By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Both she and Nate were given water balloons to join the fun. Michelle says that the ensuing horseplay was just some clean fun on a day when all the kids were "wired" with excitement, anyway. She chased friends with the balloon, and Nate, she recalls, threw one.
Watching in the wings was the school's 26-year-old guidance counselor, Kevin Hinds. Michelle recalls that Hinds, a usually cheerful presence, had a "mad expression on his face" when he took the water balloon from her hands and told her to go to the office. When she got there, she saw Nate. Hinds had caught him, too. The counselor went to Hatcher, who decided to suspend the pair for the rest of the day. Hatcher called their parents and asked them if they wanted to pick the kids up. Nate's mother was at work, and she told Hatcher to let Nate walk. Michelle's father also gave his daughter walking papers.
Hatcher says the decision to suspend was easy -- the students had been warned. Hinds, in his first public comment on the shooting, says that Nate was noticeably frustrated about the suspension but no more than Michelle was. He says there was no indication that Nate -- whom Hinds considered a great student -- was going to hurt anybody. As he speaks of his fateful decision to take Nate to the office, Hinds' voice quakes with emotion. "What was I supposed to do? I can only act on what I see. He was doing this right out in the open," Hinds says. "If you're on a corner and you see a hit-and-run, are you going to call the police? What are you going to do?"
Hinds led Nate and Michelle off campus. "[Nate] couldn't believe he got suspended," Michelle recalls. "All those other people didn't get in trouble. Just us. I couldn't believe we got suspended for something so stupid on the last day of school. We couldn't even say goodbye to our friends."
As they started walking off campus, Nate ran back to Hinds. "When are you leaving campus today?" he asked the counselor.
"I just told him the regular time, 4:15 or 4:30," Hinds recalls. "I asked him why he was asking, and he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away."
Hinds assumed Nate was going to have his mother call him, but Nate had other ideas, Michelle says. When he rejoined the girl off campus, Nate told her he had a gun. "And he said he was going to come back and shoot our guidance counselor," Michelle says.
Yeah, right, Michelle thought. Just like you're going to commit suicide by swallowing gum.
"You're not going to do that," she told him.
"Watch," he said, staring straight ahead. "I'm gonna be all over the news."
Michelle says it went in one ear and out the other. It was just one of those weird Nate jokes. When they got to the I-95 overpass, where they had to part ways, they hugged.
"I love you," Nate told her.
"I love you, too," Michelle said back. "Have a nice summer."
Rather than walk the two and a half miles or so to his home, Nate hitched a ride from a Lake Worth Pizza deliveryman. The ride would give Nate time to get back to the school before the day ended. Nate made his way to his grandmother's house, where he needed to pick up an apartment key to get into his own home a few blocks away. Everlena Josey noticed that her grandson seemed out of sorts and angry, but she figured he was just tired from the walk. She gave him a key, and he went home, got into his room, put the gun in his pocket, and rode his BMX bike back to school.
Just minutes before the final bell was supposed to ring, Nate quietly left his bike at a chainlink gate in the back of the school, near the teachers' parking lot. According to police, Officer Matthew Baxter, who works full-time at the school, saw Nate from a distance and drove his golf cart over to investigate. But in the maze of portable classrooms and buildings, Baxter lost track of the boy and instead found only the bike, which he put in his cart. By that time, just minutes before the final bell, Nate was in the 300 building, walking toward Grunow, who stood in his classroom's doorway chatting with Dinora and Vonae Ware, another girl on whom Nate, according to friends, also once had a crush. (In an eerie coincidence, Grunow had just finished playing the class a video titled, "Killing Mr. Griffin," based on an acclaimed book about a group of students killing their English teacher.)
Why Nate didn't go into the administrative offices and find Hinds is a mystery. Michelle thinks it's because Nate knew he would have been stopped before he could get to Hinds. Whatever the reason, Nate wound up asking Grunow if he could talk with Dinora and Vonae. Grunow told him no. It's not clear whether Grunow was informed of Nate's suspension. But he'd made a decision not to allow other students into his classroom on that last day, Packard says. His intention was merely to keep his students focused.