Advertisement
Share

WHEN THE SHOOTING STOPS

After Jamie Rouse killed a teacher and a student at his school, the questions began. Why did he do it? Could his parents have prevented it? A family faces the truth of what their son has done.

Times Staff Writer

About This Saturday Journal: A year after the Columbine school massacre, Americans still wonder how and why such tragedies occur. Seeking answers, The Times examines the lives of the Rouses, whose son committed one of the first school shootings -- a 1995 attack in Lynnville, Tenn.

*

About This Story

This story is drawn from interviews over the past 18 months and from court documents and other records. The interviews include 30 hours of discussions with Jamie Rouse over two weeks in prison. The families of the shooting victims declined to comment. Dialogue is based on the recollections of at least one participant and often more than one.

Chapter I is written from interviews with Elison and Cheryl Rouse and their sons, Jamie, Jeremy and Adam; Elison’s sister, Carol Rodgers, and her children Billy and Beth; Don and Donna Abbott and their son Roy; and Michael Chapman. It also is written from transcripts of legal proceedings against Jamie Rouse and Steve Abbott, as well as other court documents.

Chapter II is written from interviews with Elison and Cheryl Rouse and their sons; Cheryl’s brother Steve Woodard; Carol Rodgers; Don and Donna Abbott and their son Roy; Linda Fox; Ronnie Britton; Bob and Jane Vick; Charles and June Anderson; Paul Sain; Kelly Webb; Michael Chapman; Robert E. Lee Jr.; and Ray McConnell. It also is written from transcripts of legal proceedings against Jamie Rouse, Steve Abbott and Jeremy Rouse, as well as other court documents. The letter from the Rouses is quoted from the Giles Free Press.

Chapter III is written from interviews with Elison and Cheryl Rouse and their sons; Carol Rodgers; Don and Donna Abbott; Dena and Tommy Ray; Shara Flacy; Robert E. Lee Jr.; and Michael Chapman. It also is written from transcripts of legal proceedings against Jamie Rouse, Steve Abbott and Jeremy Rouse, as well as other court documents.

Advertisement

*

CHAPTER I

The telephone rings at the Rouse home in Tight Bark Hollow.

It is a small house, shingled and solitary, huddled among the oaks and the hickories. Cheryl Rouse sits at a desk in the living room. She turns from her computer and picks up the phone.

“Hello?”

In this instant, her life divides into before and after.

“Aunt Cheryl, you’ve got to come to school right now!” It is her niece, a freshman. “Aunt Cheryl!” she says, loud and fast. “Either Jamie’s been shot, or he’s shot somebody!”

“What?”

“Jamie has shot somebody, or he’s been shot.” The line is silent. “Jamie,” her niece repeats. “Jamie Rouse. Your son.”

Jamie is 17 and a senior. He and his brothers, Jeremy, 14, and Adam, 7, attend Richland, a regional elementary and secondary school in Lynnville, about 20 minutes away.

Cheryl is a wisp: 5 feet and 2 inches, 98 pounds. She is 40 years old and has dark hair, flecked with gray, and deep brown eyes. Her husband, Elison, has been on the road for two days driving an 18-wheeler somewhere in the South. In the half-hour since the boys have gone to school, she has taken a shower, put on jeans and a sweatshirt and sat at her Compaq 386 to work on an inventory of shock absorber parts for Gabriel Ride Control Inc. over in Pulaski. Her hair is still wet. She is barefoot.

She runs to the bedroom, grabs some socks and tennis shoes. She finds her purse, and she races out the door. It is getting colder, but she does not put on a coat. Jamie has the Chevy pickup, so she runs on. The chill air blows through her damp hair. Her tennis shoes crunch on the gravel. She turns an ankle and stumbles but regains her footing and keeps running. It is a short dash now to the home of her husband’s mother. Panting, Cheryl knocks. She feels a stab of guilt. She cannot look Jamie’s grandmother in the eye.

“Jamie shot someone at school, and he’s been shot,” Cheryl says. “Beth called and said. I don’t know any details. That’s all I know, is what she said.”

She takes her mother-in-law’s car and turns right on Tight Bark Road, then left onto Beech Hill Road, past the Church of Christ where she and Elison attend every Sunday and on Wednesdays as often as possible. Two more right turns, then a left onto Buford Station Road. Dozens of cars pass her going the other way. Kids, all of them, leaving the school. Something is definitely wrong. She grips the wheel. Her knuckles are white. She feels shaky, a little weak. She had felt her blood drain during the phone call, and it has not come back. A right turn on Highway 31, and she pulls into the driveway at school.

It is 8:30 a.m., a half-hour after classes usually start. Richland has 1,400 students and teachers. Hundreds are outside. Some are crying. She parks in the first space she can find and runs through the main doorway. It opens onto a lobby and the administrative offices. Students and teachers are milling about. Some are in tears. Straight ahead is a hallway. Its doors are closed. She looks to her left, up another hallway. It is sealed with yellow tape. The tape says: Police Crime Scene, Do Not Cross.

“Who are you?” someone demands.

Softly, Cheryl Rouse gives her name.

“This is the perpetrator’s mother,” a man says. Everyone looks. The significance of the word “perpetrator” does not sink in. Cheryl says her niece has called to say that Jamie has shot someone and that he has been shot.

Another man takes her to an office. “Somebody’ll come and talk to you in a little bit.”

“What about Jamie?” she asks.

------

Jamie Rouse: “It was too late for me. It was just too late. In order for me to change, I had to be broken. It got to the point where my mind wouldn’t be molded. It had to be broken.”

------

Like most mothers, Cheryl has a routine. She sets her alarm for 5:30 a.m., gets up, makes coffee and drinks a cup. Only then does she awaken her eldest, Jamie. Next she wakes up Jeremy and finally Adam. While she takes Adam to meet his bus, the two older boys get dressed. On this morning, Jamie puts on black jeans and a black T-shirt, emblazoned with a picture of the heavy metal band Pantera. As Jeremy leaves for school with a cousin, Jamie reaches for a Remington Viper .22-caliber rifle on his gun rack. He goes to his father’s closet and takes down a brick of cartridges. It holds 500 rounds. Jamie uses a lot of bullets squirrel hunting and target practicing, and Elison buys them by the brick because they are cheaper. There are 443 rounds left. They are Winchester long-rifle, high-velocity bullets. Jamie slips 10 into a clip. He takes the Viper, the clip and the rest of the bullets outside, and he tucks them out of sight near the house.

Cheryl returns from the bus stop and sits for a moment in her brown cloth recliner. She says goodbye to Jamie as she always does. “Have a good day. See you this afternoon.” This morning, however, he does not reply with his usual “Later!” Instead, he stops just inside the front door. With a hesitation that will haunt her forever, he turns to look at his mother. “Well,” he says, “I guess I’ll go now.”

As he steps onto the narrow porch and starts down the stairs, Steve Abbott calls. Steve is one of his best friends. Jamie is still in the yard. Cordless receiver in hand, Cheryl goes to the door. She shouts to wait. Her voice barely carries in the misty morning, through the sycamores and the dogwoods. Jamie takes the phone. Steve asks when he will be at his house to pick him up for school. A little early, Jamie replies. In fact, he is on his way. He returns the telephone to his mother, and she takes it back inside. With Cheryl out of sight, Jamie goes to where he has hidden the Viper.

------

“It was semiautomatic, but I liked the way it looked too. That was the one I wanted. It didn’t look like an old-timey [gun]. It looked like a modern gun. I mean, that’s the way it was. Black.”

-----

Jamie places the rifle, the clip and the bullets onto the seat of the family pickup, and he drives out of Tight Bark Hollow. Seventy-five miles south of Nashville, the hollow is named for an early settler so stingy that people said he was tight as the bark on a tree. Jamie stops in the nearest town, Frankewing, population 300, where Steve Abbott is waiting. Jamie puts a Morbid Angel CD into his new Sony Discman and turns it up:

Hatework . . .

My work

Hatework . . . and the Earth’s left burning

I call death . . . death is answering me.

Steve Abbott sees the gun, the clip and the ammunition on the seat. The night before, he remembers, Jamie had told him he was going to kill a girl at school, the principal, a coach and a state trooper who had given him two speeding tickets. Steve eyes the rifle. “Who is that for?” he asks. Jamie replies, “It’s going to happen today.” Steve has heard Jamie make threats before, even against a girlfriend and his own brother Jeremy. But Jamie has never done anything. Besides, Steve knows him: They have worked together on cars, hiked in the woods, played Super Nintendo. Gun or no gun, he thinks, Jamie is a friend--not a killer.

On their way out of Frankewing, they stop at a BP station. Jamie stocks up on Marlboros. With the rifle across his lap, he drives toward Lynnville, population 357. He turns on Abernathy Road and stops at the hillside home of another friend, Stephen Ray. The radio is turned up loud. Stephen walks up and rags them about it. Then he sees the gun and the bullets. The day before, he remembers, Jamie had said something about getting a cop and stealing his car. Stephen thought Jamie was kidding. He poked him and said, “I’ll help, if I can drive.” Now Stephen asks, “Who are you going after?” Either Jamie or Steve--the music is too loud to tell--laughs and replies: “Hobbs and whoever gets in the way.” Wayne Hobbs is the high school principal. Stephen Ray does not believe it. He replies: “You’re crazy.”

Jamie suggests to Steve Abbott that they switch places. Steve drives the Chevy pickup back down Abernathy Road. With Stephen Ray trailing in his car, Steve turns right on Buford Station Road. Jamie holds the rifle in his lap. Steve hears him say that now he can shoot the trooper, who usually parks in front of the Richland campus. Steve starts to wonder, even to worry. Jamie has to be joking, just acting big. When they turn right on Highway 31, they will be able to see the school. It is a collection of single-story tan brick buildings with gray trim and covered walkways, sprawled alongside the road. Steve will later say that if there was a cop, he would have turned south away from school. The trooper is not there. So he turns north, toward campus. Maybe now, Steve thinks, Jamie will drop whatever is bothering him and forget about it.

Steve pulls the pickup into the main entrance for students. He turns left to park where he usually does, up by the football field. “No, wait,” Jamie says. “Park over here in the front.” It is Jamie’s truck, so Steve leaves it, nose out, alongside several cars on a strip of grass in front of two portable classrooms, near the north doors to the school. Jamie grabs the rifle and jumps out. The clip is in. Only now, Steve will testify later, does he believe that Jamie is going to do something.

Steve hurls his door open and climbs out.

“Jamie!” he yells.

But Jamie keeps walking.

“Jamie!” he yells again and again.

Jamie does not stop.

Steve gives chase, but he gets scared. He freezes up, slows down. He tries to run. Jamie is more than 20 feet ahead of him.

At 7:55 a.m., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 1995, James Elison Rouse walks into the north hall at Richland School. He has brown eyes, black hair. It is cropped in back and on the sides, but it is a foot long on top and tied in a ponytail. He has a high-average IQ of 115. He is 5 feet and 7 inches, and he weighs 122 pounds. He has a deep voice, short strides and a hunched-over gait. He is carrying his Remington Viper .22-caliber rifle with the cartridges in its clip.

------

“I don’t remember feeling angry. I wasn’t feeling nothing. Like I said, I don’t remember feeling anything. Period. Empty. Hollow. I guess that ‘empty’ would be probably the best word. I was just--I wasn’t the same. I wasn’t feeling anything, that’s the point. All day. I mean, you know, I was empty the whole day. Just nothing.”

------

He walks through double doors and down the hallway. It is noisy. He walks to the right, a foot or two from the cinder-block wall. It is lined with steel lockers. He walks by four classrooms. They have students and teachers inside. He walks with his head up. The pace is normal. He walks with the butt of the rifle tucked up under his right arm, like a hunter carrying a gun through a field. Some students walk in front of him, others walk behind, still others pass him going the other way. Some notice his gun. They think it is a joke. One of them notices his face. It is blank. Jamie does not speak.

Carolyn Foster and Carol Yancey, teachers with classrooms diagonally across from each other, are talking about cooking. It is Carolyn’s turn to host Thanksgiving dinner for her extended family. She has asked Carol for a recipe. ‘I have [it] this morning,’ Carol tells her, and they go into Carolyn’s classroom to make a copy. They step back into the hall and are going over the directions when Jamie walks by. They are the first teachers he sees. Both look up. Carol Yancey thinks, “What are you doing with that gun?” A student hears Carolyn Foster ask: “Jamie, what are you doing?”

Jamie does not say anything. He lifts the rifle to his shoulder, and he aims. He tries to fire, but the safety is on. So he flicks it off, and he shoots. Because the Viper is semiautomatic, he does not have to recock it. He aims again and pulls the trigger once more. One bullet hits Carol Yancey on the left side of her forehead, below the hairline. It makes a small hole and explodes fragments of her skull into her brain. The bullet expands and blows a larger hole in her skull above her left ear as it leaves. It tears off a big patch of scalp. The other bullet hits Carolyn Foster in her left upper lip. It knocks out two teeth, shreds her tongue and severs her right carotid artery and her right jugular vein. It lodges in the right side of her neck. Both teachers fall. Carol Yancey strikes her head hard. Blood flows from Carolyn Foster’s mouth, and pink froth bubbles from her nose. She looks up. She tries to get up, but she cannot. Some students look at Jamie. He wears an empty grin.

Carol Yancey, 50, has taught for four years, then stayed home to raise three children, then taught for eight more years: math and science, mainly--up to seven classes in one year. Many students call her their favorite teacher. Doctors will decide it is too dangerous to try to remove bone fragments from her brain. She will carry them forever. Much of her head will be numb for years, maybe forever. She will have no desire to return to teaching, mostly because she will be afraid to turn her back on a classroom of students. Jamie had been in one of her classes. They never had a cross word.

Carolyn Foster, 58, is a favorite among the students too. She has taught at Richland for 17 years: typing, computer keyboarding and other business skills. She and her husband own a wholesale flower shop in Pulaski and are well connected in the community. She has survived a tornado. She has survived cancer. She will bleed to death on the hallway floor. Her husband will be so bereft that their daughter will spend the night worrying that he might kill himself. He will tell his grandchildren where their Granny has gone, and it will be the hardest thing he has ever done. One grandson will turn 4 within days, worried that he is somehow to blame for his grandmother’s death. Another grandson will take his first steps, and her son will weep because she is not there to see it. A sister’s husband will die of a stroke, and the sister will think that the slaying hastened his death.

One student screams. Another drops her books and runs. Others shout. Jamie walks on. With one hand, he holds the Viper in the air. Near the administrative offices are two elementary classrooms. One is for second-graders, including Jamie’s brother Adam, and the other is for kindergartners. Some of the youngest are returning from breakfast in the cafeteria, and others are being dropped off by their parents and are walking through the main entrance to the school, near the offices. One 6-year-old is standing outside his classroom. He does not understand. A teacher’s aide sees him. “Let’s go in here,” she suggests and gives him a gentle push through his classroom doorway.

Jamie keeps walking. He turns east toward the cafeteria. It contains 200 students, and the doors are open. The hall is packed. As many as 100 students and teachers are hurrying to their classes. Jamie walks on. He raises the rifle to his shoulder, aims and shoots. A bullet strikes Diane Collins, a freshman. She is standing 15 feet away, next to a friend. The bullet cuts into the right side of Diane’s neck just above her collarbone. It tears through her right carotid artery and her right jugular vein and rips a large hole in the back of her neck. It ricochets off a cinder-block wall, and it burrows into the ceiling. Diane turns in a circle, spurting blood with every beat of her heart. She places both hands on her throat, then stares at them. They are covered with her blood. Her knees buckle. She breaks her fall and leaves two bloody handprints on the floor. She sits, then gazes across the hall at a boy and girl, who are petrified.

