The answer was not in the pattern. The answer was in the exception.
Keri Schoening, age sixteen, dead in a Columbine-style massacre, was that exception. The non-jock, the non-bully, the sweet, loving young woman who answered “yes” when asked if she believed in Jesus, was the only one of the five dead students who didn’t fit the pattern.
So no one asked, what if she was the reason for the massacre?
I’m Nick Bertetto. I’m a freelance investigative reporter, and I didn’t ask the question, either. Not that I was looking for the answer. It wasn’t my story, not until five months later. And even then, I was asking a different question when I stumbled upon the answer.
The shootings occurred one gray Indiana afternoon on January 23 at West Jasper High School, the alma mater of my wife, Joan. Two students returned to school after lunch, shot five students, then shot themselves. None of the victims survived.
It was heartbreaking. The school closed for the rest of the semester. Students were transferred to Jasper High, the other community high school in town. Though there had been rumors the killings were the work of a Satanic cult, the police found no evidence of it, other than a cryptic verse of no known origin left on the wall of the library:
“When night is at its lowest ebb,
And Vict’ry’s sung from heav’nly tower,
Then evil spins its strongest web,
And Satan has his finest hour.”
The authorities believed that the two students who did the shootings sought revenge on athletes who had bullied them. It was said that, for years, the slain had inflicted misery on the shooters and their friends—and that, as in Columbine, the school had ignored what the popular jocks had been doing.
That’s what the police and the media concluded. Keri Schoening, huddled under a table in the library with other students, had been an afterthought. The wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We took the news of the massacre hard, especially Joan. Keri had been the daughter of one of her good friends from high school. Susan Schoening and Joan were close enough that when we were in Jasper, our families always got together. Keri had treated our daughter, Stephanie, like a little sister and even babysat her on occasion. Steph, like all kids Keri came in contact with, really liked her. We’d had eggnog at the Schoening’s house after Midnight Mass on Christmas morning. A month later, Joan and I went to Jasper for the funeral.
Not one of us asked, what if Keri’s death was not the exception?
Because we saw the pattern instead, the evil that had been in the boys lived on unnoticed. It lay low for a short while, but that time was very short. Just five months later, it resurfaced.