|Lindhurst Shooting: 20 Years Later: Mary Stickle|
Mary Stickle talks about losing her son Jason White in the deadly school shooting on May 1, 1992.
|Lindhurst Shooting: 20 Years Later. Lynda Bradbury VanArtsdalen|
Retired educator Lynda Bradbury VanArtsdalen gives her eyewitness account of the deadly school shooting on May 1, 1992.
|Lindhurst Shooting: 20 Years Later. Joe Ann Hill|
Joe Ann Hill talks about losing her son Beamon Hill in the deadly school shooting on May 1, 1992.
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Some relive pain of deadly siege, while others try to forget
Lindhurst shooting 20 years later
Organizing her linen closet and listening to her favorite soap opera that May afternoon, Joe Ann Hill knew she'd soon hear her son Beamon's voice calling through the front door with his trademark "Honey, I'm home!"
So when the phone rang, she could not make sense of what was said. A siege? Hostages? At Lindhurst High School?
As the words sunk in, her world began to tailspin as she fought for access to the chaotic campus, made panicked trips to the hospital searching for her son and finally settled at Yuba Gardens Intermediate School with other parents to wait for their children.
But Beamon never arrived. He had been the fourth and last person killed that day by Eric Houston in a tragedy that scarred forever the people of this community. It was just after 2 p.m. on May 1, 1992, when Houston, a former student at the Olivehurst school, walked into C Building and began firing into hallways and classrooms. He killed teacher Robert Brens and students Beamon Hill, Jason White and Judy Davis, wounded 10 others and held more than 80 students hostage for 81⁄2 hours before finally surrendering to police.
His explanation for the deadly siege: Revenge against Brens for a failing grade. "It was just the most horrendous day," said retired Yuba County Sheriff Virginia Black. "It's really and truly hard to come up with an adjective that encompasses the horror of that day. It was unbelievable."
As today marks the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, some cannot speak of what happened and others say it's best not to, but many agree the events must be remembered to honor those who died and in the hope that this chapter of history will never be repeated.
Retired educator Lynda Bradbury VanArtsdalen remembers that May morning began as a beautiful sunny day. A spring rally had been scheduled, but in the wake of the Los Angeles riots over the verdicts in the Rodney King police beating case, she and a few administrators decided to cancel the event and have class as usual.
School had almost ended when, from her office in the rear of C Building, VanArtsdalen heard a "pop, pop, pop." She stood to look into the hallway and saw a young man in a cloud of smoke.
"He was just willy nilly shooting his gun all over," she said. "I was kind of frozen there for a few seconds."
She then quickly unlatched her door and pulled it shut, yelling at everyone to get on the floor. As screams permeated the walls, she hid under her desk and dialed 911.
"I just panicked that it was a war," VanArtsdalen said. "It was god awful."
It was the sound of what he thought were firecrackers that brought Frank Crawford out of the administration building. He assumed kids were trying to get out of school early, but when he saw students pouring out of the building, he knew instantly something was wrong.
Running inside, he found the bodies of Brens and 17-year-old Davis, and then a girl with a gunshot wound to the chest ran into his arms and asked if she was dying. Crawford carried her out and stayed with her until an ambulance took her away.
"It might have happened 20 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "Those are nightmares that will never leave me."
As the day progressed, law enforcement, ambulances, media and concerned parents swarmed the campus, while Houston held students hostage in an upstairs classroom.
Representing Yuba County Sheriff's Department, Black, working as a hostage negotiator with the FBI and Yuba City police, sat in a small room brainstorming what to say until they finally made contact with Houston on a classroom telephone.
"It was, like, is this ever going to end? Are we going to be successful in getting more of these kids out?" she said.
But after the initial siege, not a single other student was injured.
Houston eventually began releasing the hostages, and some escaped while on trips to the bathroom, and finally around 10:30 p.m., he surrendered to police.
Houston's trial was moved to Napa County, where people said jurors from the liberal area would never award a death penalty, Black said. Houston, 20, pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
He was convicted July 22, 1993, of murdering four people and wounding 10 others and was declared to be sane at the time of the shooting. Houston was sentenced to death on Sept. 21, 1993, and today, he sits on death row at San Quentin, yet to have his first appeal heard.
"Justice is not swift in many cases," Black said. "Frankly ... at the very end when we had convinced him to turn all those kids loose, when he came down the stairs, I was hoping he would shoot himself. And I say that honestly. That would have been justice right there, if he never walked out."
Mary Stickle hopes to be there the day Houston dies for killing her son, 19-year-old Jason White.
She still remembers the routine nature of that morning, as she kissed her boys goodbye and said she would see them later.
Later that day, she got a strange call from a tearful girl who said her son was dead, and soon turned on the television, heard about the siege and was told to go to Yuba Gardens.