Ron Shirey, a coach, hears the shot. He thinks it is a firecracker, and he takes five steps toward the noise. He sees Diane, the blood gushing from her throat. He reaches toward her, puts one hand on her neck to stop it and another around her waist. He looks over her shoulder. He sees Jamie with his rifle. Ron Shirey lifts Diane and carries her away. Some students begin to scream. Others pour out of their classrooms. “Get out of the hall!” he shouts. “Get out of the hall!” Gently he lays Diane on the floor in a teacher’s work area near the Language Arts Department. He fears that Jamie will walk around the corner and shoot her again. In desperation, he tries to close the wound in her throat. A teacher brings paper towels to compress it. The school has a nurse. He asks someone to find her. In his mind, he sees Jamie’s face. It is without expression.

Diane Collins is barely 14 years old. She sings. She writes poetry. She is the best friend of Jamie’s brother Jeremy. Along with Steve Abbott, her brother, Bill, is one of Jamie’s two best friends. Her little sister, Chrissy, is in the second grade with Jamie’s brother Adam. They ride the school bus together, and they are good friends. Jamie is at the Collins home a lot. Bill is at Jamie’s house so much he calls Jamie’s parents Mom and Dad. Diane Collins will be taken by ambulance to a hospital in nearby Columbia and then by helicopter to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, where she will die at 10:54 a.m. Her parents cannot hold her, comfort her, look in her eyes and say they love her. All they can do is wonder how scared she must have been. They cannot even tell her goodbye. All they can do is claim her body, blue-purple and swollen. Her parents feel as if they were killed along with her. Jamie, they say, “will never suffer enough.”

James Nichols, who teaches agriculture, is standing no more than three feet from Jamie. When Diane is shot, he sees Jamie out of the corner of an eye. With his right hand, he reaches out and grabs the rifle. “Give me that, Jamie,” he says. They struggle. He spins Jamie against a wall. Jamie goes down. They wrestle into the center of the hall. They grapple for the rifle. It goes off. A bullet hits a wall and careens into the ceiling. He flattens Jamie onto the floor, face up, and yells for help. Two students pile on top of Jamie’s head and shoulders. In the north hall, Ralph Johnson, who teaches biology and chemistry, is cradling Carolyn Foster’s head in his lap. She is struggling and bleeding heavily. She tries again to get up. He comforts her but realizes that he cannot do much. He hears one of the gunshots near the cafeteria, then the other. He has only one thought: Get that gun. Reluctantly, he leaves Carolyn Foster and runs toward the sound. He turns the corner in time to see the fray. He falls on Jamie’s chest and slips one hand over the trigger guard on the rifle so it cannot be fired again. He tries to remove the clip. It will not come out.

“Jamie,” James Nichols says, “give me that gun.”

“I can’t,” Jamie replies. “I’ve went too far.”

Johnson pushes on the rifle. At the same time, Nichols pulls. It takes them both, but they tear the Viper out of Jamie’s hands.

Nichols carries it to the principal’s office and unloads it.

Johnson, still pinning Jamie to the floor, feels a tap on his shoulder.

“We have him,” someone says.

He looks up to see a deputy sheriff who teaches an anti-drug abuse class to fifth-graders. The deputy takes Jamie into custody, stands him against a wall and asks if he has any more weapons.

“No,” Jamie says.

The deputy handcuffs him and pats him down to be sure. He turns Jamie over to a second deputy, who marches him out of the school and drives him in his patrol car into Pulaski, the county seat.

------

“What bothers me the most is that the teachers--you know, they didn’t cross my mind. I just don’t understand why it was them. They were there, I guess. Let’s change the subject. Let’s get onto something different. Those people, the victims, hadn’t ever done nothing to me. It would have been one thing if they had picked on me, but they never picked on me or nothing.”

------

It is Jeremy who learns first whom Jamie has shot. His teacher pulls him into a classroom, away from the horror. Jeremy wants to know, so she tells him what his brother has done. When Jeremy hears that one of Jamie’s victims is Diane Collins, he wants to beat Jamie, to choke him. The teacher brings Jeremy to his mother. She tells Cheryl that Jamie has shot two teachers, Carolyn Foster and Carol Yancey, as well as a student, Diane Collins. She says that Mrs. Foster is dying. But she adds that Mrs. Yancey and Diane are still alive.

“Diane?” Cheryl says.

“Diane Collins!” Jeremy replies, trying to make it sink in.

“Diane Collins?” Cheryl asks. “My gosh. Jamie shot Diane?” Cheryl knows that Jamie would not hurt Diane for anything. Jeremy begins to cry. He hugs his mother, and she holds him, and they weep. “What has Jamie done,” Cheryl asks, “to these families?”

Jeremy’s teacher holds both of them. Go ahead, she says, and cry.

“This is a nightmare,” Cheryl says. “This is not happening. It’s like a nightmare, and I can’t wake up.”

“I know,” the teacher says. “I know what you mean.”

Silently, Cheryl prays for Diane. “Please, God,” she pleads, “don’t let her die.” Then she prays for Carol Yancey.

Adam’s teacher takes him to an office away from the blood. His only comfort is that his friend Chrissy Collins, Diane’s little sister, has been brought to the office too. They sit together. Adam has seen the yellow tape, but he and Chrissy are not sure what is happening. Adam’s teacher is with them, but she does not say anything. Adam is growing scared. Finally, Jeremy walks in.

“Where’s Mom?” Adam asks.

------

“It was kind of a dream. I think another way to describe it is like watching a movie. I mean, it wasn’t an out-of-body experience. But it was just like I was there to observe. I was just observing things, not an active participant, I guess. That’s the best way to put it.”

------

On Interstate 65 near Franklin, a few miles south of Nashville, a telephone rings in the cab of a Kenworth. It is pulling a flatbed trailer carrying 40,000 pounds of coiled steel. Cheryl’s husband, Elison, picks up the receiver.

The night before, he had loaded lumber in southern Alabama and driven up to Clarksville, Tenn., northwest of Nashville. He had napped for three hours in the sleeper behind his cab. Then he had driven into Nashville and loaded the steel. Now he is heading south, bound for the Gabriel shock absorber plant in Pulaski. The telephone call is from Elison’s boss, who says his son will meet him at Exit 46, behind a small truck stop cafe called Stan’s. Drivers do this now and then to swap trucks, trailers or loads. But when Elison sees the son pull up in a pickup along with another driver, he knows something is wrong.

His first thought is that his mother has died. Or there has been an accident. “Elison, I can’t tell you,” the boss’s son says, “because all I have heard is hearsay. But there has been some trouble at Richland School, and you need to come with me.” Elison’s next thought is Jeremy. Elison has been to school many times because his middle son gets into a lot of fistfights. At least once, he was in the principal’s office promising that Jeremy would never fight again, when at that moment Jeremy was at the far end of the school in still another fight. With Jeremy and fighting on his mind, he talks all the way to school about a telephone hotline and several other programs that he would like to begin as a community service for all the teenagers who need help.

As the pickup approaches the school, Elison sees a platoon of TV news trucks. The police are everywhere: sheriff’s deputies, patrolmen from Pulaski, state troopers, even detectives from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Elison’s fears turn to Jamie. Maybe Jamie has been in a fight. He is not much of a fighter. Maybe he is hurt. Perhaps dead. A deputy stops Elison at the door.

It is 10:30 a.m. “I’m Elison Rouse,” he says. “I understand something is happening with my son here.”

The deputy steps aside.

Elison sees a teacher who is a friend of the family. Elison holds out his hand. Awkwardly, the teacher does not shake.

“What’s going on?” Elison asks. “What’s happening?”

The teacher stares. He is pale and looks ill.

Elison tries to speak to two other people. Then he sees the yellow tape. Finally, he spots his nephew, also a senior. “Uncle Elison, Jamie has shot some people and killed some people. Aunt Cheryl is in the coach’s office, in here.”

Michael Chapman, the sheriff’s chief investigator, stands at the door. He lets Elison in and says he will be back to ask some more questions. Elison goes straight to Cheryl. He holds her, and they both cry. Cheryl tells him that Jamie has shot Diane Collins and the two teachers. Diane and Carol Yancey are still alive, but Carolyn Foster is dead. Cheryl does not recall, but Elison vividly remembers that she looks at him and says: “Our son’s a murderer.”

Elison Rouse is 38 years old, 6 feet and an inch tall and weighs 220 pounds, much of it muscle. He kneels and puts his elbows on the seat of a chair. He buries his face in his hands, and he weeps. In his grief, it does not penetrate who Diane is. “Please,” he prays, “let the girl live. Please let the girl live, and please let Mrs. Yancey live.”

Cheryl’s pain is so great that it seems physical. If only she could trade places with his victims. “Why didn’t he do it to me, instead of them? It wouldn’t be as hard.” She wants more than anything to tell the families how sorry she is. If only she could trade places with Jamie. Then she thinks of Jeremy and Adam. Jamie is not her only son, she tells herself. She tries in vain to stop crying. She repeats: “I’ve got two other kids.”

Jeremy brings Adam to their parents. He tells him that their big brother has shot somebody. “Whoa!” Adam replies. He cannot believe it. The two boys walk in to find their mother and father crying. “Jamie has done something very bad,” their mother says, “and he might not ever come home.” Their father is more direct: Jamie has shot three people. Both Elison and Cheryl hold their boys as tightly as they can. Adam has never seen his parents weep like this.

Investigator Chapman returns to the room, along with Sheriff Eddie Bass. They want to know why Jamie had refused to give up the gun. Several people in the melee say they pleaded: “Jamie, we need the gun. There ain’t no sense to this. Give me the gun.”

“My God,” Cheryl replies. “He was going to kill himself.”

Did he have some reason to shoot Diane Collins?

Cheryl is numb. “No, no way. He cared about Diane.”

Why did he shoot the others?

To Elison and Cheryl, none of this makes any sense. Carolyn Foster was not even one of his teachers. For a moment, Cheryl gets confused, disoriented. Where is she? What is going to happen? Is this a dream?

Jeremy cannot bear to hear what Jamie has done. He steps outside. Chapman brings him back into the room and accuses him of riding to school with Jamie and walking into the north hall right behind him, laughing and cutting up.

Jeremy is astonished. “I didn’t!”

Chapman claims to have witnesses who say he did.

“That ain’t true! That’s not true. You’ve got to believe me. I did not. I was not with him. I didn’t know what was going on.” Jeremy begins to cry. “Mom and Daddy, you believe me, don’t you?”

Cheryl steps in. She had witnessed Jeremy’s departure this morning with his cousin. “I don’t care what you think,” she tells Chapman, angrily. “Jeremy did not ride to school with Jamie this morning because Jeremy left at least 10 minutes before Jamie did.” Elison knows his two sons do not get along and that Jamie would not give Jeremy a ride to school even if his father bought the gasoline. Elison’s eyes blur with tears. “We know for a fact that he didn’t ride with Jamie,” Elison says, flatly. “He didn’t know anything about it.”

Chapman leaves. Elison and Cheryl take Adam and Jeremy into their arms. All are crying. “The four of us will get through this,” Elison says. “We will make it through this, with God’s help.”

Elison’s sister Carol arrives. The door to the coach’s office is open, so she walks in. Elison and Cheryl are still weeping. Jeremy’s face is raw. Adam sits quietly. My God, Carol realizes, what an awesome horror to face at age 7. Carol, a nurse at Vanderbilt, describes how badly Diane is hurt. Cheryl sees the wounds in her mind and grows nauseated. Jamie has caused this. She knows. But she cannot bring her heart to believe it. She thinks of Diane’s parents, but she cannot imagine how they feel. She thinks about Diane’s brother, Bill, and her little sister, Chrissy. She hopes their father and mother will not be angry with them for being her children’s friends.

Elison is glassy-eyed, Carol notices, in shock. He is disgraced. Angry. He is angry at himself, as a father. He is angry at Jamie for what he has done to his victims, to his own family and to himself. Elison does not recall, but Cheryl and Carol vividly remember that he says: “I wish it was Jamie dead instead.”

“No. No. Don’t say that,” Carol responds. “As long as there’s a breath in his body, there’s hope for his soul.”

“You’re right,” Elison replies. Her words remind him that Carolyn Foster is a Christian--indeed, a Christian of his own denomination, the Church of Christ. She will go to heaven. But Jamie has yet to be saved.

Despite her pain for Jamie’s victims and their families, Cheryl does not share Elison’s anger at their son. She knows that others will think she should, and she suffers guilt for it. But she is not going to live according to what other people think. “I’m his mother,” she says to herself. “He is my son. I love him. I will be there for him. If other people don’t like it, then that is their problem.”

She asks herself over and over how her son could have done such a thing, and she begins to suspect: “He had to have been really hurting badly himself to do something like that.”

She and Elison ask to see him. Just before they leave for Pulaski, where he is behind bars, they hug Carol and say another prayer. It is for Carol Yancey and Diane Collins.

------

“The first time that I felt anything was in the holding cell. When they first arrested me they had me in a little juvenile holding cell, and the TV was on in a back room somewhere. I could hear it. That’s when I first felt anything. When they explained what happened at the school, I was just--'My God, what have I done?’ It was unbelievable. Sorrow--I don’t know the words to describe it. It was a horrible feeling. ‘Oh, my God, what have I done?’

“I just broke down crying. I remember saying, ‘Please, God, don’t let them die.’ That was the most horrible feeling I’ve ever had. I had pure pain and sorrow. That’s when I actually caved in. That’s when it just--I guess that was the break. It was a tainted, kind of dirty feeling, a sick feeling. I sat there and bawled for no telling how long. I mean, it just all came out in a constant flood.

“I remember when they were taking me in to see my parents, I saw my dad crying. There was only one time I’d seen my dad cry before, and that was when his dad had died. He was a different person when I saw him cry. This was the first time I’d seen him cry for me.”

------

Cheryl and Elison leave Jeremy and Adam in a foyer at the Giles County youth services office. Jamie enters in handcuffs. Cheryl takes his face in her hands. She strokes his hair out of his eyes and tells him, “Jamie, I still love you.” His parents sit with him through an interrogation by Michael Chapman. They think there is no harm in letting Chapman ask their son why he did this. They want to know themselves. So they waive his right to the presence of a lawyer.

Chapman announces that Diane Collins has died, along with Carolyn Foster. He says Jamie will be charged with their murders.

Jamie cries. The reason for what he has done? “I don’t know,” he says. He offers no more than an unlikely smattering of car troubles, a restriction on his driver’s license, a mistaken accusation that he has been truant, an argument with a student about a fender bender and difficulties with an English teacher the year before. “Is there something I done, Jamie?” Elison asks. “No,” Jamie says. “Nothing y’all have done.”

Chapman asks not only about motive but premeditation. Through tears and a clutter of inaudible responses, Jamie offers these replies:

Q. As you walked in, what were you thinking?

A. Kill all the teachers.

Q. How did the thing with Diane happen, then? Just something that you didn’t mean to do?

A. Didn’t mean to.

Q. Did you mistake her for somebody else? Or, see, I--OK, let me just ask you, Coach Shirey was standing behind her. Did you miss?

THE FATHER: Are you nodding your head yes, that you meant to shoot the coach instead of Diane?

A. Yes.

CHAPMAN: If you can, answer the question of where you were when you made up your mind that you were going to do it.

A. Yesterday evening. . . . It was almost 12 o’clock.

Q. At night?

A. At school.

Q. Is there anything you want to say about it?

A. I’m sorry.

Q. I’m going to ask you if you can think of anything that could have been done differently, to keep this from happening.

A. Kill me.

Mike Chapman will use Jamie’s response to his father’s question for an indictment that will include the attempted murders of Carol Yancey and Ron Shirey.

