The Kid Who Killed

Combine an angry kid desperate for attention, the excitement of the last day of school, and a stolen pistol. The results are deadly.

Dinora, who says she can't bear to speak of the shooting, then watched as Nate pulled out the Raven and pulled back on the slide, racking a round. A bullet already in the chamber fell to the floor. Then he pointed the weapon at the side of the teacher's head, near the temple.

"Nate, quit pointing that gun at me," an alarmed Grunow said.

Nate pulled the trigger and Grunow dropped to the floor.

After holding the dying Grunow in his arms, geography teacher Brett Packard wonders if he'll ever again want to return to his career in the classroom
After holding the dying Grunow in his arms, geography teacher Brett Packard wonders if he'll ever again want to return to his career in the classroom
Nate, shown here in court, displays his familiar deadpan. Since killing the teacher, he's shown little emotion in public, but his lawyers say he's pining for home
AP World Wide
Nate, shown here in court, displays his familiar deadpan. Since killing the teacher, he's shown little emotion in public, but his lawyers say he's pining for home

"Oh shit," said Nate, who then turned and ran.

As he dashed through the building, he came up on his math teacher, John James. "Don't mess with me, Mr. James," Nate said, aiming the gun at the teacher. Wisely, James didn't bother Nate, who ran through an empty classroom and out an emergency exit.

Packard, who was signing yearbooks in the classroom next door to Grunow, came out of his room and saw his friend on the floor, surrounded by Dinora and other students.

"They had such a weird look on their faces," Packard says of the children. "Someone's shot, you expect to see them hysterical. But they were standing there, like they didn't know what to think. For a split second, I thought it might have been a prank."

Strangely Grunow had what appeared to be a faint smile on his face. Then Packard saw the blood pouring from his nose and mouth. Packard grabbed the handkerchief from his back pocket and tried to stop the bleeding. The children, reality finally settling in, began screaming and crying. Packard could feel Grunow's heart pounding in his chest. "Hold on, Barry!" he told his friend. "Hold on!" But Grunow had been shot in the brain. His heartbeat soon ceased.

By this time Nate was headed north, off campus. He jumped two fences before dashing across someone's back yard and into a street. There Nate saw a police car and walked up to the officer, offered up his gun, and told him, "I just shot someone."

Nate did show up all over TV that night, just as he boasted to his friend Michelle. He was shown handcuffed and expressionless outside the Lake Worth police station, being led to a patrol car. All Nate said to the reporters who screamed questions at him was, "Me no speak English."

Another Nate joke.

Polly Ann Powell was dumbfounded when she found out what Nate had done. Street kids, the ones who don't care about education or achievement, wind up in jail. Not Nate, and certainly not for murder. Powell says she simply didn't believe it when she heard that her special boy was the suspect in a school shooting.

She still didn't believe it when she got to the police station that evening. But when she asked her son if the reports on TV were true, he didn't deny them. With tears in her eyes, she asked Nate why.

"I don't know," he told her.

And that, say his attorneys, is about as much of an answer as Nate has given. His lawyers are calling the whole thing a freak accident, an explanation that even attorney Udell concedes is unacceptable to most people.

Dinora, for one. She witnessed the killing firsthand. "I don't know how it could have been an accident," she says, adding that she would like to ask her old friend only one question: "How could you?"

This is the question that still haunts Lake Worth, and though it's generally been met with hands thrown up in the air, at least some of the contributing factors seem obvious. Nate, as Packard observed, hated to be shown up. The suspension left him in a murderous frame of mind. And while killing a teacher is certainly a far cry from cross-dressing at school or troubling his friends with a promise of suicide, Nate had shown a flair for the dramatic. Clearly, getting the attention he craved played a role in the crime.

Add to this his recent struggles, both in school and in his stabs at romance. It may not have been a coincidence that symbols of both of these failings, Grunow and Dinora, were there (one of them the target, the other a witness) when he fired the shot.

These are some of the factors that led a child, or, as it stands now, an adult to kill. State Attorney Barry Krischer has chosen to try Nate as an adult, noting that his slaying of a beloved teacher -- on school grounds, no less -- demands harsh punishment.

This decision, in turn, has led to a political maelstrom. Community activists, religious leaders, and politicians have led protests against Krischer's decision. Despite those efforts, a grand jury agreed with the state attorney and on June 12 indicted Nate as an adult. Nate was promptly transferred from the juvenile detention center to the county jail, where he now holds the distinction of being the youngest inmate. He could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

Attorney Udell says the best thing Nate has going for him in this case is Nate himself. "When you meet him, you're going to see that he is what makes America great," Udell says. "He's intelligent, sensitive, caring,… just a wonderful kid." Udell says he's so impressed by his young client that he's likely going to put him on the stand at the trial. Udell also arranged for a jailhouse visit with New Times but pulled out a day before it was scheduled to happen. Reality, the attorneys explained, has finally hit the boy. He was crying in his jail cell all day, repeating, "I want to go home."

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