FORT WORTH — They called themselves the "Legion of Doom" and their symbol was a swastika.
Ask Tom Hill about them, and he will tell you about a pipe bomb that was taped to his son's car and detonated in the middle of the night. His word for the Legion of Doom is "scum."
Ask the Fort Worth police about the Legion of Doom, and it is described as a high school gang whose nine members are being investigated on at least 35 felony counts, including the bombing of the Hill car and others, the attempted firebombing of a house, possession of unlawful weapons and terrorist threats. The list also includes the killing of another student's cat and the smearing of its blood on his car and upholstery.
As serious as the crimes might be, other juvenile gangs have done worse. But there is a difference here.
'Wanted to Be Like' Them
What sets the Legion of Doom apart is that it is made up of those students from R.L. Paschal High School who were considered the best of the lot--honor students and athletes--all, according to police, white and from upper-middle-class backgrounds. In a school of 2,250 students, these were, as one underclassman put it, "the ones we wanted to be like."
But something went wrong. These nine bright students, including one with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, are now being investigated for taking the law into their own hands, targeting others that they deemed to be undesirables, using bullying tactics and setting off explosives that caused thousands of dollars in damage.
Undercurrent of Fear
The problems at Paschal High have left Fort Worth trying to understand what happened and where to lay the blame. There is an undercurrent of fear that, in the privileged society to which the legion members belong, old-time values are eroding--that the definitions of right and wrong have somehow been muddled.
Police spokesman Doug Clarke said his "perception is there might be a very strong sense of elitism" among gang members.
Calling the gang's actions "regrettable and misguided," Lonnie H. Wagstaff, associate superintendent of the Fort Worth Independent School District, said: "I wish there were a better understanding of how things must be done in a democratic society. If what is alleged is true, these people do not understand a democratic society. It's very easy to start taking things for granted and assume the rest of the world is like what we have here."
Dr. Jack Scott, a psychologist from nearby Texas Christian University, described the furor as yet another cause for tension in a community that is only beginning to feel the problems of a big city.
"It's kind of a general tension," he said. "You find yourself in a community that was so safe, where things are happening that did not happen before. It raises the stress level."
A Special Place
Paschal High is, in many ways, a special place. Author Dan Jenkins went there and wrote about it in his book, "Semi-Tough." Astronaut Alan Bean went there, as did writer Edwin (Bud) Shrake, columnist Liz Smith, former Texas Gov. Price Daniel and pro quarterback Frank Ryan. The ethnic and economic mix includes students from all segments of the community.
But Paschal also has had its problems in recent years--with drug abuse and theft leading the list. When the story of the legion first came to light last month, the students were depicted as vigilantes who had banded together to rid the school of those problems.
Now, the gang's motivations no longer seem so honorable.
As pieced together from numerous interviews, the story of the Legion of Doom suggests that the gang went through several stages, as students joined and left it.
To begin with, the name, spelled "Lejun uv Dume" in graffiti spray-painted at nearby Overton Park, was the nickname of the Paschal football defensive unit. ("If you look at their record, they weren't all that tough," police spokesman Clarke said.)
Eventually, the group boiled down to eight Paschal students and one who had been graduated the year before. Of those nine, four were what the school called Ambassadors--trusted students assigned to patrol the halls and to report the infractions of their peers to the school administration.
Tom Zachry, a lawyer for three of the students who were arrested because they would not voluntarily answer police questions as did the other six, says he thinks that frustration was to blame for what eventually went wrong, because the students were supplying evidence of wrongdoing to school officials but seeing no results.
'Got to Be Bigger'
"I think initially it was more a situation where the kids were probably interested in trying to scare some of these kids they suspected of being involved in drug pushing and stealing," he said. "It kind of got to be bigger and bigger, and ultimately there were some personal reasons for these things happening.
"Obviously, the school wasn't teaching them how to build a pipe bomb, so things got out of hand," he said, adding that he thinks his clients will ultimately be acquitted.