The blue and red lights from the emergency vehicles lit up the parking lot, the brightness during the gloomy moment created an unsettling atmosphere as Adam Zhuralev sat there in his chair with a look of amazement on his face.
Adam was born to Russian immigrant parents some twenty-two years ago. He was never a normal child. He born two months pre-mature and was immediately diagnosed with spina bifida. By the time he was five he had already been through at least a dozen surgeries to correct his spine, but still he would never be able to walk without some kind of assistance. His life was a dependent one. Adam was still a very exceptional and bright child, he excelled especially in math and science. He was social and could speak well and even participated in the Junior Paralympics. His mother kept him busy and distracted, she knew he had a difficult life. He was teased relentlessly throughout school because of his appearance and disability. As he grew older, he became less social and more shy, he was so quiet he almost seemed invisible and that's the way he wanted it. School was always a constant reminder that he was different and would always be an outcast, even if he didn't want to be.
When I asked him about his school years, he never talked about it directly and always said he wanted to make things right if he could go back in time. I never knew what that meant. We knew each other from Junior Paralympics training. My late father was a disabled veteran and three time gold medal Paralympian and when I was around the same age as Adam, I would tag along. Adam was a hard worker and pushed himself in every race. I could see the motivation and dedication in his bright hazel eyes. He was inspirational and his attitude was more optimistic than anyone on the team. After his time in the Paralympics he enrolled in college to pursue a degree in Communication Studies. He wanted to be a public motivational speaker, especially for Paralympians. He would've made a great scientist of some sort but his heart was set on becoming a public speaker, he was anxious.
Before Adam enrolled, I had already graduated from college with a degree in secondary education and encouraged Adam to follow his dreams. Once I secured a spot at Clinton High, I asked Adam if he would speak to my students, as practice for what he really wanted to do. He declined repeatedly, looking back at it, I wish I wouldn't have pushed as hard.
Eventually he gave in and decided to speak during my sixth hour English course. He was nervous and even sweaty. I asked him if he was alright and he nodded as if in deep thought. Shortly thereafter, students rushed into the classroom. Some of them looked at Adam as he was in his wheelchair in front of the class. I didn't know how the students would receive him but for the most part they were good kids. I noticed his eyes shifting quickly as each student walked in. Just before the bell sounded, my most difficult student walked in with a group of his friends. I watched him walk into class and burst into raucous laughter. His group laughed with him seemingly at some joke that he told. Adam looked more uncomfortable as the group walked in, he was distant, he was somewhere else. His hand clutched the wheel of his chair so tightly, his fingers were reddening, his eyes were up at the ceiling, looking but not seeing.
"Hey! Take your seats now!" I yelled sternly trying to diffuse the situation.
"I don't think I can do this, not now. They're laughing at me again," Adam said in a whisper, his eyes still shifting nervously.
"It's fine...They aren't, why would they?" I said trying to sound optimistic and even oblivious. I narrowed my eyes at Scott and he just shrugged, so careless.
Scott wasn't particularly difficult, he was just a kid who was goofy and loved an audience. He loved to joke, often at other people's expense. He wasn't a bully, but he teased a lot and was good at making people feel bad about themselves. Nonetheless, he was still popular and well liked. I introduced Adam as a special speaker and allowed him to speak. He was nervous and stammered a bit but got increasingly better after a few minutes. During the speech, Scott put his head down, covered his head with his red and brown leather Letterman's jacket and went to sleep, even though it was rude, I thought it was for the best.
The kids seemed to be thoroughly interested which made me happy. He answered a couple questions and departed just before class was set to end. I thought he was done, I thought he had gotten in his van and left. The day went by as usual and about ten minutes after the final bell sounded, I heard three or four loud popping noises, I can't remember exactly, and then suddenly screaming. Honestly, I didn't think it was anything serious so I stayed in my classroom and finished grading essays. I heard sirens growing louder and more urgent as they seemed to get closer. From the window I could see flashing lights. I stood from my chair and walked out of my classroom, three teachers were running towards the nearest exit.
"What's going on?"
"A kid got shot! A kid got shot!" yelled Coach Bennett. The swish of his nylon athletic pants echoed down the hall, his breathing was heavy as was his anxiety.
I started running too.
Sixteen year old Scott Lawson laid dead in the school parking lot, next to the small black handgun that killed him. The lot was crowded with students, teachers, police, and EMS personnel. His body was still warm even as the cold, moist January air whistled across his body. Most of the students were horrified and inconsolable, Scott was popular, and everyone knew him. Even those who didn't particularly like him shed a tear, seeing him dead was a stark reminder that he would no longer roam the halls of Clinton High School. The teachers tried to move the students away but they were all in a shocked state.
The police ran up to students forcing them away from the scene. I helped with the students I knew, pushed them inside of the building, protecting them from what was already known and seen. I could hear varying accounts as the police interviewed the students who were well enough to talk. I noticed the red and white signs plastered on the outside of the building, ones I had never noticed before. They were old and weathered, some had graffiti on them or some obscenities smeared all over them. "Gun Free School Zone".
Within the hour his parents arrived, his mother shrieked loud enough to be heard a mile away. "Dear God! My baby!" she screamed as she ran towards him at full speed, crossing the crime scene boundaries to be with her son.She was a large woman, at least 6 feet tall and well over 200 lbs., no one could stop her or hold her back. She collapsed to the ground and covered his body with hers, she didn't care that he was bloody or that he was dead, he was her baby. Her husband was speechless as he stood several feet back, his boy, his only son was there on the ground in a large puddle of red life, he didn't seem to be good with being emotional but all he could do was cry from a distance.
Surprisingly, I was stoic. I was hurt, I was guilty, but I was numb. Before they cuffed him and rolled him over to the handicapped accessible van, I asked him, "Why? Why would you do this Adam?" His button down plaid shirt was stained with sprinkles of blood, but there was a twinkle in his eye and a slight smile on his face.
"I wanted to stand....So,
I finally stood up for myself."