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SANTEE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

Shooting Suspect's Heart Was Still in His Small Maryland Hometown

Background: He had told friends in Brunswick that he wanted to return. They say he was loved there.

March 07, 2001|MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BRUNSWICK, Md. — In this old railroad town on the banks of the Potomac where he grew up, Charles "Andy" Williams found more than neighbors and friends. He found family.

Carol Bryan, the mother of his best friend, was among several women he called "Mom." He didn't just fit in, she said; he was loved.

Many people here spent Tuesday trying to square their memories of a popular jokester, a frequent dinner guest, with the account of a young killer accused of coldly firing more than 30 rounds, slaying two classmates and wounding 13 others.

"It wasn't the real Andy, the one I know," said Zack Thew, 15. "He wouldn't have been able to do this."

The many friends who stayed in touch with Andy Williams by telephone and e-mail say there were signs his move to Santee, Calif., a year ago had gone badly. From the start, he told them he wanted to return to this town of 5,700.

In recent weeks, former classmates here say, Williams told them how unhappy he was at his new school. The kids in Santee, he told them, teased him for his high voice and slight build. He felt like a country boy in the city.

Just brush it off, childhood pals told him. Besides, said Thew, "Those people weren't his real friends. We were his friends."

News of Monday's campus shootings triggered the same question among kids and teachers and parents here. How did a boy with so many friends, described by teachers as a pleasure in class, an honors student three years running, grow so terribly angry?

"It doesn't make any sense at all. I've never seen Andy get mad at anyone," said his best friend, Scott Bryan, 16. "Andy used to be the one who got up on the bus if two people were fighting and tell them to calm down."

Williams had spent most of his life in a community too small for anyone to get lost in the crowd. His friends here gave him affectionate nicknames, "Willie" Williams and--after they caught him eating butter straight from the fridge--"Buttah."

"Andy was a happy-go-lucky kid," said Art Fairweather, principal of Brunswick Middle School, where Williams was active in theater and sports.

His friend Scott recalled how Williams watched the news in horror at the Bryan house on the night of the 1999 Columbine school shootings. "He thought it was terrible, that it was just so sad," Scott said.

School counselor Bill Croal had talked at length to Williams about his move to California midway through his eighth-grade school year. His father had found work as a research lab technician at San Diego's Balboa Park Regional Medical Center.

Andy Williams "was moving from a place where he had lived for many years and he had all the mixed emotions of a 13-year-old boy," Croal said.

While he was living here, Williams' friends and their parents seemed to help fill the void left by his mother, Linda Williams. She divorced his father 10 years ago and now lives in South Carolina.

"You couldn't say anything about his mother, that would really upset him," said Jessica Lewis, 15.

Tuesday morning, dressed in a gray sweatshirt and jeans, Linda Williams spoke briefly with station WJBF-TV of Augusta, S.C. When asked about her son, her face twisted in grief. "He's lost," she said.

Speaking of the victims' families, she said: "My heart goes out to them. They've lost their babies, their hopes, their dreams for their futures."

Andy Williams rarely talked about his mother, although friends say he did speak to her regularly. His parents had divorced before he and his dad moved to town.

After the divorce, Linda Williams' oldest son, Michael, stayed with her, and Andy lived with his father.

When Michael graduated from North Augusta High School, his mother put an ad in the school yearbook, saying: "Mike, thanks for being a great son. I am and always will be proud of you." Linda Williams' neighbors did not even realize she had a second son.

"She talked a lot about her older boy and she was proud of him, but I never knew she had a younger son and I had never seen the boy before," said Sandy Ferrara, who lives next door.

In Brunswick, Williams and his father, Charles, "were a unit," said Joey Hischak, 15. "They were tight. His dad wasn't around a lot but when he was, he and Andy were together."

Like many kids who grew up in this largely rural area, Williamswas comfortable around guns, shooting skeet with his father. Williams' friends said that when they would visit him at the family's yellow frame house, just outside the city limits, his father would join in board games .

Last summer, Andy Williams stayed in Maryland, bouncing from one friend's house to another, living his old life--playing Nintendo, fishing in the river, lazing around. They threw him a barbecue, scrambling eggs over an open fire at his going-away party.

On Tuesday, many of his friends talked with grief counselors at the local high school and middle school.

At coffee shops and on the streets, the shooting was talked about in hushed tones.

At the Bryan house, just up the block from the old Williams home, nearly a dozen boys and girls who knew Andy gathered Tuesday after school. The accusations against their friend seem unreal, a bad dream. They chattered and joked and acted like nothing was out of the ordinary, and then they were silent.

"It's still unbelievable to me that our Andy was killing people," said Jessica Lewis.

They said they all cried when they heard news of the shooting. They had never wanted him to leave in the first place.

Said Kevin Wilson, 18, "This was his home."

*

Times staff writers Nora Zamichow, Nancy Wride, Tony Perry and Jeffrey Gettleman contributed to this story.

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