"Sitting there for 81⁄2 hours, not knowing exactly what was going on, but seeing some of the kids come in from the school buses, meeting their parents, seeing some of the looks on the students faces when they saw me ... as a mom, I knew something was wrong," Stickle said. "When they told us that he was gone, it was just like my whole world exploded."
Healing the hurt
The school remained closed until May 11 as the community mourned and funerals were held.
Prom was postponed, Beale Air Force Base set up tents on the school lawn for classrooms so students would not have to re-enter C Building and counselors and victim witness services became a regular presence on campus.
Gradually, the community began to recover, but it was a slow, painful process.
It took Hill more than five years before she could go to Lindhurst or drive on Highway 65, because it passed not only the school, but the cemetery where Beamon, 16, was buried. For more than a year, using a different route, she visited his grave nearly daily, and to this day brings him a bouquet of flowers on his birthday, April 27.
"Sometimes I can't even go to the cemetery, and it's been 20 years," she said. "If I go by myself, people think I'm a banshee, screaming my head off. Because it's just like a flood of water all over me again."
Stickle said she has never tried to recover from losing her son.
"Days go on, minutes go on, you pick one foot up and put it in front of the other and let God do the rest," she said. "I don't really want to recover, because Jason was a big part of my life. He still is."
Andrew Parks and Stickle's son had been inseparable, playing football together, walking home from school and eating dinner together twice a day, once at Park's house and again at Stickle's home next door. Now living in Vancouver, Wash., Parks said he has never gotten over the shooting.
"You just learn to deal with it. The hurt is always there. You just learn to cope. You learn to put it aside," Parks said. "But there is not a day that goes by that I don't think about it."
Not only was he traumatized by his best friend's death, but Parks was upstairs during the siege and in one of last group of hostages to be released.
He left for the U.S. Army a month later, and it wasn't until he took part last year in the Investigation Discovery documentary, "Hostage: Do or Die, Lindhurst High School," that he finally came to terms with what occurred.
"I brought everything out that I could recount, things I hadn't thought of in a long time," Parks said. "It was painful, yet it was healing in a way."
VanArtsdalen stayed at Lindhurst until her retirement three years ago. At the five-, 10- and 15-year anniversary marks, she put together memorials on campus.
"I know there are lot of people who never talked about it. I'm a real crybaby, so I talked and I cried and I did everything to get rid of it," she said. "The biggest thing I learned out there was my love for the kids on the south side of the bridge. They are so resilient, they are so strong."
The stigma that branded Lindhurst High School for so many years after the shooting has mostly disappeared, and many say the school is not to be defined by one event in its past.
"For a while, we did live with an albatross around our shoulders, but I don't see it there today. We got the greatest kids in Marysville Joint Unified and a great portion reside at Lindhurst High School," Crawford said. "It's overcome a lot of adversity, and I'm proud to call it one of our high schools."
Black has always felt extra-protective about Lindhurst and its students, she said, and she is proud of how far it has come since that fateful day.
"They have overcome that 10 times over," Black said. "It happened, they lived through it and went on to bigger and better things."
A permanent memorial plaque is anchored to a boulder on the school's front lawn, and four memorial benches — one for each person killed — are situated across campus. No official remembrances were planned for today, and Bob Eckardt, who has been principal at Lindhurst for seven years, said the shooting is not a topic of discussion.
"We have taken great strides in moving forward and healing as best as anybody can heal in a case like that," he said. "You will always remember the past, and you will remember those you love, but the focus will be on what is ahead."
Twenty years after the shooting, civics and world history teacher Robert Ledford has never wanted to leave Lindhurst High School, and he is still there, teaching in the classroom where White was killed.
"I've lived here all my life," he said. "I student-taught here. I love teaching here. I love my comrades. It's a hard job, but somebody has got to do it."
Though today's students were not yet born at the time of the shooting, many ask Ledford to share the details.
He and Brens, 28, were colleagues and friends, attending football games together and bettering their teaching skills by taking classes at Sacramento State, and he said he is proud to tell students about Brens.
"I tell the kids, 'Once a year, I will relive it for you,'" Ledford said. "But you can't relive it every day, because it will eat you up."
Ledford talks with his students about the circumstances surrounding that day, starting with the King verdict riots that drove the canceled rally. Then he walks them through the course of events — every shot fired, every person wounded, every person killed.
He always highlights the heroes, he said, because there were a lot of them — from those who died to teachers who acted as first responders to students who outsmarted their captor.
Like many others, Stickle will never forget May 1, 1992, and will continue to talk about the tragedy, no matter how painful it is to recount.
"If we don't talk about the shooting 20 years later, 20 years from now it's still gonna be happening," she said. "Sometime, somewhere in the world, somebody has to watch this and say enough is enough."
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at firstname.lastname@example.org 749-4783.Find her on Facebookat /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.