------

“They all kept hounding me. I mean, you know, I just tried to give them something. I don’t know why I said, ‘Kill all the teachers.’ I didn’t believe it. I was already in bad shape, and just, ‘Why? Why did you do it?’ I said that more or less so they would leave me alone.”

------

After the interrogation, the youth services officer telephones Shara Flacy, the public defender. Elison and Cheryl do not know there is such a person. They do not have the money for a private lawyer. Shara Flacy takes Jamie’s case. Tennessee law, she says, does not allow the death penalty for a juvenile offender, even if he is tried as an adult. But, she says, being transferred into adult court is almost a certainty. This, she says, means Jamie faces life in prison.

Cheryl is red-eyed and trembling. How could she have prevented this? How could she have missed such pain? “I have failed,” she tells herself. “I failed him.” Jamie must have wanted to provoke someone into killing him. That one of her children wants to die makes her feel worse than she ever has. She is sure that she heard Jamie say not once but three times that he is sorry. She regrets letting him face Chapman without a lawyer. But it is too late.

Silence falls between her and Elison. Neither can reach the other. “How can Jamie have done it?” Elison asks himself. Elison’s family is full of schoolteachers: his mother, his father, his sister and his brother-in-law. “Why did he want to kill teachers?” Tears come again. Elison blames himself. Sons, he is mindful, turn out the way their fathers raise them. He, too, wishes he had not waived Jamie’s rights. He is angry--at himself, at Chapman, at the system and at Jamie. “My boy did this. How could he?”

Deputies bring Jamie to his mother, father and two brothers to say goodbye. He wears orange coveralls. He is shackled and handcuffed. Cheryl cries but tries hard not to let it show. She hugs him, kisses him on the cheek and says she loves him and that they will see him as soon as possible. Silently, she hopes that he will still be alive. Elison hugs him. His dreams for Jamie are over--school, a career, marriage. Jamie will be locked up for the rest of his life.

They watch him hobble away.

------

“I remember surrendering to God [on the way to jail]. Most of my teenage years, you know, I didn’t want nothing to do with God. There was a point where I outright hated God. I wasn’t a devil worshiper. But I didn’t like God. I remember we had just went past the Delta Express [truck stop] where I worked, and right then I surrendered to God. There was no fight in me anymore. Now there was no more hatred. You can get in front of God, you can stand there and defy God, you can curse him, you can do your best to blaspheme his name, and it’s going to come back to you. You might get away with it for a little while, but in the end--at that particular point, I was broken.’

------

It is 5 p.m. Elison and Cheryl Rouse and their other two sons drive back to Tight Bark Hollow. Elison corrects himself about the vow he had made back at Richland School. “The five of us will get through this. The five of us.”

CHAPTER II

One caller threatens to torch the house. The other says, “You’re going to die.”

A friend at the fire insurance company warns them to keep their premiums paid; they are now a high risk, and the firm will drop them if it can. Cheryl couldn’t care less if the house burns, but she cannot bear the thought of losing photos of Jamie. She can take new pictures of Jeremy and Adam, but Jamie will probably be locked up forever.

Elison notices that Sheriff Eddie Bass decides to take Jamie to Murfreesboro right away, out of the county. “Are Cheryl and I going to have to worry about him making it up to Murfreesboro alive?” he asks the sheriff, in front of his deputies. Elison sees some of the deputies flush blood red. The sheriff looks straight at Elison and guarantees that nobody will hurt Jamie. Elison realizes some people want his whole family to die. He fears that someone will shoot Cheryl, Jeremy, Adam or him. He sees that there is not much the sheriff can do to prevent it.

Elison also fears that some people here in Giles County--probably including some of the victims’ kin--would like to see him, maybe even Cheryl, go to jail. Elison knows he is the one who bought Jamie’s rifle for his birthday. He knows the gun is registered in his name. He knows he purchased the bullets. He knows Jamie used his truck. He knows it is Cheryl’s word against anybody’s that she did not know that Jamie took the gun to school. As sure as Elison cannot afford a lawyer for Jamie, he cannot hire one for Cheryl or for himself. The only attorney he can find in Tennessee who will take Jamie’s case wants $50,000 up front. So Jamie will have to stick with Public Defender Shara Flacy. She warns Cheryl and Elison not to ask Jamie any questions about what he did or why. While spouses cannot be forced to testify against each other, parents can be forced to testify against their children and vice versa. If the Rouses find out anything that can be used against Jamie and refuse to testify, then they can go to jail. If that happens, what will become of Jeremy and Adam?

What will happen to them anyway? Jeremy is afraid that his parents--or worse still, Adam--will be hated, even harassed. Like most 14-year-olds, Jeremy figures he can brave this kind of thing himself. If the harassment is aimed at anyone else in his family, however, then it will be more than he can stand. Especially if anything happens to Adam. Jeremy knows this will anger him quickest of all, and he fears that he might do something stupid. So he steels himself and resolves not to get mad. He tells other kids to just shut up about it.

Perhaps Jeremy and Adam should go away for a while. Cheryl packs them up and sends them home with her parents, in Wayne County, an hour and a half away. Her biggest fear, however, is that Jamie will kill himself. Cheryl can feel it. It is a mother’s intuition: Her son wants to die.

On Nov. 16, 1995, one day after the shooting, Elison and Cheryl drive to Murfreesboro. A young woman at the jail says Jamie is on suicide watch. She opens two locked doors and leads them to a gray-painted room barely large enough for two metal folding chairs. The chairs face a wall with a patch of foggy plexiglass a half-inch thick. At the center of the plexiglass is a circle of small holes. The tiny room is hot and stuffy. It stinks of sweat. On the walls, some of the Rouses’ predecessors have scratched their names. Cheryl and Elison look through the circle of holes. Jamie is on the other side. He is pale, shaking. His watchers have taken away the rubber band that holds his ponytail, so his hair covers his face. It is uncombed, straggly. He hides behind it, and he will not look up.

“How are you?” Cheryl asks. It is hard to hear through the holes. She puts an ear up closer.

“I’m OK.” He sounds muffled.

“Look at us,” she pleads, nearly in tears.

Jamie glances up. His eyes are red from crying. He drops his head and hunches his shoulders.

“I love you,” his mother says. Elison says it. Cheryl longs to tear down the wall. She and Elison need to hug their son. They have not done so nearly enough, and they need to do it now more than ever. Cheryl wants to hold him and tell him that it will be all right, that she will make it all go away. She cannot. She remembers how Jamie would fall when he was a child and how she would kiss his hurt and make it better. She cannot make this any better, and Elison cannot either. They cannot even touch him. It is not right, she thinks, for a youngster to be locked up and denied contact with his family. Youngsters need reassurance, they need to know they are loved, they need to feel it. She does not want Jamie to see that she has been crying. He looks up again, and she thinks that he can tell.

He lowers his head.

“Look at us,” she begs, “so we can see that you are OK.”

Jamie lifts his chin, but he will not look his parents in the eye. He says not a word. They do not know what to tell him, so each says again, “I love you.”

Silence.

Cheryl is torn. The visit lasts 30 minutes. It seems like a long time, but she does not want it to end.

Finally, a jailer knocks, and Jamie says it means he has to go.

“Bye,” his parents say. “I love you. See you next time.”

Jamie walks away without a word.

------

“I remember feeling ashamed--ashamed. I remember Mama crying and Daddy crying. I remember asking Daddy for a Bible. He said he’d get me one. I don’t remember a whole lot of what we said, but just having that wall, that little plexiglass separating us--it was very painful.”

What did he think was going to happen to him?

“I didn’t know.”

------

Outside, where no one can see them, Elison and Cheryl weep. The next day, they hear that investigators have arrested Jamie’s friend Steve Abbott. The district attorney already is charging Jamie with 1) the premeditated murder of teacher Carolyn Foster; 2) the murder of student Diane Collins, while trying to shoot at coach Ron Shirey; 3) the attempted murder of teacher Carol Yancey and 4) the attempted murder of the coach. Now the district attorney is charging Steve Abbott with criminal responsibility for each of Jamie’s actions. Steve, the district attorney alleges, intentionally, knowingly, willfully solicited, directed, aided or attempted to aid him.

Four days after the shooting, the Rouses encounter the Abbotts at the Murfreesboro jail. The Abbotts are quiet. They seem to be uncomprehending. Cheryl knows how they must feel: To the Abbotts, this must be like their first visit with Jamie. Cheryl and Donna Abbott reach for each other. “I’m so sorry,” Cheryl says. How can this be? Both she and Elison recall Jamie telling investigator Michael Chapman that he did not think Steve had taken him seriously. How could Steve have taken part knowingly, willfully or intentionally? The Abbotts say nothing. Jamie has messed up his life, Cheryl thinks, and now somebody else is going to have to pay. The Abbotts probably resent them.

Cheryl does not want to leave Tight Bark Hollow ever again. She does not want to leave her house, she does not want to see anyone, she does not want to talk to anybody. She is afraid of what people must be thinking. No one, she is sure, wants to have anything to do with them.

The Rouses do not go to the Foster and Collins funerals. Mostly family and friends attend services for Diane Collins. A minister reads a letter from her older sister, who tells how badly she will miss Diane’s laughter and her beautiful smile. More than 1,000 people attend services for Carolyn Foster. Six television stations send camera crews. Elison is afraid to cause the families more hurt. “We’re the last people that they want to see,” Cheryl agrees. She and Elison are afraid to send flowers. They wish they could do something--anything--to tell the families of Jamie’s victims how sorry they are. What about telephoning? No, Cheryl says, “they wouldn’t want to hear from us.” In the end, they decide on the flowers. To avoid a stir, though, they ask people at Elison’s job to call in the order for them. The Fosters send a thank-you note.

For days, they hole up. Jeremy and Adam return from their grandparents and hide in the hollow with them. The only people Elison wants around are Cheryl, the two boys, his sisters, his mother and his in-laws. Cheryl is afraid that people will see them and say, “Yeah, their son is a murderer. What kind of a parent. . . ? They must be awful parents.” Cheryl and Elison quit reading newspapers. When they hear Jamie’s name on the radio, they turn it off. They do the same to the TV when they see his picture, taken from a school yearbook. They leave Tight Bark Hollow only to go to the jail and to the public defender’s office. Elison removes the camper shell from his pickup, hoping that nobody will recognize the truck. They avoid both the Texaco and BP service stations in Frankewing and buy their gasoline where no one knows who they are.

Elison has a dozen guns. All are rifles or shotguns; he does not believe in pistols. Most of his weapons are heirlooms from his grandfathers, his father, his uncles or his great-uncles. But now the sight of guns nauseates him. He takes them out of the house in the hollow and brings them to someone for safekeeping. He tells nobody who has them. He keeps one: a Japanese rifle his daddy brought home from World War II. It has not been shot in 50 years; it does not have a firing pin.

Jail, the victims, Jamie in shackles--everything is making Cheryl sick. She cannot eat. The thought of it makes her gag. Two days go by. Three days. Four. She tries potato chips. “If I start out with something salty. . . .” But all she can get down is half a small bag. She cannot sleep. Everything reels through her mind. All she wants to do is sleep. She looks at the clock. How much longer until she can get up? She listens for the phone.

Five days. She asks Elison’s sister, Carol, to call a doctor. Can he prescribe something over the phone? The doctor agrees: Lorazepam, 0.5 milligrams. She takes the minimum; Jamie might need her.

Why has he done it? What could she have done to stop him? What has she missed, and how has she missed it?

Guilt, shame. Humiliation, disgrace. Remorse and mortification. There is nothing she can do to make up for it.

She prays. “Tell me what to do. Give me the strength to get through this. Help me to make sense out of it.”

Silence. From God.

Silence. Between her and Elison.

They discern their own faults differently. Cheryl blames herself for what she did not do. She had not understood that Jamie was in such pain. She had not stepped in. On the other hand, Elison blames himself for what he did do. For years, he had drunk too much and abused drugs. For years, he had flown into rages. For years, he had hit his sons with a belt or a paddle cut from a board. He had taught Jamie how to shoot the rifle. He had argued him out of selling it. He had vowed to lock up his weapons in a gun cabinet and never did.

Elison and Cheryl each conceal some of the things they are thinking because each does not want to hurt the other. Elison knows that Cheryl is closer to Jamie, and he knows that Cheryl wants her son back. But Elison thinks that everyone needs to be punished for doing wrong, and he does not want Jamie let out of jail scot-free. Cheryl is not angry with Jamie, but Elison is. He is mad because his son has killed two people, wounded a third, humiliated his family and destroyed his own life. Besides, Elison is scared of Jamie. He senses that Jamie hates him. He does not understand why Jamie did not kill him instead of the people at school. An uneasy quiet settles in the house. Elison and Cheryl argue. They hug. Sometimes they argue and hug at once. They spend a lot of time holding each other. Sometimes they cannot hold each other at all.

On Nov. 23, Thanksgiving, the Rouses do not celebrate. As each day goes by, a certainty sinks in: They cannot hide forever. Besides, taking cover is too much like defeat. They will not allow whatever people might be thinking to ruin their lives, for Jamie’s sake and their own. They will avoid offending anyone on purpose, and they would prefer it if people do not view them as monsters. “But you know,” Cheryl resolves, “some things, if they cannot accept them, then that’s their problem; there’s nothing I can do about it. Like the way I feel religiously, if that offends somebody, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to change how I feel about God. And the same way with how I feel about Jamie. If they don’t like it, I’m sorry. He’s my son, I love him, I will be there for him. If they don’t like it, that’s their problem.”

As a starter, the family needs groceries. For the first time in almost two weeks, Cheryl and Elison decide to face other people. They take Highway 64, avoiding Richland Creek and a span that officials will come to name the Carolyn Foster and Diane Collins Memorial Bridge. On the eastern outskirts of Pulaski is a market where the Rouses have shopped for years. Cheryl knows everybody who works there. “What’ll they think?” she asks herself. She will get just what she needs, then leave.

At the video counter, Linda Fox, who has known Cheryl and her boys for 14 years, sees the Rouses pushing their cart as fast as they can, never raising an eye, stopping only long enough to drop something inside. Cheryl’s hair is streaked with gray. She looks even tinier than usual. To Linda, she seems like a wounded child. Cheryl rushes by without looking up. Everyone is standing back and staring. Cheryl is nearly crying.

“Should I do this?” For a moment, Linda debates with herself. The Fosters are her neighbors, and her heart goes out to them. Besides, what would people think? Linda, though, is a mother too. She walks up to the checkout stand and wraps Cheryl in her arms. “I have been thinking about you. How are you? I have been thinking about you.”

“I appreciate it.” Cheryl’s face is wet.

“Are you doin’ OK?” Linda can feel her shaking.

“Yeah.”

“Well, if you ever need to talk, day or night, don’t be afraid to call. I have got big ears, and I don’t talk.”

“I appreciate it.”

Ronnie Britton, a clerk, is bagging their groceries. He helps Elison carry them out. Ronnie belongs to Carolyn Foster’s church, and he likes the Fosters. But he knows not to judge, lest he be judged. He pats Cheryl on the back and asks about her family. How is Jamie doing?

Elison is touched. Not many people will ask about Jamie, ever.

------

“There’s an older lady that comes [to the jail]. She more or less helps with Bible study. She asked me if I wanted to be forgiven for my sins. I said, ‘Yes. Yes, I do.’ Then she said, ‘Well, say this prayer with me.’ It was like a new hope.”

Still, Jamie knew where he would end up: “Probably hell.”

------

At 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 4, two sheriff’s cars roll up the gravel road to the Rouses’ front porch. Cheryl is on the brown cloth recliner. She is watching TV. Adam is curled up in her lap asleep.

“Go see who it is,” her brother Steve says to Jeremy. Steve has moved in to stay with Adam and Jeremy while Cheryl and Elison meet with the public defender, attend hearings and visit Jamie.

