This is a story about what our increasingly violent and dangerous society is doing to our collective wisdom and judgment.
Rick Roseli is a 17-year-old senior at Western High School in Anaheim. He's a three-year varsity water polo player and four-year trumpet player in the school band. In eighth grade, he won a prestigious John Philip Sousa award for outstanding bandsman. He's an average high school student, active in church, works as a busboy after school and has missed an inordinate number of classes this year because his single-parent mother has been on medical disability since last June and occasionally needs his help. Neither he nor his mother attempt to portray him as any kind of angel. "He's a typical 17-year-old kid," his mom says.
On Feb. 24, the school was giving a spring concert in the gym. Apparently a day or so earlier, the band teacher had asked whether any student had a toy popgun that the percussionist could use as a sound effect for a particular song. That night, one of the students brought an unloaded, handgun-sized BB gun, but it was quickly determined that it didn't make the requisite noise. As high schoolers will do, however, they passed the gun around and joked about having it in their midst.
Rick Roseli arrived about 25 minutes late for the pre-concert warm-up. He started tuning his trumpet and plinked a note on the piano in the band room, until a campus security monitor, in charge in the band director's absence, told him to stop.
What happened next is the nub of the matter. Partly for laughs and partly to irk the monitor, Rick got the empty BB gun and went back into the band room. Humorously, he says, he waved it around the room and, as if mockingly helping the monitor, said something like, "Everybody clear out!" He then said something to the monitor along the lines of, "Who was that yelling at me?" and pointed the gun in her general direction and, as he recalls, imitated Clint Eastwood doing a "Make my day" impression. He pulled the trigger, with the unloaded gun making its faint pop.
"Right after it happened, it crossed my mind, 'That was pretty stupid,' Rick said. "Then I thought, everybody's laughing, so nobody was scared." Of the monitor, he said, "She didn't act scared, just extremely mad." Rick told his mother about it when he got home later and she said it was a stupid stunt. "Don't worry,"he says he told her, "everybody knew it was fake, it's no big deal."
Rick played the concert that night, a Thursday. He attended a church camp over the weekend and came to school the following Monday. On Tuesday, he was called to the principal's office and asked to write a statement about the incident. Later that day, he says, police arrived and read him his rights. He wasn't arrested but was told he was on five-day suspension for violating the policy against having a gun, either toy or fake, in his possession on school property.
That was March 1. Rick hasn't been back in class since. School officials indicate they are recommending expulsion.
School officials won't discuss the case, citing student confidentiality. At my request, Rick's mother, Frankie Repine, authorized Principal Warren Stephenson to discuss the case with me, but he chose not to.
Stephenson told me there's more than meets the eye but can't tell me what. Rick's attorney, Jack Fleischli, disagrees, saying he has seen all the school district reports on the situation and that the details don't vary significantly from Rick's version.
The district hasn't disputed, the lawyer says, that the band teacher authorized a student to bring a popgun to school for the concert. The teacher also saw the gun before the concert and knew it was on campus, Fleischli says.
I spent an hour with Rick this week. He concedes the impropriety of flashing the gun around the campus monitor. Fleischli says a school report notes that a young child was standing nearby, but Rick says he doesn't remember seeing a child. Had he caused a serious disturbance that night, he says, school officials could have pulled him from the concert on the spot. Besides, he says, no one said anything about the incident until five days later.
Rick concedes that the monitor may not have known the gun was a band prop. He concedes the stupidity of waving it at her, if only in her general direction.
As for the no-gun-on-campus rule: "Oh, yeah, I totally agree with that. My only beef is that the sign is telling me if you have a gun, real or fake, you're going to get in trouble. Now here's a teacher saying, 'Bring in a gun, please, for our song.' The fact that it was authorized and was going to be used in the piece makes it the same to me as my trumpet, the same as the drum. It puts it in the 'everybody knows it's here, everybody knows it's fake' category."
I asked Rick to forget for a minute that the gun was requested by a teacher. What does he think about what happened?