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When The Shooting Stops

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

Carol Yancey, 50, has taught for four years, then stayed home to raise three children, then taught for eight more years: math and science, mainly--up to seven classes in one year. Many students call her their favorite teacher. Doctors will decide it is too dangerous to try to remove bone fragments from her brain. She will carry them forever. Much of her head will be numb for years, maybe forever. She will have no desire to return to teaching, mostly because she will be afraid to turn her back on a classroom of students. Jamie had been in one of her classes. They never had a cross word.

Carolyn Foster, 58, is a favorite among the students too. She has taught at Richland for 17 years: typing, computer keyboarding and other business skills. She and her husband own a wholesale flower shop in Pulaski and are well connected in the community. She has survived a tornado. She has survived cancer. She will bleed to death on the hallway floor. Her husband will be so bereft that their daughter will spend the night worrying that he might kill himself. He will tell his grandchildren where their Granny has gone, and it will be the hardest thing he has ever done. One grandson will turn 4 within days, worried that he is somehow to blame for his grandmother's death. Another grandson will take his first steps, and her son will weep because she is not there to see it. A sister's husband will die of a stroke, and the sister will think that the slaying hastened his death.

One student screams. Another drops her books and runs. Others shout. Jamie walks on. With one hand, he holds the Viper in the air. Near the administrative offices are two elementary classrooms. One is for second-graders, including Jamie's brother Adam, and the other is for kindergartners. Some of the youngest are returning from breakfast in the cafeteria, and others are being dropped off by their parents and are walking through the main entrance to the school, near the offices. One 6-year-old is standing outside his classroom. He does not understand. A teacher's aide sees him. "Let's go in here," she suggests and gives him a gentle push through his classroom doorway.

Jamie keeps walking. He turns east toward the cafeteria. It contains 200 students, and the doors are open. The hall is packed. As many as 100 students and teachers are hurrying to their classes. Jamie walks on. He raises the rifle to his shoulder, aims and shoots. A bullet strikes Diane Collins, a freshman. She is standing 15 feet away, next to a friend. The bullet cuts into the right side of Diane's neck just above her collarbone. It tears through her right carotid artery and her right jugular vein and rips a large hole in the back of her neck. It ricochets off a cinder-block wall, and it burrows into the ceiling. Diane turns in a circle, spurting blood with every beat of her heart. She places both hands on her throat, then stares at them. They are covered with her blood. Her knees buckle. She breaks her fall and leaves two bloody handprints on the floor. She sits, then gazes across the hall at a boy and girl, who are petrified.

Ron Shirey, a coach, hears the shot. He thinks it is a firecracker, and he takes five steps toward the noise. He sees Diane, the blood gushing from her throat. He reaches toward her, puts one hand on her neck to stop it and another around her waist. He looks over her shoulder. He sees Jamie with his rifle. Ron Shirey lifts Diane and carries her away. Some students begin to scream. Others pour out of their classrooms. "Get out of the hall!" he shouts. "Get out of the hall!" Gently he lays Diane on the floor in a teacher's work area near the Language Arts Department. He fears that Jamie will walk around the corner and shoot her again. In desperation, he tries to close the wound in her throat. A teacher brings paper towels to compress it. The school has a nurse. He asks someone to find her. In his mind, he sees Jamie's face. It is without expression.

Diane Collins is barely 14 years old. She sings. She writes poetry. She is the best friend of Jamie's brother Jeremy. Along with Steve Abbott, her brother, Bill, is one of Jamie's two best friends. Her little sister, Chrissy, is in the second grade with Jamie's brother Adam. They ride the school bus together, and they are good friends. Jamie is at the Collins home a lot. Bill is at Jamie's house so much he calls Jamie's parents Mom and Dad. Diane Collins will be taken by ambulance to a hospital in nearby Columbia and then by helicopter to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, where she will die at 10:54 a.m. Her parents cannot hold her, comfort her, look in her eyes and say they love her. All they can do is wonder how scared she must have been. They cannot even tell her goodbye. All they can do is claim her body, blue-purple and swollen. Her parents feel as if they were killed along with her. Jamie, they say, "will never suffer enough."

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