Jeremy is almost ready to go to bed. He opens the front door. He sees the sheriff’s cars. Two deputies are moving to the sides of the house with their hands on their guns. Two more are going to the back door. Sheriff Eddie Bass, Investigator Michael Chapman and two more deputies approach the porch. They ask if he is Jeremy Rouse.

“Yeah.”

“Could you step out here for a second?”

Jeremy does.

“Turn around and put your hands on the house.”

They tell Jeremy that he is under arrest for soliciting first-degree murder.

Cheryl, about to doze off, looks up to see Sheriff Bass standing in front of her. He is asking questions. “Wait a minute,” she says, trying to wake up. “Let me get my husband. He’s in bed.” Gently, she places Adam, still asleep, on the couch and goes over to the bedroom door. One of the deputies, a woman, starts to go in with her. “Lady,” Cheryl warns, “he don’t sleep in pajamas.”

Elison puts on his pants, but he does not take time to find a shirt, shoes or socks. He and Cheryl stand in the front doorway. Jeremy is on the porch in handcuffs. Cheryl has brought his shoes. They are halfway on. He cannot tie them.

“What’s going on, sheriff?” Elison asks.

They are arresting Jeremy for solicitation of first-degree murder. They have him on tape talking to another boy about it.

“Why all the guns? Why all these deputies?”

Jeremy might have tried to run or come out shooting.

“Sheriff,” Elison declares, “you’ve been watching too much TV. . . .” He interrupts his own thought. “Where are you taking him?”

He hears someone out in the darkness say juvenile detention. That makes sense; it is where they took Jamie.

“We’ll be right there as soon as I can get dressed.”

The sheriff leaves with Jeremy in the back of his car. Elison finishes dressing. On the way to Pulaski, he worries that Chapman might start interrogating Jeremy before they arrive. “I wish,” he mutters, “I had told him not to say anything.”

When they arrive at the detention center, nobody is there. Jeremy has been taken to the sheriff’s office in another building. Somebody finally comes out a back door of the jail, sees Cheryl and Elison and asks, “Can we help you?”

“Yes. I’m Elison Rouse. This is Cheryl. We’re Jeremy Rouse’s parents.”

“Come around front, and someone will be with you.” They go, but no one comes out for another 20 minutes.

Jeremy hates the murders. Diane Collins was his girlfriend, then his best friend. He is not sure whether he loves or hates Jamie. The conflict makes it especially hard to listen to others bad-mouth his brother. In the days after the killings, Jeremy lashes back and sounds menacing. One parent complains that Jeremy has threatened to shoot his daughter. Two students tell Chapman that Jeremy wants to finish what his brother started by killing more teachers, and they say he wants them to help. Chapman asks the two to speak with Jeremy on the phone while he surreptitiously tapes their conversations. During one call, Jeremy denies ever threatening the girl. But when the conversation turns to school, he is ambiguous.

Q. Are you going to wait?

A. Huh?

Q. Are you going to wait until the 18th?

A. Yeah, I might do it after that.

In another of the conversations, however, Jeremy says he is not going to do anything at all.

Q. Are you still thinking about doing that at Richland now?

A. Hell no.

Q. You’re not?

A. No.

Q. Well, did you still want me to help you with this stuff, though?

A. Huh?

Q. Did you still want me to help you with this stuff?

A. I ain’t gonna do it.

Q. Huh?

A. I ain’t gonna do it.

As Elison and Cheryl wait outside the sheriff’s office, Chapman is inside asking Jeremy about these taped conversations. He has read Jeremy his rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present. Will he talk about this?

“A little bit.”

Jeremy concedes he has said things “close to” what the students have reported. But Jeremy says that he was not serious about any of it. “I was just mad. I don’t say what I mean when I’m mad.”

Q. What were you mad at, Jeremy?

A. Everybody talking about my brother.

Q. What are they saying?

A. You know, people--I heard that people said that, you know, they wished he’d rot in hell, and things like that.

Then, after 35 minutes:

Q. All right. Bottom line, you did what this [charge] accuses you of doing. Right?

A. Uh-huh.

Q. Right? You nod your head, yes?

A. Yes.

Q. You were going to do that, or talking about doing that, and was going to have [someone] help you?

A. Uh-huh.

Q. The whole thing?

A. Yeah.

Q. But what you’re saying is, you weren’t serious?

A. Right.

Q. Well, it’s not up to us to decide whether you were or not. That’s what judges are for. That’s what will happen here.

By the time Elison and Cheryl are invited into the sheriff’s office, it is over. Jeremy is formally charged with “a solicitation to commit first-degree murder.”

Because the public defender is representing his brother, the Rouses borrow money and hire a lawyer. On Feb. 22, 1996, Judge Robert E. Lee Jr. finds Jeremy guilty. Judge Lee has a reputation for being tough; he once used a bamboo cane to whip a 14-year-old boy in his office and gave the cane to a mother and father so they could whip their 15-year-old daughter. With Jeremy still in custody, his lawyer takes the case to circuit court, where a jury finds him guilty again, and Judge William B. Cain sentences him to Wilder, a juvenile facility, until he is 18 years old or earns a high school diploma.

Jeremy will be a model prisoner at Wilder, will earn his diploma in two years and come home. But Judge Lee will issue a restraining order banning him from approaching his accusers, the families of his brother’s victims, Richland School or any of its teachers. It effectively will keep Jeremy from finding a job, because businesses throughout the county know that any of the more than 50 teachers from Richland might trade with them at any time.

After authorities take their second son, Elison and Cheryl grow suspicious. Chapman’s eavesdropping on the phone worries them. They begin driving to pay telephones to make important calls. They are careful not to talk to anyone about their discussions with the public defender and not to talk to each other about such things over the phone at all. They buy everything with cash so there will be no record of their transactions. They take notice of every police car that follows them. They grow especially careful with officials of every kind. They keep still when the Fosters, alone among the families of Jamie’s victims, attend Jeremy’s hearings--an effort, the Rouses think, to pressure his judges and the district attorney. “I don’t know if this is something personal with Dallas Foster,” Elison tells himself, “but I can’t put myself in his shoes. If somebody killed my wife, I would probably want the whole family.” One of Elison’s biggest dreads is that the authorities will find out about the drunkenness and drug use in his past and take away Adam on grounds that he is an unfit father. He resolves to divorce Cheryl if necessary and give her sole custody of Adam to keep that from happening.

Before the arrests, Adam is the center of his family’s attention. Both big brothers tease him, but they dote on him: Jamie fixes his toys, Jeremy teaches him computer games. Now they are gone. He falls asleep one night on Cheryl’s lap with Jeremy lying on the floor next to them, and the next morning Jeremy is in jail. It scares him. Adam refuses to leave his father or mother, even to go to the bathroom. He wants Cheryl to hold the door partly open, stand just outside and talk to him so he knows she is still there. He sleeps in his parents’ room. When Elison goes back to work and drives all night, Adam will not sleep unless Cheryl lets him crawl into bed with her. “Mama, put your arm around me,” he pleads, and she holds him until he finally closes his eyes. When Elison is home, Adam has to sleep in his own bed. Sometimes he cries, and they let him climb into bed with them until he falls asleep. He wakes up often with nightmares. A few months after Jeremy’s arrest, Adam turns 8, and they offer him Jamie and Jeremy’s room, but he refuses. He will not go inside that room, even with his parents along. They put him in therapy, and he refuses his counselor’s request to draw a picture of his family.

He returns to school at Richland, but his name is a reminder of what Jamie has done. Kids on the bus say that Jamie should be shot. Cheryl waits a week after Jeremy’s arrest before trying to send Adam to school again. This time he throws up on the bus, and Cheryl brings him home. His therapist decides it would be better if Adam stayed out of school for a while. Cheryl tries to enroll him in Homebound, a program that would send a teacher out to the hollow to tutor him twice a week. The county refuses to make an exception to its rule that the program is only for children with physical problems. So she enrolls Adam in Home Schooling, a program that certifies she has a high school diploma and can teach him herself.

Home schooling leaves Adam isolated. He tries to call Chrissy Collins to see if she can come over, but Chrissy’s family, grieving for Diane, does not pick up the phone. Another youngster does come out to the hollow, but Cheryl hears that the boy’s mother gets a scolding from her friends.

------

“I remember seeing Steve Abbott once. They brought him down to go outside, and I saw him. I felt guilty for getting him involved. They shouldn’t have arrested him. He sent me a note, though, that had Bible verses on it. It said, ‘Jesus forgives us all for our sins.”

“Somebody said that my brother was there. I thought they were joking. I mean, I just didn’t know what happened. I knew that he didn’t have nothing to do with it. It was ridiculous. It was stupid. It was a political move is what it was. It was another way of punishing me. It wasn’t enough just for me and Steve to be locked up. They had to go after my family too.”

------

People often do not know how to act in Elison’s presence; some offer to pray for him, but then they stay away. Maybe, he thinks, they are worried about their own kids and cannot handle being around him. But others are steadfast. On the night of the shooting, Ray McConnell, a fellow driver for Ronnie Bledsoe Trucking Inc. and one of his best friends, brings his wife to Tight Bark Hollow. They struggle past reporters and family, and the two truckers hug. Not long afterward, Elison walks into Wal-Mart. He hears somebody yell, “Bledsoe!” Elison does not want any trouble, so he keeps on walking. Then he hears it again: “Bledsoe!” A driver comes up. Elison knows him by his radio handle: Too Tall.

“How y’ doin?” Too Tall asks.

“I’m doing OK.”

“Hang in there.” Too Tall, towering over Elison by a foot, gives him a hug.

Elison decides to quit trucking; he is too distracted to drive. But his boss will not hear of it. He tells Elison that he will hold his job for him and keep his insurance paid, and whenever he feels up to driving again, just to let him know. Every now and then, Ronnie Bledsoe or someone else from the trucking company calls to see how Elison is doing, but no one pressures him or smothers him with curiosity. Elison and Cheryl dread Christmas. But just before the holiday, they are invited to a truckers’ dinner. Bledsoe staff, drivers and owner-operators present them with $600 for their bills, many of which are going unpaid. The gift brings Elison to tears. Now, he says, Adam will get presents. A few days later, Ray McConnell drops by with money from more drivers. Friends at church offer Adam gifts. So do strangers in the mail. To the Rouses, it seems like a miracle.

So does $300 from their church and $200 from one of Cheryl’s brothers. The Rouses’ credit is gone, but this money will see them through January. Gabriel, the shock absorber company, says it will hold Cheryl’s work-at-home job for her as well. She has been worried that Gabriel will not want to have anything more to do with her. But Gary Parsons, her boss, sends a card, and then he calls. “Just want to know how you’ve been.” He treats her no differently, and this alone pleases Cheryl as much as anything. “Well,” he says, “a lot of them out here have been asking about you. But they was afraid to call. So I said that I’d call.” Just let him know, he says, if she needs anything--and holler whenever she gets ready for him to send some more inventory to do.

One man says in Elison’s presence that Jamie’s parents must be awful, and he ought to be hanged. Someone takes the man aside and tells him who Elison is, and the man returns and says he is sorry. On another occasion, a truck driver declares within earshot: “I’m glad he’s not my son.” When the driver is told who Elison is, he walks away. But the Rouses receive almost 100 notes and cards in the mail, saying in various ways: “We don’t know how you feel, we can only imagine. But you have our sympathies, and we’re praying for you.” Some include small amounts of money. One note haunts them. “We know exactly what you are going through,” it says. “You have our sympathy and our prayers.” The note is unsigned. At the peak of their shame, Elison considers unlisting their telephone number, but he and Cheryl get so many encouraging calls that he hooks up an answering machine instead. They get caller ID, so they will know right away if the Murfreesboro jail phones about Jamie.

One of their preachers suggests counseling from Paul Sain at the biggest Church of Christ in Pulaski. They visit him for about two hours every week for two months. It is Carolyn Foster’s church, and he preached at her funeral. It might be a good idea, he tells the Rouses, to meet with the Fosters and say: “We care, and we’re sorry.” Elison and Cheryl agree. “I know they’re going to want to know why Jamie did it,” Cheryl says, “but we can’t tell them why.” Still, they will be glad to see the Fosters and to talk to them. For weeks, Cheryl has been planning what to say to them or to the Collins family, should she run into them. It would be: “I’m sorry, and I wish I could undo what was done. Jamie’s sorry.” At the same time, she would ask the Collinses not to let their son Bill’s friendship with Jamie affect the way they treat him, nor let their daughter Chrissy’s friendship with Adam affect the way they treat her. “And if they could possibly see their way, maybe someday could [they] forgive?”

The preacher does not see the Collins family, but he encounters Carolyn Foster’s widower, Dallas, and says that he has met with the Rouses. “They would like to talk to you,” he says. “They are sorry, and they are hurting as Christians also.” He watches Dallas Foster put his hands out in front of himself, as if to fend away the offer, and hears him declare, “No, I just can’t handle that right now.”

The counseling helps. The preacher tells them Elison and Cheryl that he is not trained as a therapist, but he listens to them without being judgmental. “I will be your friend,” he says, “and I want you to know I care, that I love you.” He offers encouragement from the Bible, as well as the forgiveness and the mercy that God extends to all of his children. After the sessions end, the Rouses visit their own preacher, Bob Vick, and his wife, Jane, whenever their sadness overwhelms them. Their most heartfelt support comes from members of their own church. From the day of the shooting, they feel too frightened and too ashamed to attend services. Cheryl and Elison are newcomers. They have been members at the Beech Hill Church of Christ for only 18 months, since Elison straightened himself out, and now they might not be welcome. Besides, the congregation includes the head of the school board, Adam’s teacher, another teacher from Richland School, friends of Carolyn Foster and Carol Yancey and several of Carolyn Foster’s kin. The Rouses do not want their presence to offend anyone.

Preachers Bob Vick and Charles Anderson are adamant. It might be the hardest thing Cheryl and Elison ever do, but they should go to church. Vick says several members have telephoned and expressed concern for the Rouses. He knows they will be welcome. Cheryl wonders about the people who have not called. How will they react? The Vicks promise to sit with them during the service. It occurs to Cheryl that if she and Elison do not go back to Beech Hill, they might not return to church at all. The longer they put it off, the harder it will be. She has an awful thought: Elison might start drinking again; they might divorce. . . . A few moments before the main service at 11 a.m., they pull into the parking lot. Silently they walk toward the front door. Cheryl hears footsteps behind her. She sees Geraldine Collins, not a member of Diane Collins’ family but the mother of Adam’s teacher at Richland and a friend of the Fosters and the Yanceys. Cheryl turns and looks. She starts to weep. Geraldine Collins keeps on coming. She opens up her arms, and she holds Cheryl close. “I am so sorry,” Cheryl says.

In tears herself, Geraldine Collins hugs Elison and Adam, then leads all three up to the church door. Susan Spencer, who is Adam’s teacher, grabs them. She, too, weeps--the hardest when she holds Adam.

Then, one by one, dozens of people in the congregation come up, crying and reaching for the Rouses. Cheryl and Elison hold hands and walk up to a seat near the front, where Bob and Jane Vick are waiting.

On Nov. 30, the Giles Free Press publishes a letter from Cheryl and Elison. It says:

‘We want to express our deepest gratitude for all the love, support and prayers we have received during this time of tragedy.

“When this happened, we were made to feel that our lives and the lives of our other children could be in danger. We no longer feel this way. We don’t think enough credit was given to all the good people of this county.

“We have been dealing not only with the pain of our Jamie, whom we love very, very much, but also the pain the victims’ families must be going through. We will live with this pain for the rest of our lives. We wish to express our deepest sympathy to the families. Bill and Chrissy, we love you.

