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When The Shooting Stops

SATURDAY JOURNAL

After Jamie Rouse killed a teacher and a student at his school, the questions began. Why did he do it? Could his parents have prevented it? A family faces the truth of what their son has done.

April 22, 2000|RICHARD E. MEYER | Times Staff Writer

Jamie suggests to Steve Abbott that they switch places. Steve drives the Chevy pickup back down Abernathy Road. With Stephen Ray trailing in his car, Steve turns right on Buford Station Road. Jamie holds the rifle in his lap. Steve hears him say that now he can shoot the trooper, who usually parks in front of the Richland campus. Steve starts to wonder, even to worry. Jamie has to be joking, just acting big. When they turn right on Highway 31, they will be able to see the school. It is a collection of single-story tan brick buildings with gray trim and covered walkways, sprawled alongside the road. Steve will later say that if there was a cop, he would have turned south away from school. The trooper is not there. So he turns north, toward campus. Maybe now, Steve thinks, Jamie will drop whatever is bothering him and forget about it.

Steve pulls the pickup into the main entrance for students. He turns left to park where he usually does, up by the football field. "No, wait," Jamie says. "Park over here in the front." It is Jamie's truck, so Steve leaves it, nose out, alongside several cars on a strip of grass in front of two portable classrooms, near the north doors to the school. Jamie grabs the rifle and jumps out. The clip is in. Only now, Steve will testify later, does he believe that Jamie is going to do something.

Steve hurls his door open and climbs out.

"Jamie!" he yells.

But Jamie keeps walking.

"Jamie!" he yells again and again.

Jamie does not stop.

Steve gives chase, but he gets scared. He freezes up, slows down. He tries to run. Jamie is more than 20 feet ahead of him.

At 7:55 a.m., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 1995, James Elison Rouse walks into the north hall at Richland School. He has brown eyes, black hair. It is cropped in back and on the sides, but it is a foot long on top and tied in a ponytail. He has a high-average IQ of 115. He is 5 feet and 7 inches, and he weighs 122 pounds. He has a deep voice, short strides and a hunched-over gait. He is carrying his Remington Viper .22-caliber rifle with the cartridges in its clip.

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"I don't remember feeling angry. I wasn't feeling nothing. Like I said, I don't remember feeling anything. Period. Empty. Hollow. I guess that 'empty' would be probably the best word. I was just--I wasn't the same. I wasn't feeling anything, that's the point. All day. I mean, you know, I was empty the whole day. Just nothing."

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He walks through double doors and down the hallway. It is noisy. He walks to the right, a foot or two from the cinder-block wall. It is lined with steel lockers. He walks by four classrooms. They have students and teachers inside. He walks with his head up. The pace is normal. He walks with the butt of the rifle tucked up under his right arm, like a hunter carrying a gun through a field. Some students walk in front of him, others walk behind, still others pass him going the other way. Some notice his gun. They think it is a joke. One of them notices his face. It is blank. Jamie does not speak.

Carolyn Foster and Carol Yancey, teachers with classrooms diagonally across from each other, are talking about cooking. It is Carolyn's turn to host Thanksgiving dinner for her extended family. She has asked Carol for a recipe. 'I have [it] this morning,' Carol tells her, and they go into Carolyn's classroom to make a copy. They step back into the hall and are going over the directions when Jamie walks by. They are the first teachers he sees. Both look up. Carol Yancey thinks, "What are you doing with that gun?" A student hears Carolyn Foster ask: "Jamie, what are you doing?"

Jamie does not say anything. He lifts the rifle to his shoulder, and he aims. He tries to fire, but the safety is on. So he flicks it off, and he shoots. Because the Viper is semiautomatic, he does not have to recock it. He aims again and pulls the trigger once more. One bullet hits Carol Yancey on the left side of her forehead, below the hairline. It makes a small hole and explodes fragments of her skull into her brain. The bullet expands and blows a larger hole in her skull above her left ear as it leaves. It tears off a big patch of scalp. The other bullet hits Carolyn Foster in her left upper lip. It knocks out two teeth, shreds her tongue and severs her right carotid artery and her right jugular vein. It lodges in the right side of her neck. Both teachers fall. Carol Yancey strikes her head hard. Blood flows from Carolyn Foster's mouth, and pink froth bubbles from her nose. She looks up. She tries to get up, but she cannot. Some students look at Jamie. He wears an empty grin.

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