By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jeff Balke
Under normal circumstances, Lucas Gallagher doesn't attract a lot of attention. He's a quiet kid, a 16-year-old who walks with his head down and keeps his chin-length blond hair tucked behind his ears. He's taking speech class in summer school so he won't have to talk in front of a whole roomful of kids.
And under normal circumstances, Lucas doesn't seem dangerous, either. The biggest crime on his high school disciplinary record is not dressing out for gym. He has never been in a fight. Fighting would involve talking or yelling and probably sweating; Lucas doesn't like any of that. He shoos cockroaches out of the house instead of killing them. He buys plaid grandpa pants at Goodwill, watches The Brady Bunch and listens to Peter, Paul and Mary. He and his girlfriend make clothes for his Chihuahua, Molly.
Lucas like a lot of teenagers isn't exactly a bundle of cheer. But before his arrest, he was on an upswing. His therapist was weaning him off antidepressants, he had found a girlfriend his mom liked, and he was able to sleep. He painted a picture, "Ode to the Unity of Man," that showed people holding hands forming a peace sign. Everyone was smiling.
Lucas's trouble began in Brazosport High School's computer room. On a page in a stack of printer paper, someone had written, "Death will come not swiftly, but very slow. You will die soon. Everyone will die soon, a fiery, brutal death." The note was signed "Death Bird."
In Colorado it had been the outcasts not the popular kids who fired the guns and made the bombs. It was the kind of kids who watched Saved By the Bell and didn't see themselves.
And Brazosport High, like every high school, has a group of kids who don't seem to fit in. At Brazosport, the preps throw Coke cans and apples at the outcasts; they're called "the freaks" or the "Korn Club"(most of them listen to the band Korn).
Many of Brazosport's outcasts are artists or intellectual types: They paint, write poetry, act or mess around with computers. Besides Lucas, there's Jennifer Williams, a member of the National Honor Society who plays the bassoon; Jeremy Hill, who rebuilds TVs, wants to be a computer animator and plays Uno with his mom; and John Lyle, a former Little League all-star who surfs and writes poems.
The group, if you can call it that, is loose-knit. Most of the 20 or so group members don't know each other's last names, much less their phone numbers. All they have in common is that they're lonely and wear superbaggy jeans with funky retro shirts.
And that they sit together at lunch. It's not that they all feel close to one another; it's more that none of them belongs to the high school's other groups: not with the preppies, not with the roughnecks or the skaters. They sit outside on the two brick-red benches farthest from the cafeteria.
After Littleton, Principal Boone viewed the members of the Korn Club as a potential security threat and started sitting with them at lunch time. Scrawled on the table were pentagons, anarchy symbols and inverted crosses. Someone had written "pipe bombs," "shotguns" and "666." Boone made friendly conversation, the kids say. They wanted him to go away.
On Tuesday, April 27 one week to the day after Littleton, four days after Death Bird's note had been found Lucas, the shy painter, was sitting at the table with a bunch of his friends, waiting for the bell to ring. One kid, Tommy Moore, had worn a trench coat to school. He'd worn it nearly every day and didn't see fit to stop after Littleton. Lucas thought it was stupid. He knew Tommy was going to get in trouble.
Boone hollered at Tommy to come talk to him.
"Hide your bombs," a few kids said. They were joking.
Boone didn't laugh. Fed up, he took Lucas and his friends to the library and lectured them about Littleton. Lucas rarely says much, and he'd never said anything about Littleton, so he stopped paying attention; he didn't think what Boone was saying applied to him. He says he heard Boone yelling and screaming and cursing, but he blocked it out. He sat there with his mind blank.
Boone confiscated Tommy's trench coat, and then the bell rang. Boone said he might be calling them in for individual conferences later in the day.
And sure enough, during Lucas's world history class, he was summoned to the principal's office. To get there, Lucas walked through "legacy lane," a kind of hallway-cum-trophy-room, a shrine to the kind of kid Lucas isn't, the kind of kid who makes a high school principal proud instead of nervous.
Boone was waiting for Lucas and handed him over to a Freeport City police officer who frisked and cuffed him.