“We are trying to put the pieces of our lives back together, and that wouldn’t be possible without all the love and support we have been shown. If you haven’t believed in God, believe in him now. His power and love is alive and very strong in Giles County. If you must hate anything, hate that this terrible thing happened. Please don’t hate our Jamie. Pray for him. Think of how you would feel if this was your son whom you loved very, very much.

“We would like to express our deepest thanks to the Beech Hill Church of Christ and all the wonderful people there. Without them, we don’t know how we could have survived. Because of them, our faith in God has been strengthened, and we will survive. We want to thank all the churches and people who have prayed for us and ask them to continue to do so. We have a long road ahead of us, but with your love, support and prayers, we will make it.

“The Rouse Family”

------

Preacher Charles Anderson of Beech Hill baptized Jamie, in handcuffs and shackles, at a Church of Christ near the jail.

“It was just an unbelievable feeling of joy. My dad was crying, and we hugged. He was crying because he was happy. I knew he meant it. I think he said, “Welcome to the family.’ ”

------

On Jan. 5, 1996, Judge Lee convenes a hearing on whether Jamie Rouse and Steve Abbott should be sent to adult court. The judge permits Mike Bottoms, the district attorney, to enter a transcript of Jamie’s interrogation into which investigator Chapman has inserted, a few days afterward, his recollections of when Jamie nodded or shook his head in response to questions. Cheryl and Elison know that Jamie is guilty. They know that everyone else knows it. They expect him to be convicted. They have only the barest hope that his sentence might include the possibility, someday, of parole. To them, altering the transcript seems unfair, even unnecessary. When students, teachers and medical examiners testify for the first time about what Jamie did, the Rouses listen in horror. They hold hands, as they had at Beech Hill. After three days of testimony, Judge Lee rules that Jamie Rouse and Steve Abbott will be tried as adults.

On Aug. 2, 1996, Steve Abbott is convicted of criminal responsibility for second-degree murder in the deaths of Carolyn Foster and Diane Collins. He is convicted of criminal responsibility for attempted second- and first-degree murder, respectively, for the wounding of Carol Yancey and the errant shot that Jamie took at Ron Shirey. A judge decides Steve knew what Jamie was planning because Jamie had told him, “It’s going to happen today.” The judge calls the fact that Steve drove Jamie to school “the most damning feature in his case.” He sentences Steve to 40 years in prison.

Twice over the next several months, Steve’s mother, Donna, tries to reassure Cheryl. “I really can’t hate Jamie,” she says. Not until she sits Cheryl down over a cup of coffee in her kitchen and says it a third time does Cheryl believe her.

Jamie refuses to help Shara Flacy prepare his case. Circuit court moves him to adult jail in Marshall County, where he is segregated from other inmates because he is still a teenager. Flacy notifies the court and Dist. Atty. Mike Bottoms that she will defend Jamie on grounds of insanity. She asks Cheryl and Elison to help. With information from relatives, they prepare a psychological history of the family. Elison’s mother gives them money for a psychiatrist to evaluate what they can piece together about Jamie’s lineage, childhood and adolescence.

Cheryl is sure something is wrong with Jamie; if he were just a coldblooded killer, he would not be so devastated by what he did. But what is wrong with him? Reaching back to when he was a little boy, she spends hours sitting on the couch in her living room staring at knickknacks on a shelf. One is a ceramic figure of a little boy in overalls, suspenders and a straw hat, holding a fishing pole. Cheryl has her shoes off, her feet tucked under her. Elison is back at work, hauling coils of unfabricated steel to Chicago and bringing steel tubing back to Pulaski. Adam is on the carpet, building with Legos. With both Jamie and Jeremy gone, the house is quiet. Again and again, Cheryl goes over Jamie’s life. She writes notes in longhand on cheap, recycled legal paper stuck into a clipboard in her lap. She copies her notes onto sheets of white typing paper to make them neater and more legible.

As sketchily as memories permit, Cheryl, Elison and their relatives construct Jamie’s family tree. Does it have anyone on it who might be evidence of a genetic predisposition to mental or emotional problems? On Cheryl’s side there are alcoholics and the son of a great-grand-uncle who checked himself into a mental hospital now and then with psychiatric problems. No one can remember what they were. On Elison’s side, there is a half-sister who killed herself for no apparent reason when she was 40, a cousin who thought he was invisible and a half-uncle who stole things because he thought they belonged to him. There is Elison’s grandmother, an alcoholic diagnosed with a mental illness, who refused to have power or running water, covered her walls with newspaper and kept her cabin and herself in perpetual disarray. Finally, one of Elison’s sisters is convinced their own father suffered alcoholic tendencies and that their older brother, who spent time in a Veterans Administration mental health unit, had shown signs of schizophrenia.

On her pad, Cheryl notes that Jamie always seemed scared. Before they moved into their house in Tight Bark Hollow, he would sleep without complaint in his baby bed. From the first day in his new bedroom, however, he would stand at the end of the bed and cry. She finally gave up and let him sleep in a playpen in the living room. When Jeremy was born, Jamie agreed to sleep with the baby in what is now their room. Even then he would climb out of bed and run through the house in a panic. When Cheryl or Elison would catch him and hold him, he would grunt and point. He would not wake up, but his eyes were wide open, and they held a look of sheer terror. One night, when he was 4 or 5, he fled out onto the porch, and the front door locked behind him. The cold air awakened him, and he pounded on the front door, crying. Jamie never remembered any of these things in the morning. Cheryl recalls thinking at the time, “Something’s wrong.” Jamie’s doctor said: “They’re just night scares. He’ll outgrow them.” She does not think he ever did. Only a year ago, the family had come back from a vacation that Jamie missed because of work and discovered he had been sleeping in the living room with the lights on. “He thought he could see and hear something,” she notes on the clipboard, “that we could not see or hear.”

She jots down too that Jamie always has been remarkably shy, even withdrawn. Since he was a child, he had walked with his head down and had spoken without looking others in the eye. As recently as his last performance review at his after-school job, his supervisor had told him that he needed to be more outgoing with customers. Jamie always has been remarkably quiet as well. She recalls her own father saying, “You don’t even know he’s there.” Often, she recalls, she and Elison have had a hard time knowing just what Jamie is feeling. Only rarely does he show emotion. In Elison’s upbringing, men do not hug and men do not cry; Cheryl cannot remember the last time Jamie had done either one.

*****

“It wasn’t that I wasn’t able to experience emotions -- it was that I didn’t want to. I’d feel like I didn’t know how to handle them. I pretty much wanted to hold them back -- tuck them in.” One night, when Jamie was about 8 to 9, he dreamed that his father was whipping him.

He woke up crying. “So he come in there and whipped me for crying. I got bruises.” Three or four years later, when Adam was 1 or 2, the family was eating dinner. “Adam started crying. And my dad went over, I remember, and picked him up by the arm and dragged him off the floor, because Adam was crying. (Dad) whipped him with a belt. And I knew from that, Dad didn’t want us to cry. I don’t remember crying after that.”

He started seeing things when he was 6 or 7. “I remember seeing something kind of go through the hallway, and I go back and there wasn’t nothing there. It was like a shadow. I always felt a little bit like it was a ghost.”

When he was 11 or 12, he learned from a neighbor that the previous owner of the house had killed himself in the boys’ bedroom by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. “I’d be laying there, and I would feel a kind of tap-tapping on my shoulder. I would shiver and hide under the covers. Kind of like a chill. You know how sometimes they say a goose walks over your grave? The only thing I could think of was that guy that killed himself. I’d think it was his ghost. Even after I was 17, I was still scared to be alone at night, especially in our room. I felt something -- an evil presence.”

He started hearing voices when he was 8. “I remember laying there at night, and it wasn’t like the voices were talking to me, it was kind of like there was voices whispering among themselves. You couldn’t really understand what they was saying.”

He started having panic attacks when he was 6 or 7. “I’d wake up, and I would pace the floor in the living room. But I would not realize what I had done until morning. When I woke up, I would remember getting up and walking, but I wouldn’t remember what I was panicky about.”

****

Elison finds he can no longer drive and listen to country music; he cannot handle songs about heartache. He finds it hard to drive alone; he spends a lot of time on the shoulder of the road crying. When he tries to choke it back, it distracts him. Ronnie Bledsoe pairs him with other drivers hauling loads to the same place. The other drivers talk to him on their radios. When they stop for coffee, they talk to him face to face. Never far from Elison’s mind is the day when the phone rang in his truck and Ronnie had not told him the whole truth about why he had to go to Richland School. So now whenever Ronnie telephones, he spells out exactly when the call is about: “It’s not an emergency,” he will say, for instance, “but you need to call Cheryl because you need to be in court tomorrow morning.”

On the dashboard, Elison keeps a photograph of his family. In the picture, he has one arm around Cheryl, who wears a flower-print dress. He holds Adam in the other arm. Jeremy wears a troublemaker’s grin and stands between him and Cheryl. Jamie, in a red shirt, is at his right. He looks to be about 15. This probably is the last photo of all of them together that Elison will ever have. He recalls good times with his family: hunting, day trips, vacations. But he also remembers a lot of bad times. “What did I do to drive Jamie to do it?” he asks himself. “I was the roughest on him when he was growing up, the one who mistreated him.”

There is, for instance, his dislike of his own older brother, who was gay and died of AIDS, and how much Elison dreaded that Jamie or Jeremy or Adam might turn out to be gay. He had forbidden Cheryl to give Jamie and Jeremy baths together. He had let his sons know how he felt. He kept calling their attention to pretty girls.

There is how much of everyone’s life Elison has missed. He leaves with a truck load on Sunday and stays on the road for two days, sometimes three. He returns with another load and is gone again by Thursday morning. He does not come home until late Friday or early Saturday. Trucking means one night in his own bed each week and little or no time with Cheryl or the boys. Their daily life is life without him. “I’m the one, " he tells himself, “that wasn’t there when he needed a daddy.” One song in particular always brings him to tears, and he always turns it off. It is called “Cat’s in the Cradle,” and what bothers him most are these four lines:

“When you coming home, Dad?”

“I don’t know when.

But we’ll get together then, son.

You know we’ll have a good time then.”

Then there is his drinking and drugging. Off and on since he was 14 until his mid-30s. Doubles of Old Charter and sometimes Jack Daniel’s, always with a Bud Light back. Or a Smirnoff straight, chased by an Old Milwaukee. Always to get drunk. Two arrests for driving under the influence, and two more for reckless driving. A night in jail each time. He has driven an 18-wheeler drunk a few times, scaring himself badly at least once -- when he climbed out of the cab and found the side of his flat-bed scratched and dented. The last thing he could remember was tipping up a pint of Old Charter. He had blacked out, driving to Kentucky and back and run into the side of a loading dock.

Marijuana. Quaaludes. Amphetamines. Cocaine, up his nose and through a pipe. Crank, also known as crystal meth. PCP once, because somebody had laced a joint. Two days had vanished that time. He had beaten the guy who laced the weed. Cheryl tried to make him stop drinking, and he had quit now and then, but had always gone back. He had been to Alcoholics Anonymous but had never gotten past Step 5. One day, he had come home to find Cheryl gone. Since she was 20, she had put up with him and all that goes with being a binger’s wife. Now she left two pages in longhand, which he still keeps, smudged and creased in his wallet. “I’ll try to get a paper tomorrow and look for a job and a place to live. I hate that it has come to this, because I really thought we had a chance. I thought you really did love me. I know I love you, but I guess it’s just not to be.... We will talk about the arrangements sometime when you haven’t been drinking.... I just wish things could have been different.” He had gone to Sarge’s and sat at the bar in wet-eyed silence and sworn off alcohol for good.

Quitting drugs had been even harder, but he did it. He had tried, then failed, more than once, always on his own. He had finally succeeded by turning to God, family, Cheryl’s letter and truckers who had persuaded him to go to church. He had been baptized at Beech Hill, and he has been straight and sober since, starting a year and a half before the shooting. Nevertheless, he knows the damage: thousands of dollars gone that he should have brought home to his family; thousand of hours spent drunk or stoned when he should have been with Cheryl, Jamie, Jeremy and Adam.

Finally there is his anger. It is a family trait. His daddy had gotten so angry that he blacked out and did not know what he was doing. Elison remembers losing his temper too and blacking out, then wondering what had happened. One night when Jamie was less than a year old, Elison had grown so mad at him for crying and refusing to go to sleep that he had shaken him until Cheryl made him stop. When Jamie was a bit older but still too young to stand, Elison had become so furious he had picked him up and whipped him. “You don’t whip a child when you’re mad!” he says to himself. Or drunk. Vodka turns him into a mean drunk. He recalls punching six holes into the walls of his house, each of them because he was drunk on Vodka. Cheryl will not let him patch them; she wants him to see them, as reminders.

Elison had wondered years ago if something was wrong with Jamie. Once, after a whipping, Jamie had run outside and beaten a tree with his fists until they were bloody. Elison remembers putting his arms around him and holding him to calm him down. Elison was on the road, however, during an even more disturbing incident: when Jamie had pulled a rifle on Jeremy -- the same gun he would use at school. Cheryl had told Elison about it when he got home. “I was in the living room, I think Adam was in the living room, and Jamie had run into their room and started hollering. Jamie had his gun pointed at Jeremy. Jamie was going to pull the trigger. I come in, and I told Jamie, I said, ‘Give me that gun. What the hell are doing with the gun? Give it to me.’

“And he gave it to me. I don’t know exactly what had gone on, but something had set Jamie off, and he grabbed the gun, because it was close by. I gave it back to him and I said, ‘You unload this thing.’ And he said, ‘It’s not loaded.’ So I took the gun and put it in our room in the corner.” When Elison heard all this, he took the rifle away. He returned it when Jamie wanted to go hunting.

Elison promised his mother that he would lock all weapons in a gun safe. If only he had not put it off, he tells himself, this might not have happened. But then, he adds. to ease his conscience, Jamie might have borrowed a gun from someone else.

****

“I don’t remember having any man-to-man talks with Dad. I don’t remember him ever asking me how I feel or nothing. I mean, he basically just wasn’t there to raise me. I didn’t know he was using drugs, [but] I knew that he drank a lot. Me and my friends would be driving around, and I remembers seeing his [pickup] truck at the Volunteer Lounge when he was supposed to have been on the road. I remember sitting in Mama’s lap and my dad being drunk, and I remember he punched a hole in the door. I remember my mama crying. He [punched another hole] in the wall near the bedroom. I think there’s a picture of me covering it up.

“He never did hit me with his fist, but the belt was bad enough.” The worst was when he was 9. It involved an argument with Jeremy over a video game. “My Daddy came in there, and he raised me up by the arm, and [he started whipping] the back of my legs, and my butt too, and he just kept doing it. I had bruises and welts, even a few days afterward. I just lay there and cried on the floor. I was definitely angry.” But he tucked it in.

One day, his father brought home some Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the family cats crawled into the cab of his pickup and ate it. “He took a 12-gauge shotgun, and he went and killed all the cats. He was going outside the house, running around shooting cats, I think about five or six of them. I remember one cat, he shot it, and it did a back flip. He took and threw the cats up into the trees, and some of them got hung up in the trees. I stayed away from him.”

His father began hitting the boys with a wooden paddle. “It was maybe half an inch thick, four or five inches wide, a couple of feet long, and it had holes drilled in it in rows of three or four, all the way up. It had our names written on it. He told us not to get any C’s on our report cards or he’d whip us. And we made Cs.”

Then one day Jeremy took a pack of Marlboros from the kitchen table. “We went outside to go smoke them. Dad knew he’d stole them, and we got paddled for it. I remember heading outside, and I punched a hole in the door to our bedroom.” When he got outside, he kicked the family doghouse apart.

