When 15-year-old Charles "Andy" Williams walked into a bathroom at his San Diego-area high school and started shooting, he didn't have a plan, he says.
Williams, who is now serving 50 years to life in a California prison, says he was "trying to prove a point" to kids who had been bullying him, but did not have a list of intended targets.
He admits that some of the people he shot were people he actually liked. "By that time, you know, my finger's on the trigger and I didn't recognize them until it was too late," he told Primetime's Diane Sawyer in his first television interview since the March 2001 killings.
Williams killed two fellow students during his six-minute rampage at Santana High School in Santee, Calif., and wounded 11 others, as well as a teacher and a campus monitor. He pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. One of the students who died, 14-year-old Brian Zuckor, was a classmate Williams remembers from English class as "a nice guy."
Missing His Mother
Williams had spent less than a year at Santana, joining the school as a freshman after he and his father moved to the area from a small town in Maryland. His parents had divorced when he was just 3, splitting the family, with Williams staying with with his father and his older brother moving to another state with their mother.
With 2,000 students, Santana High was bigger than the whole town Williams had lived in in Maryland, and he says he felt nervous about starting at a huge school. At previous schools Williams had played Linus in a school musical — complete with security blanket — had won an athletic award for "most spirit," and had earned the nickname "Mouse" from his peers. His best friend was a student with a form of muscular dystrophy.
But at Santana he fell in with a group of tough kids who smoked marijuana and, he says, bullied him. He says they called him names like "bitch" and "faggot," and singled him out because he was small and did not do anything to stop the bullying. Williams says he was smoking marijuana practically every day — "It was the only thing that, like, kind of sort of made me happy," he said, adding that he believes the drug had nothing to do with his rampage.
Williams was not happy among his new crowd at Santana and, according to the psychiatrist hired by his defense lawyers, his depression reached a point where he did not want to live any more. "Life as other kids know it, and kind of look for it in the future, that's not what he sees for himself. He's feeling lonely, missing his friends in Maryland," said the psychiatrist, Charles Scott.
When he visited his mother at Christmas, Williams was unhappy enough that he asked to stay with her. Reluctant to take him out of school mid-year, she told him he could move in with her in the summer.
Soon after Williams returned to San Diego for the spring semester, his friend with muscular dystrophy died. Then, in early March, one of Williams' favorite teachers reprimanded him in front of the class for not being prepared. That was apparently the last straw. Williams told Primetime that it was "right after" that class — three days before the shootings — that he started thinking about bringing a gun to school.
"He started having these flashes and thinking of taking a gun to school," said Scott. "If he did that then people would know that he was really tough and really strong, and that he could fight for himself and fend for himself and people would leave him alone."
Friends Egged Him On
Williams told at least a dozen fellow students about his plan to bring a gun to school. "I was hoping somebody would tell somebody," he told Primetime. But instead of talking to school authorities, the friends in his group encouraged him. "I was already really depressed about everything and then like everybody's egging me on, egging me on," he said. "And then it was — I felt like I didn't have anything to lose. I would just go ahead and go through with it."
So on the morning of March 5, 2001, Williams took one his father's guns, an eight-shot .22-caliber revolver, and put it in his backpack, along with a toy monkey named Spunky his older brother had given him when he was around 9. He took 40 bullets with him.
Around 9:20 a.m., Williams loaded the revolver in a bathroom stall and opened fire, killing Zuckor with a bullet to the head and hitting another student, Trevor Edwards, 17, in the neck. When Edwards, who survived, looked up at Williams and asked why him, Williams told him to shut up.
Then Williams walked out of the bathroom into the school's quad and fired indiscriminately, hitting 11 more students and the two adults. Randy Gordon, 17, died after being shot in the back. Gordon's best friend, Raymond Serrato, was standing next to him and was also shot. Serrato remembers seeing the expression on Williams' face through the smoke from his gun just before he shot him: "There's a face smiling. Grinning. Just staring right at me."
Williams emptied the revolver three times, returning to the bathroom each time to reload. When sheriff's deputies entered the bathroom after he had loaded the gun a fourth time, he put down his gun and calmly surrendered.
Williams said he felt a sensation of detachment as he shot. "I don't think crazy is the right word," he said. "It's, like, an out-of-body experience — when I was in my body I was out of my body at the same time.... It didn't feel like it was actually me doing it."
In a previously unreleased videotape of his initial police interview, Williams at first appears cold, casual, and matter of fact. "I didn't want anybody to die, but if they did, then oh well," he told detectives. He described his rampage as "just a stupid thing," adding. "I wish I never did it."
Williams told Primetime that the significance of what he had done did not hit him until midway through the interview. The tape shows that at one point he suddenly broke down and started sobbing, telling the police, "It's my fault. I'm the one who brought the gun to school."
Scott believes Williams wanted to show his peers that he was "brave and strong" enough to bring a gun to school, but hoped he would be caught before he went through with the shooting.
During Williams' sentencing hearing, prosecutors argued that the bullying he suffered was not severe enough to justify his actions. Rather, they said, he was trying to impress his new friends. "He wanted to become the bully of the crowd of bullies," prosecutor Kris Anton told the court. Anton acknowledged that his friends had egged him on, but said, "He's the one that's ultimately to blame here... he's the one that decided to go through with it."
Doing Time Among Bullies
In the year since his sentencing, the pale, slight 15-year-old has grown several inches. Now 6'3", he is a star student at the prison school, and prison officials say he is a well-behaved prisoner who takes care of vulnerable kids.
He continues to express remorse. "I feel horrible about it because I am so ashamed.... I can't write it down. I can't tell it out loud how sorry I am."
When asked to tell his victims how sorry he is, Williams said: "I tried to in court, but I couldn't really. I just want everybody to know that I'm really, really, really sorry about everything I did. And, you know, I know they think it was bad on their side of the gun, but, I don't know, I think it was worse on mine because they don't have to hold the responsibility of doing that to everybody."
Williams will not be eligible for parole until he is 65, but he does not think he will live to see that day. "I don't really have a criminal background. I'm not really like a mean, like, hard-hearted guy. So I don't think I'm going to make it in prison.... It's a tough place."
He said he is scared "just not knowing what's going to happen" from moment to moment, in a prison where there are "5,000 bullies in one place."