Move west uprooted teen, Md. friends say

Suspect described as `happy-go-lucky' before going to Calif.

March 07, 2001|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

BRUNSWICK - Kathleen Seek feared that her friend Andy Williams was so miserable in Southern California that he might be suicidal. Just 15 months after moving away from the nearby Frederick County town of Knoxville, he told her in an e-mail last week that he didn't want to go to high school anymore.

Williams was being picked on for his slight build, for his "country" ways, even for his haircut. "He was just a boy that was hurting," said Seek, a Brunswick High School sophomore. "If you met him on the street, you would love him."

Monday, San Diego authorities say, the 15-year-old boy -described by friends and school officials here as once a "happy-go-lucky" teen - opened fire with his father's .22-caliber revolver in a school bathroom, killing two students and wounding 13 others. It was the worst school attack since the shooting at Columbine High in Colorado two years ago.

The news rocked Knoxville, a tiny community on the banks of the Potomac River across from West Virginia, and neighboring Brunswick, another small river town and a former railroad hub.

When he lived here with his father, Charles Andrew "Andy" Williams was a good student with a sunny smile, school officials, neighbors and friends say. He played rec league baseball and football and enjoyed goofing around with his friends, skateboarding, fishing in the Potomac and playing music and video games.

"When he left here, he was on the honor roll," said Arthur Fairweather, principal at Brunswick Middle School, which Williams attended until moving away in November 1999. He was "a happy-go-lucky kid who seemed to have a lot of friends."

School officials mobilized 10 counselors and psychologists yesterday to help Williams' friends at the middle school and high school in Brunswick cope with their shock and grief. Frederick sheriff's deputies and Brunswick police were on hand to provide a visible reassurance of safety to students and their parents - and to help control the TV news crews and print reporters who flocked to the school.

"Andy wasn't an angel," Fairweather said, but he never got into trouble for fighting or threatening anyone. The scrapes he had with teachers and administrators were minor, over chewing gum and horseplay.

Though his friends remember him as popular and never harassed at school, they did say that someone -they don't know who -apparently broke into the Williams' Knoxville house and fired a BB gun at his television. A treehouse the group built in Williams' back yard was wrecked about the same time.

Kevin Wilson, 18, recalls that once, while he and Williams were playing in the woods, Williams shot him in the back of the head with a BB gun -apparently by accident.

"He said, `Oh, Kevin, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,'" Wilson said, and he poured water over Wilson's head to wash away the blood. Robert Wilson, Kevin's father, said he considered the incident an accident and never spoke to Andy's father about it. "He wasn't violent," Kevin Wilson insisted.

The Brunswick principal, Fairweather, said he announced his former student's arrest over the middle school intercom yesterday morning and used the occasion to preach against harassment of any kind and for reporting anyone's talk of violence, no matter how flip it seems. "I wish I had known he felt like hurting somebody," the principal said. "I would have called him or his dad."

Some students were so upset they left school or didn't go at all.

Seek, who said she dated Williams when he lived here, collapsed when she heard the news by telephone at home. After attending a grief-counseling session at high school and answering questions for the police about her communications with Williams, the sophomore sat at home, commiserating with family and friends and watching the news. "I want people to know the real Andy," she said.

About a half-dozen of Williams' friends gathered yesterday at the Knoxville home of another friend, Scott Bryan, to talk with reporters. They joked among themselves, but became somber one on one.

"It's just crazy; it doesn't seem real," said Bryan, 15, who said he broke down in tears when he learned of his friend's involvement in the California school shooting late Monday. He added that he is "kind of scared for Andy."

Williams had lived just two blocks away in a yellow, two-story frame house with his father, Charles, who had worked at Fort Detrick in Frederick 15 miles away. His parents divorced about 10 years ago, and his mother lived in South Carolina. The only thing he was touchy about was his mother, friends say.

In North Augusta, S.C., yesterday, Williams' mother, Linda Wells, apologized to her son's victims and their families. "My heart goes out of them. They've lost their babies, their hopes, their dreams for their futures," she said in a local television interview.

Williams played sports , and 16-year-old David Cunningham said the two of them used to skateboard wherever they could in the hilly town. They formed a garage band, with Williams playing bass guitar, he said.

Williams was very unhappy to have to move away from his friends when his father got a job in California, and he stayed in touch by telephone and computer. He came back to Knoxville last summer for a month-long visit, staying with friends, and only reluctantly returned to the West Coast.

His friends said Williams told them he was beat up after getting a haircut, and that his gym bag was stuffed in a toilet. Seek said Williams told her California teens taunted him, calling him gay.

"It's just unbelievable," said Iris Adams, David Cunningham's mother, as she watched her son being interviewed. "When Andy smiled, his whole face lit up, and he always seemed to smile."

"I'm just worried about the kids," she added. "As parents, we have to think - it could have been Brunswick High School."

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