When he was 16, he accidentally wrecked a car. “Dad came in late. My mom told him. I was already in bed, supposed to have been asleep, but I was just lying there. I remember him yelling and stuff. I had a sword that I had bought from one of my friends. It was a little longer than a machete. Steel. Shiny. I had sharpened it so that it would cut paper. I remember holding it in my bed. I had it in my hand. I remember saying, ‘If I need to, I’ll defend myself.’

“The same year (I had) a stereo. Because it wouldn’t play the sixth CD, that’s not a big enough reason for me to destroy it, but that one thing was a little too much, and it set me off. I just couldn’t hold it in no more. I just picked it up and threw it on the floor and stomped on it. Then I went outside and grabbed the lug wrench, and I just hit my car everywhere. It looked like it had been through a hailstorm, is what it looked like. I mean, fenders, doors, hood. Fifty to 75 dents, I guess.

“It was a confused feeling. I’d get extremely angry, and in a split second, I’d feel like crying, and then I would go back to being extremely angry. I’d been extremely angry before, but it was not like that.”

Why did he pull the gun on Jeremy?

“Jeremy came in and was talking on the phone, and I told him if he was going to talk on the phone to go in the living room, because I was trying to sleep. And he said, ‘One of these days this is going to come back to you.’ That’s what made me go get the gun. My clip was already loaded. I remember putting the clip in.”

Did he cock a bullet into the chamber?

“Yeah, I think so.”

Did he point it at Jeremy?

‘Yeah.”

What stopped him?

“I don’t know. The day after, that was the main time when I thought about it: I had a problem.”

How did that make him feel?

“Angry. At myself. I did not like myself. [But] I didn’t see anything to do about it.”

Did he think about asking for help?

“No. I didn’t figure there was anybody who could help me.”

****

Cheryl and Elison focus last on Jamie’s high school years. They know he listened to heavy metal. Elison had defended it. Sure, music can alter moods, but he had listened to acid rock when he was a kid, and it had never hurt him any. They also know Jamie had cut an inverted cross into his forehead in the ninth grade. Because his hair was so long, they had not seen the cross at the time, and later they had dismissed it as a fad. They would learn that he signed “Satan” to his senior yearbook last will and testament, but they did not think he was a devil worshiper. Sure, Jamie had worn black, but both Elison and Cheryl had discounted it: He was just being a teenager. Now Elison recalls Jeremy telling him that some kids in school were afraid of Jamie. “I should have listened,” Elison says to himself.

They regret pressuring Jamie to stay in school and work at the same time to pay for his car. “I can just get my GED,” he had told them. “Well, it’s not the same,” Cheryl replied. “I prefer if you can graduate.” Elison had promised to pay for a trip to Florida for Jamie, Steve Abbott and anyone else they wanted to take if he graduated. “Why didn’t I let him quit?” Cheryl asks herself. He could have gotten a GED, gone to Nashville Tech and received associate degrees in electronics, his favorite subject. She and Elison know the combination of school and work were exhausting him and that he was taking MaxAlert to stay awake and Tylenol PM to sleep. “He was taking those like candy,” Cheryl remembers. Neither of his parents had stopped him. They also had dismissed it one day when Jamie did something for the first time: He got into a fight at school. Worse, Cheryl had seen it as a positive thing. “Good,” she recalls saying at the time, “he’s finally taking up for himself.”

Cheryl and Elison remember how Jamie had run into a tangle of mechanical trouble with his car and how he had gotten several tickets, which had cost him his driver’s license for a while and then caused it to be restricted not long before the shooting. They remember Jamie saying there was no use living if he could not drive.

****

“One class I had, they gave us a little workbook, and I drew a pentagram on it. A guy saw it and said, ‘If you’re going to be a true devil worshiper, carve an inverted cross on your forehead.’ And, of course, I did that, thinking I was trying to be cool. With a pocketknife, but not deep enough to leave a scar. I didn’t let my parents see it. I thought it would be cool to be a devil worshiper. I remember walking into the cafeteria, and it got quiet. Everybody was wanting to see [the cross] and asking me why I did it.

“I didn’t like all the attention. They said, ‘There’s death! There’s Satan!’ It got to the point where people were scared of me. I mean, I remember telling myself, ‘What have I done? What have I got myself into?’ I realized I had screwed up. I said, ‘I can’t do this. I ain’t going to be no devil worshiper.’

“I still didn’t want anything to do with Christianity. I wanted to be different. When people asked, I told them I was an atheist. I wanted to be my own god. I wanted to be in control of my life. That’s where I think the music played a big part, because it helped give me that attitude, [it was] an evil feeling, a feeling of importance. I thought I was capable of evil.

“In the 10th grade, that’s when I started wearing all black. I wasn’t aware of the Gothic look when I was doing it. Part of it was the anti-God attitude. But it [also] reflected how I felt. Dark. I listened to evil music and dark music, and that was part of it too.

“The 10th grade was when I went from heavy metal to death metal.” From Alice in Chains, Megadeth and Pantera to Obituary, Deicide and Napalm Death. “I think I bought a Marilyn Manson tape after that. It’s evil heavy metal, I guess you’d call it. Straight-out hating God. The one song that I listened to over and over was ‘Diary of a Madman’ by the Gravediggaz. It was about these people going off and killing these people, and it’s in kind of a courtroom setting. Have you ever seen ‘The Exorcist’? Well, [death metal groups] sound like demons. You know, agggggggrraaah! It’s like when you’re angry, you want to explode.”

In the 11th grade, he met a girl who agreed to go out with him. For more than three months, he drove to see her nearly every weekend. “She would tell me about all of her problems. I wouldn’t feel lonely when I was with her.”

He fell in love with a song that reminded him of her. The song was “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star. “It was the only soft music I listened to , and I only listened to it when I was by myself. There was something scared about it. It was the direct opposite of death metal. It would calm me. [It made me feel] at peace. It was kind of drifty. It was a break from the anger.”

Then one day he asked the girl if she would go with him to a movie. “She sounded like she wasn’t interested, [and] she basically hung up. What it was -- she’d already written me a letter, but I just hadn’t gotten it yet, saying that she had cheated on me and that I deserved somebody better. I had the opinion she was playing mind games with me the hold time. I started thinking that more and more, [and] I started getting really angry.”

Did he think about killing her?

“Yeah.”

That spring, he got into a fight at school with his cousin Billy. “I swung at him, and he jumped on my back. That’s when I could see I was in trouble. The anger didn’t hit until after he jumped on my back.” This time, he could not tuck it in. “I think I kicked a teacher that was holding me down, [and] I threatened Billy. I think I threatened to kill him.

“In the 12th grade, loneliness really set in. I was the only one wearing black. It was depressing -- worse than dealing with my dad. Flunking was a possibility.

“I also was basically a janitor [at a Delta Express truck stop]. I worked from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. I would take caffeine pills so I’d be able to work better. .357 Magnum is the name of them. I was taking 600 milligrams. That’s what I started out with, and I would take more to keep it up. I had to work Friday night, and they would schedule me to work Saturday morning, so instead of going to sleep and having to wake up real tired, I’d just stay up for the whole night and go to work in the morning. That’s when I’d take ephedrine MaxAlerts. The caffeine pills would make me hyper, but the MaxAlerts would just kind of put me in a daze. I wouldn’t be tired, but it wouldn’t make me hyper either.”

To fall asleep, he took Tylenol PMs. Uppers, then downers, then uppers, then downers. For relief, he drank a Bud Light, or some Jagermeister whenever he could get it -- or smoked a joint of marijuana, “because I was happy when I was high. When I was sober, I wasn’t happy at all.

“I was just going to school and work, going to school and work. I just didn’t see myself doing anything as far as any goals in life or nothing. Because I didn’t take the required courses, I couldn’t go to regular college. Nashville Tech was the best I could thing of. But I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I had only two real friends, and they were trying to chase girls and go get drunk and do whatever, and I just really didn’t care to. People were scared of me. I know girls were scared of me. I couldn’t relate to anybody, even my best friends. I really didn’t fit in. I didn’t see myself reaching out to any adult. I just didn’t see anybody I could trust. I didn’t see myself being any other way than I was. I didn’t see no alternative to it: I thought it would always be like that. I couldn’t see no future whatsoever. I just had a hopeless feeling. It was a tired feeling. It was kind of an empty feeling.

“I didn’t want to be home. Cars were my chance for freedom.” One broke down, he wrecked another, a third was always in the shop. His father agreed to go with him to buy a new one, but he had gotten four traffic tickets in nine months, and his license was suspended. Then it was restricted.

“I was pretty angry, [but] I tucked it in.”

The Sunday night before the shooting he backed his father’s pickup into a car at the BP station. “I didn’t know what to do, so I went inside and asked the guy in the station: ‘Should I leave my number saying to call me?’ And he said, ‘Well, he didn’t ask permission to leave his car there.’ So I guess I took it as kind of a hint to just forget it and go on.”

The next day he went to school, but a truant officer mistakenly thought he was absent and telephoned Cheryl. “It annoyed me.” But it was nothing like the threat of losing his license again because of the fender-bender. By Tuesday, the day before the shooting, he was having a panic attack. “It was a confusing feeling: just kind of a sick anger, more of a mental anger. I walked into the cafeteria, and I got my tray. I just wasn’t hungry, so I dumped the tray and walked out of the cafeteria and went to my truck. I was listening to Korn, and I was listening to [their song called] ‘Faget.’

“I remember the lyrics were, ‘To all the people that think I’m strange, that I should be out of here, locked up in a cage...to a world that never appreciated sh--; you can s--- my d--- and f------ like it.’ I identified with it: People thought I was strange and I should be out of here and locked up in a cage. It would make me angry, just from listening to it.

“I was talking to my cousin [later on] about the fender-bender, and Tina Mueller overheard, and she said, ‘So you’re the one who ran into my boyfriend’s car.’ And she said, ‘I hope you’ve got insurance,’ or something like that. I think I said, ‘You’d better have life insurance,’ or something. And I remember her saying, ‘Don’t get smart with me.’ And she gave me one of those threatening looks, and when the anger really hit.

“I almost felt like I could kill her. I think I remember threatening to kill her. I think what I said, “I’ll kill you, you know, b-i-t-c-h.”

“I remember sitting down in class and trying to take notes, but I was so shaky to where I couldn’t write straight, and from then on, it’s kind of a cloud. Angry, that’s all I could feel. I did talk to Steve Ray. I remember asking him what did he think I should do -- I mean, if I needed to go back to apologize to her. But he never said nothing. I [still had] kind of a panicked feeling. I went back to my truck, [and] I was listening to Morbid Angel, the particular song called ‘Hatework,’ [and] of course, after I listened to my music again, it was back to anger again.

“I remember talking to Steve Abbott about Tina Mueller. There was no thinking about the next day. I was worried about, you know, the rest of my life. I just went home. I took my portable Discman in the house and listened to it and went to bed. I mainly listened to one song: Gravediggaz’ ‘Diary of a Mad Man.’

“I remember going to bed early. I was so stressed out, I guess. I don’t know, I had a lot of conflict, and mostly, at that time, I guess I just had kind of a panicked feeling. I was angry, depressed, worried, all at one time. I’d get extremely angry, and in a split second I’d feel like crying, and then I would go back to being extremely angry. I was listening to the music until I went to sleep.

“I was already at a dangerous level when I got into it [with Tina]. Everything that would bother me, I would just stuff it, stuff it back. I wouldn’t deal with it. And when I got into it with Tina Mueller, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But instead of releasing it then, I just held it in again. It was too much for me. If I had just went off and, you know, beat her up, or whatever, I don’t think I’d be sitting here today.”

****

For months, Elison and Cheryl try to untangle Jamie’s life. They talk about their memories. They are torn. Their son, they realize, is terribly ill. But maybe jurors will consider this when they judge him.

CHAPTER III

The phone rings. It is Dena Ray, the mother of Stephen Ray, at whose house Jamie and Steve Abbott had stopped on the morning of the shooting. Dena sounds worried. She has heard from Jamie.

She is a teacher. But she knows a bit about what the Rouses are going through. Dist. Atty. Mike Bottoms is trying to put Stephen Ray in jail. Bottoms will say in court he finds it disgusting that there is nothing to charge Stephen with.

Dena has been visiting Jamie in the Marshall County Jail. She has gotten a letter from him and a poem. He has lost control, pulled out some of his hair and ground his jaws so hard he has chipped a tooth. His poem says:

Final breath

How strong will you be?

Most people will likely fight

You won’t be getting a struggle from me.

Final breath

How violent will you be?

Will you take me by the hand in peace?

Or take me like a raging sea?

Final breath

How fast will I die?

Will it be as slow as can be?

Or as fast as lightning in the sky?

To Cheryl, this means just one thing: Jamie is going to kill himself. He could commit suicide at any moment, and she would not know it, much less be able to stop him. It is midweek, and visiting day is not until the weekend. She cannot even call him; the jail will not allow it. Cheryl phones Shara Flacy. The public defender urges her to call the private psychiatrist who has been evaluating Jamie’s life and family history. The psychiatrist asks her to fax him the letter and poem. He calls the jail and changes Jamie’s medication. Cheryl does not leave home so she will not miss a call from Jamie--or worse, from the jail about Jamie. The call finally comes. It is Jamie.

“Hey, how are you doing?”

“Not so well.” He sniffs, catches his breath, tries not to cry.

“What’s the matter?”

“I tried to kill myself.” He had attempted to cut the veins on his arms.

“Why, Jamie?”

She tries to cry silently, because she does not want to upset her son even more. “Jamie,” she says, as calmly as she can, “you know that it wasn’t you. It wasn’t the real you that did this shooting. You know something was going on that you couldn’t control when you did this.” She is repeating herself, and she knows it. What do you say, she asks herself, when somebody--your own son--tells you that he does not want to live?

“Mama,” Jamie says, “people are dead because of me.”

“I know, son, but you can’t change that, and I know that you weren’t in your right mind when that happened. Everybody doesn’t hate you.”

He weeps into the phone. He tries to reply, but he cannot.

Part of her does not want to add to his pain, but then a stronger part of her goes ahead. She places upon him the burden of an opposing guilt. Her only hope is that it will weigh more than the one he already carries. “I love you,” she says. “Look what you’d do to me if you killed yourself.”

That is hard, even cold. She tells herself that she has to turn things around somehow.

Now he cries uncontrollably. “I can’t talk anymore.” He hangs up.

Cheryl sits on the couch, across from the little ceramic boy with the fishing pole. By the time Elison comes home, she is desperate. They have to see Jamie, or they might never see him alive again. Elison phones the jail and begs permission to visit. A jailer gives him the home number of the Marshall County sheriff, who approves an emergency visit. Ten minutes, no more.

Elison and Cheryl drive as fast as they dare to Lewisburg. They hold hands all the way to the jail. They are convinced they will find Jamie dead.

They park across the street. Beyond the lobby is a doorway under a surveillance camera. Inside are five cubicles. Each has a glass wall in front of it with a metal circle punched with tiny holes. Jamie picks a middle cubicle, and Cheryl and Elison sit opposite him. His eyes dart. They are red from crying. Jamie refuses to look at either of his parents. He has at least six red scratches on each arm from his wrists to his elbows. “He was trying to hit a vein, anything,” Cheryl tells herself. She places her right palm against the glass. “You put your hand up here,” she says. He places his palm opposite hers. “I’m going to give you my strength,” she says. “I’m going to will it to you, and you grab it.” She wants to hug him and hold him.

“Are you all right?” she asks.

“I guess so.” He can hardly speak. His voice sounds flat. It scares her.

“We love you,” she says. “We know you weren’t in your right mind when you did it. You weren’t thinking like Jamie. I don’t care what anybody says, they’ll never convince me otherwise. But we can’t change what has happened, and your dying is not going to help anything. I just don’t think I can take it if anything happens to you. If nothing else, hang in there for me.”