Lucas watched as 13 of the kids he eats with walked down the hall and were also arrested. That wasn't all of the Korn Club just the ones who were at school that day. The guy next to Lucas asked what was going on and why it was happening. Everyone ignored him. Lucas kept his mouth shut and wished there weren't so many people in the hall watching. He didn't want to be watched.
The officers marched the teens through the Freeport City Police Department downstairs to the courtroom. The girls were shaking and clinging to each other. Even the guys were crying. They were told not to talk.
The officers told the group that three teens in the room had compiled the list of their names. Now the outcasts couldn't trust even their fellow outcasts. They were more alone than before.
The kids remember the officers saying that if they talked to each other, they'd be put in a jail cell, and if they tried to escape, they would face five years in prison. Tabitha Leavey's wrists were bleeding from too-tight handcuffs. She was too scared to tell the police they were hurting her.
The kids called their parents and waited for them to show up at the courthouse. Lucas called his grandmother and had her call his mom at work. He told his grandma he didn't know what he had done wrong.
Lucas's mother, Caroline Thomas, wouldn't sit down and be quiet while the officers waited for all the parents to arrive. She wanted to know what happened and why her son was there. An officer pulled her aside and asked which one was her son. Lucas, she said. He didn't know who that was. That infuriated her. They assured her Lucas hadn't done anything wrong. While she was talking to the officer, Boone came over and told her that Lucas had been talking to the counselor about suicide. He told her she didn't know what her son was up to. (Lucas says it's not true, that he never talked to the counselor about killing himself.)
After all the parents arrived, the officers announced that most of the kids hadn't done anything wrong. They explained the Death Bird note and talked about how they were being cautious. The cops said Death Bird had already confessed and had been taken into custody that morning. Death Bird, it turned out, was a kid who made even the Korn Clubbers nervous.
Confused, Lucas sat there feeling like a criminal. If he hadn't done anything wrong, why was he at the police station? Why wasn't he in the school cafeteria?
As Lucas remembers it, Boone and Captain Richard Miller said that the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been watching the students. They had found syringes and empty alcohol bottles on the beach. They had seen the kids burning fires and devil-worshiping. It's a public beach, Lucas thought. How would they know whose bottles were whose?
John, the surfer, stood up and told Boone that the Korn Club's beach bonfires were to get away from people like him. John said his dad came to the beach parties all the time; John invited Boone to come, too. Boone declined. John then pointed out that some high school cowboys were wearing dusters that day, and those look an awful lot like trench coats. So, he asked, why weren't they arrested?
Lucas thought John made sense. Lucas had never been to a beach party, but he hadn't heard of any drugs or devil-worship among the Korn Club.
Around 5:30 the kids were sent home. Jeremy and his mother spent the night crying. John started sobbing in the car they weren't tears of sadness, he says, they were tears of rage. He had never felt so angry and frustrated in his life.
Other kids were left with more than anger they got a record. Tommy Moore, who'd worn the trench coat, was suspended for three days and charged with disorderly conduct. (The charge was later dropped to "disruption of school facilities," with a $199 fine or 32 hours of community service.) The cops had found a pocketknife illegal on school grounds after searching another member of the Korn Club. Another kid was carrying marijuana.
Lucas, though, hadn't done anything.
Lucas's mother demanded a 7 a.m. conference with Boone the next morning. She took notes.
According to Caroline, Boone said he was sorry that he had her son arrested, but he had to show the kids that he wasn't going to take any crap. Governor George W. Bush was speaking at commencement, and Boone didn't want them to screw it up, she remembers. He told her Lucas had until Monday to get a haircut.
Boone declines to explain his side of the story in detail. "I'm tired of messing with it," Boone says. "I know I did what was right." He offers instead to tell about the governor's visit at graduation.
Doug Hodgins, the school district's attorney, said he would like to talk about the incident but can't because of potential litigation. No one in the Freeport City Police Department would talk about it, either.
John Reynolds, one of the outcasts, hadn't been arrested the day before, because he hadn't been at school. But this morning, he was arrested: The computer teacher, suspicious, had searched his diskette, and found on it a dirty joke. At the police station, he was charged with a misdemeanor obscenity: One of the underage kids in his class, they said, might have seen the joke on his computer screen.
