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SANTEE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

Suspect Described as Troubled, Puny and Picked-On

Personality: Scrawny Andy Williams tried hard to be cool and tough, schoolmates say, but it seemed to be just a pose.

March 06, 2001|NANCY WRIDE and NORA ZAMICHOW | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SANTEE, Calif. — At Santana High School, freshman Charles Andrew Williams was considered a scrawny punk, a pint-sized 15-year-old openly ridiculed for his passivity, small size and pale skin.

Kids stole shoes off his feet or stuff from his backpack and he never fought back. Twice, his skateboard was snatched away.

Friends say he began threatening a month ago that he was going to shoot kids at school. He repeated his menacing words over the weekend, say friends who dismissed his banter as the idle chatter of a puny weakling trying to act tough.

Katie Hutter, 12, said she told Williams on Sunday, "You don't have the guts to do it.

"Next thing I heard, he shot at my sister. And that is just not cool."

No matter how much he tried, and try he did, nothing about Williams seemed cool. Nice but dorky, as one friend says, a skateboarder who couldn't do tricks. A mediocre bass player. He talked a good game, acquaintances say, but was really just a poser, covering festering resentment.

"Even the people who got picked on picked on him," said Scott Wilke, 16, a sophomore at Santana.

"He would never defend himself at all. You could take the money out of his wallet, you could take the shirt off his back and throw it in the gutter and he would just walk away."

"He always told me he was going to get people back but I never thought he would shoot people," said Wilke, who saw Williams five minutes before he allegedly opened fire with a .22-caliber revolver at school Monday, smiling as he felled 15 people, killing two teenagers.

Afterward, the youth, clad in cargo pants and a blue sweatshirt with a Navy insignia, did not explain his actions, witnesses said.

"I think he thought everybody was going to stop picking on him," said Dustin Hopkins, a 15-year-old sophomore.

Even in Maryland, where he once lived, Williams was known for being bullied. When he moved to Santee last summer with his father, he hoped to start afresh.

Instead, he got more of the same.

Even the breakup with his 12-year-old girlfriend turned into a lesson in humiliation, friends say.

A week ago Saturday, friends accused Williams of trying to ply the girl with alcohol. When word spread at the skate park, where he hung out, one of the youngsters there went after him.

"He pounded him badly, punched him in the face four times," said Tony Friends, 14, who lives in El Cajon and takes the bus to the skate park nearly every day.

Some of Williams' friends say that, although they never saw violent outbursts, he did behave like a kid left too much on his own.

Last week, said 15-year-old neighbor Vanessa Willis, Williams and a friend filled squirt guns with urine and shot people in the hallways of an apartment complex.

None of that mattered to her. Nor did Monday's shootings discourage her loyalty.

"He's still my friend I'm not going to dislike him just because he killed people. He's not sick in the head like those people from Columbine. He's a nice guy. He wasn't an outcast. He had a lot of friends."

Others too believe that Williams was misunderstood. He was just a guy who liked to watch "The Simpsons" on television and hoped to form a heavy metal band called Army of the Wicked. "People would take his kindness for weakness," Fred Spencer, 18, said.

He also was had begun experimenting with alcohol.

Jessie 'Red' Cunard, 18, a former Santana student who was kicked out for truancy, said Williams drank and smoked, but never had any money. So he bummed from others.

"He wasn't really picky. He would drink anything, but he would drink a single beer and he was plastered," said Cunard, who installs insulation. "He had just started drinking. He wasn't used to it at all. He was just trying to fit in."

For Williams, the task was scarcely easy.

When he began threatening to kill classmates, he was dismissed, once again.

"Everybody would just laugh and tell him to shut up. Then Andy said, 'OK, I'll show you one day. It'll happen,' " Hopkins recalled. "I didn't take it seriously at all. None of us did. I never thought he was like that."

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