“Please, Jamie,” Elison implores, “don’t kill yourself. It will get better.”

Cheryl’s hand is still against the glass, and so is Jamie’s. She and Elison change the subject to ease his mind--to the weather, anything. The jailer gives them an extra five minutes.

“I love you,” Cheryl says, “and we’ll see you next time.”

“I love you,” Jamie says. He does not smile.

The jailer knocks.

“Well,” Jamie says, “I have to go.” He does not wait for the jailer. He turns and walks to the door. Cheryl says a little prayer.

They ride home in silence. Cheryl asks herself: “Here I’m spending my time trying to get him to want to live, trying to save him and everything, but what am I saving him for?” Both she and Elison lie awake most of the night expecting a call from the jail saying that Jamie is dead. She dreams that Jamie is slashing his wrists. She sees every cut.

In response to the public defender’s plans to argue insanity, the district attorney asks the court to send Jamie to the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute in Nashville for evaluation. On Sept. 6, 1996, doctors send him back to the Marshall County Jail with a three-part finding: 1) that Jamie possessed the capacity to premeditate at the time of the shooting; 2) that he nonetheless requires treatment at a secure mental health facility; and yet 3) that he does not meet the standards of judicial commitment. The first is something Jamie’s jury will have to consider, if he is put on trial. The second is obvious; Cheryl and Elison see him withdrawing more every week. The third means the state will not return him to the mental hospital in Nashville on its own.

Elison and Cheryl file a civil suit to commit him themselves. They explain it to Jamie, and he understands that he needs help. A hearing is set in Marshall County. Although it is a civil proceeding, the prosecution tells the court that it is protecting its interests in the matter and will not agree that Jamie is mentally ill. To Cheryl and Elison, this does not seem fair: All they are trying to do is get psychiatric treatment for their son, which the mental hospital itself says he needs. Carolyn Foster’s widower, Dallas, takes a seat behind Jamie in the courtroom. Jamie sees him and tries to move away. Jamie draws up into a knot, tucks his feet beneath him and places his head on his knees. He puts his hands over his face and begins to cry. His shoulders shake and then his body. It occurs to Elison that Jamie might reach for a deputy’s gun and shoot himself. In the end, the judge in Marshall County declares the matter outside his jurisdiction.

It is Oct. 11, 1996. Shara Flacy, the public defender, visits Jamie in jail. He refuses again to help her prepare for his criminal trial. She presses him hard. He begins to pace, then trembles uncontrollably. He says he will be dead before his trial starts, and he shouts until a jailer takes him away. Back in his cell, he breaks apart a Game Boy and uses a piece to cut his wrists and arms. Shortly after 9 p.m., Cheryl’s telephone rings. It is Jamie. His voice shakes, and he is crying. “How are you?” Cheryl asks. He replies: “Not so good.” He cannot talk long, only to say that he is back at the mental hospital in Nashville on an emergency basis, pending the formalities of his commitment. Although he is incoherent, he tells her enough about the Game Boy to make it clear that he has tried for a second time to kill himself.

The next day is visiting day for Jeremy at Wilder, halfway across the state. Cheryl telephones Dena Ray. Will she go to Nashville in the morning and tell Jamie that his parents will do their best to be there before the hospital locks him down for the night?

Dena pushes her GMC Jimmy to 75 mph, a steady 5 mph over the speed limit. Will they let her see him?

“For a little bit,” an attendant says.

She takes him in her arms. “Jamie, what have you done? What are you trying to do?”

Without looking up, he holds out his wrists. They are covered with cuts.

She takes a chance. She is not his parent but a friend, and sometimes she can tease him in ways that Elison and Cheryl cannot. “Jamie, that’s really stupid, you know. If you’re going to do it, do it right.”

He flicks a smile, gives a tiny shrug and shakes his head.

She wraps him in her arms again. “Jamie, I love you. You don’t need to do this. We care what happens. Your mother and daddy care. Think about Adam. You’ve got a reason to live. Jamie, we just love you.”

That is all she can say. Even to Dena, it seems hopeless. What do you offer an 18-year-old boy who has killed two people? Is love enough?

Elison and Cheryl do not make it before Jamie is locked down. Four days pass before doctors permit a visit. Elison and Cheryl stop at a vending machine and buy Jamie a Mountain Dew. They pour it into paper cups; no metal cans are allowed inside the hospital. Jamie can hardly talk, his eyes are bloodshot, he can barely keep them open; he looks stoned. It is the medication, Cheryl guesses. She hugs him. He holds her, and he will not let go. Finally, Elison hugs him. Jamie tries to lift a paper cup, but his hand shakes too much. His arms are bandaged from his wrists to his elbows. Elison and Cheryl talk to him about anything and everything they can think of, but there are growing expanses of silence. Finally they have nothing else to say.

“I couldn’t help it,” Jamie tells them. “I couldn’t stop myself.”

“Try not to ever do it again,” Cheryl implores.

“I’ll try not to.” But Jamie cannot bring himself to promise.

Cheryl cries halfway home.

Elison reaches across the front seat and places his hand over hers. Visiting each of the boys every weekend and sometimes at midweek is scheduled time together, almost like a steady date. They have long hours in the car together to talk. They hug more often and hold on to each other more. “Well, that’s just what I was thinking,” she will say. Or he will say, “Well, I was just fixing to say that.” They find themselves finishing each other’s sentences. Sometimes they even say the same thing at the same time.

For a year, they see Jamie every Sunday and Wednesday. They never know what to expect. Sometimes he cannot wait to see them. He greets them with eager hugs, speaks to them and gives them an occasional look in the eye. If he shakes or bounces his knee--always his right one--Cheryl puts her foot on his, or holds his hand, and he stops. More than half the time, however, his face is chalk-white. He stares blankly through dilated eyes. He struggles to manage, “Huh?” Cheryl has to hold his Mountain Dew and pour it between his lips. He twitches and trembles, and his knee bounces uncontrollably. He often laughs at things that are not funny, until he cannot catch his breath and his face turns red. He tries to starve himself. One psychiatrist, who sees him during his first few weeks of evaluation, says he suffers from major depression with suicidal feelings. Another doctor, who treats him during the following months, diagnoses paranoid schizophrenia. Then, shortly before a hearing to determine his competence to stand trial, the first doctor takes over again and changes the diagnosis back to major depression.

During bad times, Elison learns to sit beside him, because Jamie cannot look across at him or bear to have him look back. Elison just knows that Jamie hates him. “If I’d have been home,” he tells himself, “instead of on the road that night [before the shooting], I don’t figure Carolyn Foster would have been dead or any of them. I figure I’d be dead.”

Jamie tries again and again to kill himself--by electrocution, overdose and cutting his wrists. His parents decide that if he succeeds, they will bury him in Wayne County, where they grew up, not in Giles County, where everything has happened to cause his despair.

One evening, Cheryl and Elison stop at a gas station near the hospital before driving back down to Beech Hill for the Sunday night service. As they roll away from the service island, Elison pulls over. What, they wonder aloud, are they asking Jamie to do? Most people, Elison is sure, think that they have put Jamie in the hospital to get him off with an insanity plea--so that the court will place him back in the hospital after his trial and he will stay for two or three years and then get out. The truth is that Jamie might be better off in prison, away from the hospital and its cocktail of medications. As it is now, they cannot even communicate with him.

They finally decide to leave it in God’s hands. When they arrive at the Beech Hill Church of Christ, the congregation meets them at the door. Many times, the preacher starts the service late--not until after he and the others have held Elison and Cheryl and tried to console them. Some members know just by looking at them how Jamie is doing. After a bad visit, Elison cannot bring himself to sing.

While Jamie is in the hospital, Cheryl drives over to the Marshall County jail and picks up his belongings. The jailers have stored them in a plastic garbage bag: his clothes, a few books, some papers. She sits on the brown rug in her living room and sorts through everything, wondering what he might want her to bring up to Nashville. Without warning, she finds the drawing of a face. The left side is riveted with terror. A monster’s claw is dragging its talons, as sharp as razors, across the left cheek. At the tip of each talon is a drop of blood--dried and probably Jamie’s. The right side of the face is leached by heartbreak. A tear hangs under the right eye. An arm and a hand reach out to a cross.

------

The ghost followed him to jail. “It was scary. It stayed for 30 minutes to an hour, I guess.” It followed him to the mental hospital. “It made me uncomfortable. It was kind of something watching over me. Spying on me.”

He still heard voices. “One time in jail, it was like little children laughing--and whispering. They were having a good time on the playground. It was almost pleasant.”

When he entered the mental hospital, the voices were men. They said: “Hate to feel.” “Leafing to a tree.” “The consumer is in charge now.” “It’s a bad day n-o-n.” Once he heard a woman. She said, “We’ve got you on a string now.”

He tried telekinesis. “If I was sitting at a table, and there was a cup sitting there, and if there wasn’t a whole lot of people around, I would try it.”

He tried astral projection. “It’s where your soul or your spirit leaves your body. All you would have to do is think of a place, and you would be there, anywhere in the world.”

He struggled to understand why he had killed.

“My mind was on overdrive, looking for answers.”

Why at the school?

“I still don’t know why. I just know what caused me to get upset, to get me that messed up to where I would do something like that. But I don’t know why it was [these] people. If they had done something to me, you know, I could almost see it, but they had never done nothing.”

Could it as easily have been at the BP station?

“I knew for a fact that Tina Mueller, she always went to BP, so, I mean, if anything, I’d figure I would go there. I don’t know why I went to school.”

Because the trooper was there?

“No.”

Because the teachers were there? " “I walked by several different classrooms where there were teachers inside. I mean, if I was out to kill all the teachers, I didn’t even go in the classrooms.”

The principal?

“I didn’t even go to his office. I mean, I walked by it.”

Coach Shirey?

“I wasn’t [after him].”

Then why did he shoot at Shirey?

“I don’t know. I don’t know. There for a while I believed that I was possessed. God and Satan, [at war] for control of me.”

What if it was God’s work?

“God could have been in control. Who knows? That was another scenario.”

Did he think the devil worked through adults?

“For a while I believed that.”

Did he have to stop the teachers to save the kids?

“That was one of the possibilities, yeah. I was really mentally struggling. I thought Ms. Foster went to heaven, and Diane went to hell.” Then he switched them. Next, he thought both of them would come back to life. “It was a vain hope, I guess. It was like a prayer that I had, that they would be resurrected. It was something I wanted to believe.

“I gave up. I quit. One of the things that made me worse was the constant trying to figure out a reason. I finally just more or less accepted it. I just decided to go on.”

Was he mentally ill, at the time of the shooting or ever?

“No. I think I was pretty messed up.”

Mentally troubled?

“Yeah, I know I was. I was faithless and messed up. Too many emotions. I mean, it was too much. Too many different extremes of emotion. I was under too much stress. I had too much anger. It messed me up.”

How would he describe himself?

“Disturbed.”

Mentally disturbed?

“Yeah.”

------

With the diagnosis of depression, Jamie is declared competent to stand trial. He does not want to go through a trial. He is guilty, so what is the point? It would only put him, his parents and the victims’ families through agony. So he accepts a plea bargain that gives him two life terms plus 40 years, with the possibility of parole. The prospect leaves Cheryl in anguish: It means prison for sure, not a mental hospital. She cries harder than she has since the day of the shooting. Elison calculates that Jamie’s first chance at parole will not come until he is 70 years old. By then, both Elison and Cheryl will be dead. At the last minute, the prosecution withdraws the deal.

It is Nov. 10, 1997, nearly two years after the shooting. Cheryl cannot sleep. She listens to Elison snore and finally dozes off half an hour before the alarm rings. They have begun praying together, but on this first morning of their son’s trial, they do not know what to pray for. Not guilty by reason of insanity? Cheryl knows this would mean staying at the mental hospital. For two or three years? She worries that it would not be long enough to get well. Ten years? Maybe, but it would depend upon who was treating him. In truth, she thinks that winning his insanity defense probably would mean spending the rest of his life there. She knows Jamie would kill himself first.

Maybe the jury will weigh his age and give him a life sentence with the possibility of parole. If only he survives the trial. For several nights Cheryl has been having the same nightmare: People in the sheriff’s office try to beat Jamie to death. Elison, for his part, fears that someone will shoot Jamie at the courthouse. He and Cheryl will have to be careful themselves. They decide to park away from the building. The trial will be on Court TV, and Jamie says this means that even if he gets off, there is nowhere he can go and not be recognized. “Well, maybe we’ll move to Australia,” Cheryl suggests. They laugh. Whatever happens, she and Elison ask him to promise that he will not try during the trial to kill himself.

“I can’t,” he replies. ‘I made that promise before, and I broke it.”

They beg him.

“I’ll try not to,” he says.

In their prayers, Cheryl and Elison leave it at this: “Dear God, please give us the strength to get through this. Give Jamie the strength to get through it. Please let him be OK.”

They bring three new outfits -- pleated slacks and pullovers -- to a little room near the judge’s chambers. Jamie will wear them during the trial. If the testimony grows too hard to bear, Elison and Cheryl advise him to tune it out. As she enters the courtroom, Cheryl tells herself, “I’m not going to let what they say get to me.” She puts on what she comes to call her court face. She clenches her teeth, erases her frown, straightens her smile, narrows her eyes and sits quietly. Jamie sits in the well of the court, head down, back bent, shoulders bowed -- a prenatal curl. Carol Yancey’s account of her suffering is overwhelming. Cheryl weeps. She bites her lip and closes her eyes. It is hard knowing that this is her son. She looks at Jamie. Tears are running down his face. He tries to wipe them on his sleeve. She finds a tissue in her purse, reaches across and hands it to someone at the defense table to give to him. At the next break, the defense is admonished, and one of Jamie’s lawyers tells her to give the tissue to a deputy sheriff from now on. One student after another tells of the horror, the fear and the bloodshed. Cheryl cries again.

The worst are eyewitness accounts of what happened to Diane Collins: the noise of Jamie’s rifle, the look on Diane’s face, the blood gushing out of her neck with every beat of her heart. Cheryl closes her eyes, grits her teeth even tighter and breathes deeply. In her mind, she sees Diane falling, holding a hand out for help, stumbling and collapsing into Coach Shirey’s arms. Cheryl dissolves into disconsolate weeping. She glances at Jamie. He is motionless, expressionless, caught up in his own secluded world. At the end of the day’s proceedings, he is still in his huddle. “Jamie,” Cheryl says. “Jamie!” Has he gone so far away that he cannot return? Cheryl touches him. He gives a start, then sees her. Her fright eases.

The psychiatrist who diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia and the psychiatric social worker who spent the most time with Jamie at the mental hospital testify to symptoms that shock Elison and Cheryl. They know Jamie is ill, but they hear new details of his delusions about an evil spirit, hallucinations about voices, the odd and repetitive movement of his right leg, his withdrawn demeanor, his difficulty making eye contact, his feelings of being threatened by an accumulation of things. Jamie has been disturbed since he was a little boy, and they did not know it.

Q. Yesterday, I think that we admitted into evidence this master treatment plan, revised diagnosis, January 22 of 97. Have you ever seen that document before?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. All right. And what does it reflect?

A. Schizophrenia, paranoid type.

The jury, thinks Cheryl, will see the truth, that he really was mentally ill. But then they hear the psychiatrist who discarded paranoid schizophrenia and rediagnosed Jamie with major depression.

Q. Doctor, let me ask you if, in the course of your treatment and observation of Jamie Rouse, if you at any time saw symptoms of paranoia?

A. No.

Q. Or schizophrenia?

A. No.

They hear a psychologist who tested Jamie at the hospital.

