They called themselves the "Legion of Doom" and their symbol was a swastika.
Ask Tom Hill about them, and he will tell you about a pipe bomb that was taped to his son's car and detonated in the middle of the night. His word for the Legion of Doom is "scum."
Ask the Fort Worth police about the Legion of Doom, and it is described as a high school gang whose nine members are being investigated on at least 35 felony counts, including the bombing of the Hill car and others, the attempted firebombing of a house, possession of unlawful weapons and terrorist threats. The list also includes the killing of another student's cat and the smearing of its blood on his car and upholstery.
As serious as the crimes might be, other juvenile gangs have done worse. But there is a difference here.
'Wanted to Be Like' Them
What sets the Legion of Doom apart is that it is made up of those students from R.L. Paschal High School who were considered the best of the lot--honor students and athletes--all, according to police, white and from upper-middle-class backgrounds. In a school of 2,250 students, these were, as one underclassman put it, "the ones we wanted to be like."
But something went wrong. These nine bright students, including one with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, are now being investigated for taking the law into their own hands, targeting others that they deemed to be undesirables, using bullying tactics and setting off explosives that caused thousands of dollars in damage.
Undercurrent of Fear
The problems at Paschal High have left Fort Worth trying to understand what happened and where to lay the blame. There is an undercurrent of fear that, in the privileged society to which the legion members belong, old-time values are eroding--that the definitions of right and wrong have somehow been muddled.
Police spokesman Doug Clarke said his "perception is there might be a very strong sense of elitism" among gang members.
Calling the gang's actions "regrettable and misguided," Lonnie H. Wagstaff, associate superintendent of the Fort Worth Independent School District, said: "I wish there were a better understanding of how things must be done in a democratic society. If what is alleged is true, these people do not understand a democratic society. It's very easy to start taking things for granted and assume the rest of the world is like what we have here."
Dr. Jack Scott, a psychologist from nearby Texas Christian University, described the furor as yet another cause for tension in a community that is only beginning to feel the problems of a big city.
"It's kind of a general tension," he said. "You find yourself in a community that was so safe, where things are happening that did not happen before. It raises the stress level."
A Special Place
Paschal High is, in many ways, a special place. Author Dan Jenkins went there and wrote about it in his book, "Semi-Tough." Astronaut Alan Bean went there, as did writer Edwin (Bud) Shrake, columnist Liz Smith, former Texas Gov. Price Daniel and pro quarterback Frank Ryan. The ethnic and economic mix includes students from all segments of the community.
But Paschal also has had its problems in recent years--with drug abuse and theft leading the list. When the story of the legion first came to light last month, the students were depicted as vigilantes who had banded together to rid the school of those problems.
Now, the gang's motivations no longer seem so honorable.
As pieced together from numerous interviews, the story of the Legion of Doom suggests that the gang went through several stages, as students joined and left it.
To begin with, the name, spelled "Lejun uv Dume" in graffiti spray-painted at nearby Overton Park, was the nickname of the Paschal football defensive unit. ("If you look at their record, they weren't all that tough," police spokesman Clarke said.)
Eventually, the group boiled down to eight Paschal students and one who had been graduated the year before. Of those nine, four were what the school called Ambassadors--trusted students assigned to patrol the halls and to report the infractions of their peers to the school administration.
Tom Zachry, a lawyer for three of the students who were arrested because they would not voluntarily answer police questions as did the other six, says he thinks that frustration was to blame for what eventually went wrong, because the students were supplying evidence of wrongdoing to school officials but seeing no results.
'Got to Be Bigger'
"I think initially it was more a situation where the kids were probably interested in trying to scare some of these kids they suspected of being involved in drug pushing and stealing," he said. "It kind of got to be bigger and bigger, and ultimately there were some personal reasons for these things happening.
"Obviously, the school wasn't teaching them how to build a pipe bomb, so things got out of hand," he said, adding that he thinks his clients will ultimately be acquitted.
But others, particularly the victims, do not take so kind a view.
Bob Whitehead said that his son became a target only because of an argument with a legion member over a former girlfriend. The doors of the Whitehead home were subsequently kicked down. The lug nuts on one wheel of his son's car were removed. Several weeks later, the car's passenger windows were broken and an outside light on the house was shattered with shots from an M-1 carbine.
Note on Windshield
There is also the case of Don Barrett, whose windshield was shot out by two shotgun blasts. Barrett, who was graduated from Paschal in 1976, said he had driven to the high school the day before the attack to return $1 he had borrowed from the son of an employee of the company where he worked. He found a note on what was left of his windshield that said: "Paschal is now Nazi territory. You are short-lived if you return. Heed our warning. There will not be another."
In another incident, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the home of a black student. It landed in a side yard and did no damage.
Hill, whose son's car was bombed, said his son became a victim after one of the legion members accused him of stealing a stereo from a student at another school. He also said the car bombing was the last in a five-month series of harassment tactics that included shooting out the passenger window and badly denting the car body. A note found after the pipe-bombing said: "Thieves will no longer be tolerated. This is your final warning."
Investigated His Son
Hill said he is convinced that his son, Trey, was guilty of nothing other than being a loner. He even went so far as to ask the Fort Worth police to investigate his son, and said they found nothing to indicate that Trey had done anything wrong.
"These honor students had decided to rid the school of undesirable and criminal elements," he said. "They had styled themselves as judges. These guys have been doing this to various people for the last five months.
"They are the scum they are trying to wipe out," he said. "I think you have a group of young adults who are very serious. They knew what they were doing. They were just punks who made good grades."
Hill, who is a stock trader at a Dallas firm, also had harsh words for the school administration. He said he was ignored when he repeatedly tried to tell school officials what was going on.
"I hope all of them get fired," he said. "They sat there and rested on their laurels."
School officials have said that they did not know of any systematic vigilante activity but only of isolated incidents, but their comments have come only through school board members and the police. For now, Principal Radford Gregg is declining comment until the police finish their investigation, which Clarke said would be presented to the grand jury in two to three weeks.
So far, none of the students have been charged. Zachry has advised his clients not to talk to the press, and the names of the other six gang members are not a matter of public record.
School board member Dr. Richard O'Neal said he does not believe that the case is symptomatic of more trouble beneath the surface, but only of "kids with fertile minds who went too far." But he also said he does not adhere to the notion that the students were working for the good of the school.
"I don't buy that Robin Hood idea," he said. "I think there was a lot of retribution and vengeance."
Gregg, meeting with concerned parents two weeks ago, said there would be stepped-up security at the school and that teachers would instruct all students on the meaning of the swastika.
"I am convinced that none of the students really knows the signifi-cance of the swastika," the principal told them. "But they will know."
Hill, however, is still worried about his son, who is a junior.
"He has to face them again next year after they get their wrists slapped," he said.