At 10:30 a.m., three hours after Boone met with Lucas's mother, he held an emergency assembly for the entire school. Panic and rumors were spreading; John's girlfriend heard that he was going to jail for six years. Students were afraid that the trench coat mafia had moved in. A reporter and photographer from the Clute daily newspaper, The Facts, showed up for the assembly.
Boone read the Death Bird note to the student body and talked about how he prayed nothing like Littleton would happen at their high school. Boone didn't name names, but he announced that "the suspects" had been cleared of all wrongdoing. The school's other students, he said, were not to torment the Korn Clubbers. Ever.
"If I catch you saying anything, I will nail your butt to the wall, and that is a promise," The Facts reported Boone saying. "You leave them alone, and don't say nothing to them."
Unfortunately, that command wasn't obeyed.
After the assembly, people stared at the Korn Club kids. Whenever Lucas talked to a teacher, he heard snickers that he had a bomb. Kids told him not to bomb the school until after they graduated. If "666" was written on the flag, kids told each other, go home; it meant "the freaks" were going to blow up the school.
The next day, Thursday, did nothing to calm the school. John Reynolds was expelled for having a dirty joke on his computer disk. While he was cleaning out his locker, he allegedly threatened some sort of retaliation against Boone and was turned in by another kid. (John doesn't remember talking to anybody.) Friday night he was arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat, a felony. Bail was set at $100,000.
Scared, Boone had tried to make the school a safe place for its students. But by having the Korn Club arrested, he made those students scared to come to school afraid they'd be arrested again and they felt more like outcasts than ever.
After the arrests, some of the Korn Clubbers cut classes and talked about dropping out. Tabitha Leavey's grades plummeted because she ran to the bathroom whenever she saw an officer at school. She had nightmares about the cops coming to her house, finding nothing but arresting her anyway because it happened before (she has the scars from her handcuffs to remind her). She tacked Boone's picture up in her bed-room, wrote "dumbass" across his forehead and added devil horns and red eyes. Some of the other kids started fighting more. John Lyle, the surfer, beat someone nearly unconscious and thought of killing himself. He skipped a couple of his finals and failed all his classes but algebra.
Lucas figured that if he was arrested once, it could happen again. He didn't want to go to school anymore. He isn't the kind of kid who'd build a bomb. And it made him angry that people believed he was.
Lucas's mother went on Channel 2 news, talked on the radio and faxed letters to the American Civil Liberties Union. It took her case. Jeremy's mother joined her, and their attorney, Robert Rosenberg, sent demand letters to the principal, mayor, police chief and everyone involved in the June 30 incident.
They're not yet sure what they want to win.
"Luke, what do you want?" Caroline asks him.
He twirls his hair and doesn't answer.
"I want them to suffer," she says. He sort of laughs and looks away, saying yeah-right-mom without opening his mouth.
"I do," she says.
And she wants Boone fired.
Lucas just wants to be happy again. He's not sure how or when that's going to happen. Before the arrest, he felt great. Now he can't sleep. His doctor prescribed more Zoloft, but that hasn't helped much. He thinks he needs a stronger dose.
In the sleepless nights after the arrest, Lucas painted a picture he hasn't named. The new picture is a long way from Ode to the Unity of Man. A bald, blue-gray figure is in a black pit, screaming, reaching toward a light that's too far away. His hand disappears into the darkness. Lucas's mother thinks the anguished man looks like an alien, an outcast, like Lucas. They both have blue eyes.
Lucas stays up late reading about quantum physics. He'd like to leap through time like in the old TV show Quantum Leap he'd like to leave. He loves the idea of parallel universes, that somewhere things are different-but-the-same, that somewhere someone else is feeling the same things he does.
He thinks changing schools will help. He absolutely doesn't want to return to Brazosport High School. His mom's enrolling him at Brazoswood. She thinks the two schools six miles apart aren't much different. But Brazoswood is nearly twice the size of Brazosport, and Lucas is sure it will be better. In a bigger school, he'll be better able to blend into the background, the place he always wanted to be.
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