Q. Did the test results show that Jamie Rouse had any severe mental disease or defect?

A. To me, they did not.

Elison and Cheryl do not believe it. As hard as it is to admit that their son is a paranoid schizophrenic and has been for years, they have seen the signs themselves, every time they have gone to the mental hospital for the past year. They know the jury has none of their firsthand experience. Worse, they hear Mike Bottoms, the district attorney, tell the jurors that Jamie is faking. As evidence, he puts a deputy on the stand who says he has heard Jamie laugh at a joke. As if laughter invalidates a medical diagnosis, Cheryl says to herself. More than anything, she wants to shout at Bottoms across the courtroom: “You’re not the one that’s with him when he’s shaking so bad he can’t even get something to drink to his mouth without spilling it.” She and Elison hear an assistant prosecutor tell the jury that Jamie showed no remorse after the bloodshed when he was interrogated by Michael Chapman, the sheriff’s chief investigator. They hear Chapman say he never saw Jamie cry. Again, Cheryl’s anger flashes. “He is either blind, or he wasn’t listening.” Elison remembers clearly this exchange during the interrogation:

Michael Chapman: Is there anything you want to say about it [the shooting]?

Jamie: I’m sorry.

Cheryl knows Jamie has killed twice and that a lot of people think anyone who has done such a thing does not deserve anything -- not even fairness. “A lot of these little tricks and things like that,” she tells herself, “they don’t have to do this. They are doing it just to be mean.”

The worst is still to come. Elison takes the stand. Shara Flacy, the public defender, has warned that she will spare him nothing. She bores into what he has done to contribute to his son’s plight. Now, in front of everyone, he confesses: He has been a drunk. He has spent night after night in night in bars, sometimes all night. He had used cocaine every day for years -- and other drugs as well. He lost jobs because he drank. Once, while he was drunk, he almost drowned Jeremy. At times, his alcohol and drug habit nearly bankrupted the family. He and Cheryl fought over money and his bar life. He had broken walls with his fists.

Q. Was Jamie in the house when this took place?

A. Yes. I can still see him standing there crying. Screaming.

Q. Did you ever talk to Jamie about how he was doing in school?

A. No, ma’am.

Q. Did you ever ask if he needed any help with any homework?

A. No.

Q. Did you ever ask how his day was going, what’s going on in his life?

A. Only when there was a problem and I was called.

Q. Was there any specific turning point?

A. I don’t know. (Elison is in tears.) I can’t remember, right off hand.

Q. Did you ever get a letter from your wife?

A. Oh. Yes, I still carry it with me.

Q. Is it in your wallet right now.?

A. Yes, ma’am. And no, I do not want to pass it to the jury. I don’t want anybody to read it. I will, I guess, if I have to. But she took the kids and left, and left me a letter.

Q. Has your son ever shown -- ever expressed any remorse to you about what had happened out at Richland School?

A. Yes, ma’am. He’s cried, and he’s cried, and he’s cried. He said he wished he could do something to bring them back. (Elison is weeping uncontrollably.) Nothing he can do. There is nothing any of us can do.

Q. Does your son have a conscience?

A. Of course, he does.

Q. (softly) Thank you, sir.

Elison flees the courtroom into the arms of his sisters, waiting in the hall. They hold him. He sobs loudly and shakes and weeps and weeps.

Cheryl tells Shara Flacy and the jury that Jamie is her good boy. He is the one who took Adam camping in the front yard and lay with him in the grass and pointed out the constellations. He is the one who loaned his parents money when they ran low.

Q. The time when your son had the gun on your son had the gun on your other son, was that in character or out of character for Jamie?

A. It was out of character.

Q. Did you ever think about or discuss with anyone about perhaps getting him mental health counseling or getting some sort of psychological test done?

A. No, I didn’t.

Q. Were you the parent that was called about the fight at school?

A. Yes, I was.

Q. And was this assault out of character for Jamie?

A. Yes, it was. It was the first fight he had ever been in at school.

Q. Did you ever think about, maybe, my son needed counseling?

A. I didn’t think about it.

Q. You didn’t spend enough time with your son or were you so -- what? -- you just had so many other problems in your life that you didn’t see this mark [the inverted cross] that other people have talked about in your son’s forehead?

A. Well, I guess he covered it up around me. I never saw it. I never noticed it. I don’t know.

Cheryl is crushed, first by embarrassment, then by guilt. She tries to dry her eyes, with a Kleenex, then another-but the tears come too fast. Jamie’s head is down. She cannot tell if he is crying.

The trial lasts nine days. The jury deliberates four hours and 27 minutes, and on Nov. 20, 1997, it finds Jamie guilty of two murders in the first degree for killing Carolyn Foster and Diane Collins and two attempted murders in the first degree for wounding Carol Yancey and shooting at Ron Shirey. To recommend punishment, the jury deliberates three hours and 27 minutes and comes back with two sentences of life in prison without parole for the deaths.

At a sentencing hearing one month later, Judge Jim Hamilton considers: 1) what sentences to impose for the attempted murders, 2) whether to run the two life sentences consecutively or concurrently, and 3) what fine, if any, to impose. For Jamie, these are only details. He will be in prison until he dies.

Jamie writes a statement in longhand. The public defender reads it aloud in the courtroom: ‘1I am sorry for what I did. I ask for the victims’ and their families’ forgiveness. I cannot give any true explanation for what I did, for I am not truly sure myself. Signed, Jamie Rouse.

Judge Hamilton decrees that Jamie’s life sentences will run consecutively. He imposes additional sentences of 25 years each for the attempted murders, to run consecutively as well. Altogether, he orders Jamie to prison for two lifetimes plus 50 years without possibility parole.

*****

“I didn’t want to put my family through a trial, plus I didn’t want to put the victims’ families through that, [or] myself. I knew what I did was wrong. I felt that I deserved to be locked up for the rest of my life.

“When I realized how angry [the victims’ families] were, I started experiencing pain for them. They were very angry, and they had a right to be. At one hearing, I don’t remember which one it was, where Mr. Foster got up and testified, that’s when I started praying, really praying for them.

‘You get the D. A. saying I was a coldblooded killer, and the defense saying I was a crazy nut. I was just disturbed. I would concentrate on just removing my attention. Not thinking. Not hearing. The best way to describe it is kind of a headache -- a pressure feeling, a physical pressure in my head.

“I knew I was going to be found guilty. There ain’t no way that they would ever let me go, so I was expecting it. I really didn’t have any hope. It helped ease my guilt. And plus, I remember saying to myself, ‘The victims’ [families], they got what they wanted, too, so they wouldn’t haunt me anymore.’ Because they were pretty much at every hearing, every chance they got, to make me feel guilty. Maybe they’d leave me alone now.

“I still felt guilt, but I mean, not to the point of [being] suicidal. Now it’s beyond that. Especially after the sentencing. That was the end of it. Before then, the whole time I was telling myself, ‘I forgive you, Jamie,’ but I wouldn’t really mean it. I guess I was kind of believing that if you tell a lie long enough, you’ll believe it. But I didn’t mean it. On the way back from sentencing, I meant it. When I said, ‘Jamie, I forgive you,’ I meant it, and I felt it. You could feel it. Relief. The joy. I don’t know. It was a physical sensation too -- when something makes you real happy, and you get that physical sensation. It kind of started in my heart and went up into my head, almost like a rush of blood or something. Whoosh! It felt good.

“I was at the lowest point I think a human can get. But now, when I came back from sentencing, that’s when I truly forgave myself.”

*****

Six more months go by. It is spring 1998. Jeremy is released. He and Adam and their parents sit on purple plastic chairs at one of 30 square tables in the visiting room at a state prison that squats in the hills just outside of Clifton, Tenn. The south Central Correctional Center is a medium-security penitentiary filled with 1,500 men incarcerated in a collection of two-story cell-blocks, exercise yards, walkways and support buildings, all painted industrial gray. The visiting room is filling with convicts. Jamie walks through a door at the far end, with the same short strides and hunched-over gait that took him into Richland High School. He is in blue denims stenciled with “Tennessee Department of Corrections.” He is 19, and has gained a few pounds.

Cheryl hugs him. Elison knows better than to get in her way; she would run over him. Then Elison. Then Adam, who is tickled at what is happening and cannot stand still. Finally, Jeremy. Wilder has been good for him. He discovered learning, took a temper management class and gained the trust of the staff. He stands taller than Jamie and is huskier. There is silence around the table. “You’ve gotten big,” Jamie says. “Then, for the first time in their lives, the two boys hug. They grapple, trying to get it right.

Jamie lives in a building named Enterprise, after the star ship. It is for prisoners with psychological problems. He takes classes, rebuilds computers, gets paid---45 cents an hour, but it means he can buy things at the commissary. He makes gifts for the family: for Elison, a model of a dog box, like the one he had on the back of his pickup when Jamie was a child; for Cheryl, a small soap carving of a green frog. Frogs are her favorite creatures.

Elison and Cheryl visit Jamie every weekend. Sometimes Adam goes along. Sometimes Jeremy visits on his own. In between, Jamie calls home at least twice a week. Elison knows that tragedies can drive couples apart. He also knows, all too well, the history of his relationship with Cheryl. They had been married for nearly 20 years when the shooting happened. Many of those were bad years. He knows, as well, how the shooting left each of them isolated in his and her own private grief. Even before Jeremy’s release, they had begun looking forward to their long drives to west Tennessee to see him at Wilder. Elison remembers leaving Adam at home every now and then just so he and Cheryl could be alone together.

One day, Cheryl tells him, “You’re the husband and the father I always knew you could be.”

“You’ve never told me that,” he replies.

“Well,” she says, surprising even herself, “I guess I took it for granted.”

Every night, Elison and Cheryl pray for their sons. “I don’t mind saying that if it hadn’t been for our belief in God, we wouldn’t have got through this,” Cheryl says. “And I don’t think Jamie would have gotten through this. Every night I ask God to watch over him, to keep him safe. I think he’s learning that he can take whatever comes his way, and I am so proud of him. He’ll make it. He will. And a lot of people don’t understand that, you know, given the fact that Jamie’s locked up for the rest of his life, and Jeremy was locked up for two years. But I don’t mind saying that I am proud of my sons right now. I am proud. I am not proud of what Jamie did that one day, but there’s been so much more that he’s done besides that I’m proud of. It makes me proud, very proud. I do miss him. Even though I see him, I miss having him home. But I don’t worry about him as much as I did a year ago, because he’s improved that much. God knew how I felt. He knew that I’d love to have Jamie home with me, but I also knew that it was not a reasonable prayer to pray, for him to get off. So the only thing that I could honestly ask for was the strength to get through it, and the strength to accept the outcome and make it better. And so far, that’s what has happened; we’ve got that strength. We got it. We’ve gotten our prayers answered.”

On Feb. 4, 1999, Elison, Cheryl, Jeremy and Adam move to Wayne County. They miss the hollow, its sycamores, its dogwoods. But they do not miss many of its memories. In Wayne County, Adam can go back to school. He is nearly 11, and he needs to have classmates like any other kid. He tests straight into the sixth grade, where he should be. Jeremy goes to work just across the state line in Florence, Ala. He lives only 20 minutes away. Elison gets a new job. He hauls sod in southern Tennessee and northern Alabama. He is home every night and on weekends. Cheryl, up to 102 pounds and her hair almost entirely gray, gives up her part-time job with Gabriel. “I thought I never would be able to be happy again or, you know, really laugh or anything,” she says. “Even though I always have this kind of sorrow, I can be happy.”

The sorrow strikes her especially with every school shooting since Jamie’s -- Moses Lake, Pearl West, Paducah, Jonesboro, particularly Columbine. “I didn’t think Columbine had upset me much,” Elison says, “until we went to church, and the men would take turns leading the songs, but I sat there and cried the whole time.” After Columbine, Adam’s school holds a meeting for parents to suggest what can be done to prevent a shooting there. Dist. Atty. Mike Bottoms attends. Cheryl would like to offer her help. The family will not decide without Adam. On one hand, they do not want to see another school shooting, and it might help it they told everyone including young people, about the consequences. On the other hand, some people probably have forgotten the name Rouse, and bringing it up might make it difficult for him.

Adam says he wants his mother to go. She tells Bottoms that she would be happy to work with him. He seems to Cheryl to be a bit surprised. He accepts graciously.

Bottoms, reelected after campaigning with ads picturing him holding Jamie’s rifle, declines to be interviewed for this story. So do Dallas Foster, Carol Yancey and the Collins family. “I’m trying to put that stuff behind [me],” Dallas Foster says. You can’t imagine what depression it gets one into. At this time, I don’t want to say anything about it. I don’t want to deal with it. It’s extremely distressing.” Carol Yancey has neither gone back to teaching nor been able to return to any other kind of work. She apologizes for declining an interview but says she wants to put the shooting behind her. The Collins family refuses to talk about it. They have not spoken to the Rouses since the shooting.

Shara Flacy loses her bid for reelection and no longer practices law. At her family farm near the Alabama border, she too declines to be interviewed, except to say that Jamie’s case was difficult. “You have 40 witnesses, a smoking gun. What do you do?” Was defending Jamie Rouse the reason she lost her job? “Who’s to know what the voters think?”

Judge Robert E. Lee Jr., who ruled that Jamie should be tried as an adult and found Jeremy guilty of soliciting murder, has retired from the bench. He calls Jeremy’s case an unfortunate situation. “So much publicity, and the wounds at school had not started to heal, [and] he bragged he would finish what his brother had started -- not the thing to say in public. If you had a member of your family killed, and before the ink on the documents was dry, the little brother says he will finish the job, [then] you would react the same way. That’s what happened, I believed.”

Michael Chapman is still the chief investigator for the Giles County sheriff’s office. He acknowledges that he deceived the Rouses on the morning of the shooting when he accused Jeremy of riding to school with Jamie and entering the north hall right behind him, laughing and cutting up. Chapman says he did have a witness to Jeremy’s behavior, but the witness had said only that Jeremy was outside his classroom, had gone back inside and gotten angry. So was his accusation against Jeremy a ruse? “To an extent,” Chapman says.

He says he deceived the Rouses during Jamie’s interrogation when he said it would help if he knew why Jamie had done what he did. “I had no concern as to whether [it helped Jamie] or not. I was being deceptive, and I can do that. And I’m obliged to do that, because my interest was the victims that were lying on the floor there in the school and the successful prosecution of the case. If it takes being nice , but being deceptive at the same time, then so be it. I knew what I had to do, and that was the means that I thought might affect that [result].”

Jamie Rouse has earned a GED. He placed among the top 10 of other prisoners who took the exam. He has taken classes in anger management and substance abuse control. He lives in a single-person cell, a reward for good behavior. He spends as much time as he can talking to other prisoners about Christ. It is his own personal ministry.

He still hears voices. They speak rarely, but they have followed him to prison.

****

“I’ve been reprogrammed, I guess is what it is. The way my childhood was and stuff in high school -- it programmed me to think, to act in certain ways, and when that was all broken down, the way I built it [back] up -- God is the one that let me build it up around his words. The Bible calls it [being] a new creature, and that’s what I am. The old lifestyle, it’s still there. I mean, it will never go away as long as I am in this body, but it’s like a vague memory. It’s like an alcoholic. Somebody who has been sober for a long time, they’ve got a new life, but the old life, it’ still there. But -- I mean, I’m a new creature now.

“Although I’m locked up, probably for life, I’m still happier now than when I was free.”

****

Jamie’s case is on appeal. So is Steve Abbott’s. The Rouses think Steve might win a new trial, but they hold little hope for Jamie. They do not think about it much.

They put God and family ahead of everything. “There’s two things we don’t every say now,” Elison says. “‘My child wouldn’t do that,’ or ‘Things can’t get any worse.”’

*

Researched by ANNA M. VIRTUE


Advertisement