderer's loyal companion, the duffel bag. Inside were eighteen propane gas cylinders taped together. They found a backpack holding about 25 Molotov cocktails, and a plastic bag with several home-made pipe bombs, each with nails and screws taped to the outside. They also found guns, lots of them: an SKS semiautomatic, a sawed-off 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, a sawed-off Ruger 10/22 semiautomatic rifle, and an MDL 98 8mm rifle. A black binder on DeGuzman's desk contained detailed plans for an attack at De Anza College: including drawings, maps, a minute-by-minute schedule, timelines - everything for a massacre. This wasn't one geek talking shit to another in order to impress a third - this was the real thing.

DeGuzman was thrown in jail and eventually hanged himself in Folsom State Prison in the summer of 2004, while Kathy Bennett briefly became the nation's most popular snitch. She was flown to the East Coast to appear on Today and Good Morning America to be hailed as the heroine-snitch who saved possibly hundreds of lives. The implication was obvious - if you're a chubby, lonely American all you have to do is snitch on someone more desperate than you, and you might become the apple of America's eye! It's your lottery ticket out of the Long's wage trap!

DeGuzman, on the other hand, became something of a laughing stock: ABC News declared "Vanity Helps Nab a Prospective Killer," while CNN shocked its viewers by revealing that DeGuzman wasn't like us: "Photo clerk says California bombing suspect was 'weird.'" The word "weird" has a particularly strong meaning in contempo-rary American discourse - in school it ranks, in its ability to destroy and expel, just a step down from the "gay" epithet, while in the office world, "weird" is the white-collar death sentence.

Al DeGuzman, the so-called "De Anza Bomber," is a perfect example of how a potential school murderer can be anyone, and of how widespread the sensibility is, and why profiling fails.

DeGuzman was a good student at Independence High School, but just missed getting accepted into the colleges of his choice. He was described by everyone who knew him as nice, artistic, intelligent, and not at all capable of carrying out the crime. As an elementary school student he turned down an opportunity to be placed in a school for gifted children.

"He's a choir boy, like a straight-up school boy," Bobby Playa, an eighteen-year-old Independence High student, told Asia Week shortly after the plot was uncovered.

Al suffered from depression; the rejections from colleges, as he said, knocked that depression into a bad place. Going to De Anza only made it worse. A large number of De Anza's students come from the west Silicon Valley suburbs. Many were popular, dumb jerks - not the types to be humbled by a junior college. It is hard to explain how invisible a small Filipino kid from the San Jose tracts could feel among the west valley's wealthy detritus. On his personal homepage, DeGuzman wrote of the De Anza students, "The people there are just as cliquey as they were in high school... maybe even more." According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he then launched into a profanity-packed description of the campus's students as either hypocritical wealthy liberals or people from poorer parts of the city who are "angry, on welfare, and hate the white man."

DeGuzman was an editor at the Independence High yearbook, which won several national awards. Everyone who worked with him had nice things to say about him. What's more, he had a strong group of friends, and even girlfriends. He got along with his parents, though in a cold, old-world sort of way. In a line that sums up how most kids and adults relate to each other, DeGuzman said, "It's just that as long as I gave the air of normalcy, they left me alone."

He wasn't a loner, he wasn't bullied, he wasn't a trouble-maker or abused. He just had this hidden side to him. DeGuzman was obsessed with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. On his homepage, he wrote, "The only thing that's real is the word of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold - they knew what they had to do to change the world and they did it."

"There's so much stress nowadays - more than people can deal with," De Anza sophomore Matt Utterback, twenty-four, told Asia Week in their DeGuzman article. "People have breaking points."

Kids are more miserable, suicidal, and closer to mass murder today than ever. Bullying is clearly part of the problem. Yet efforts to stop bullying have not stopped the shootings. The urge to rebel and massacre is still there, even at the sites of the massacres, where anti-bullying measures and heightened security are most intense. On November 7, 2001, just seven months after Andy Williams's shooting spree, graffiti was discovered in a Santana High bathroom stall warn-ing of an upcoming school shooting, forcing an evacuation. A few days earlier, similar graffiti, in different handwriting, also warned of an upcoming massacre. Some students at the school say that the culture hasn't changed much at all.

At Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, three days after the eleven- and thirteen-year-old boys murdered five and wounded ten, the school gym had to be evacuated following a bomb threat. More threats have hit the school since. And so have strange char-acters - a clown was denied his request to perform for the students shortly after the shooting, but he was discovered later in the cafeteria performing magic tricks for the students before he was escorted out.

At Columbine, where new anti-bullying rules were introduced, student Aaron Brown, a freshman at the time of the shootings, said, "Things were better at Columbine, as far as how people treated one another. At least, that's how it was for the first month or so. But by two or three months after we got back, things were back to the way they had been before. The name-calling started up all over again. Some people had changed a lot, but others hadn't changed at all."

Six months after the massacre, Carla Hochhalter, the mother of one of the wounded girls at Columbine, went to a Littleton pawn shop, picked out a gun, agreed to buy it, and while the salesperson was turned around, she loaded the gun, shot, and killed herself. Her daughter, who today is confined to a wheelchair, cheerfully described life in an interview five years after the massacre as "amazing." In February, 2000, two Columbine students were shot and killed at a Subway sandwich restaurant a few blocks away from school. This double-murder at the popular high school hangout was never solved. A few weeks after the one-year anniversary of the massacre, a star player on the Columbine basketball team hanged himself. More re-cently, in early 2002, two Columbine High students were suspended after a hit list they drew up of eleven students and two faculty mem-bers was found in a park across from the school and handed over to authorities. The boys were suspended from school and faced expul-sion as well as felony charges of inciting the destruction of life.

The fact is that if schools, and the larger settings they're placed in, remain wretched and cruel, the shootings, and sympathy for the shooters, will continue.

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