As all of America wails and collectively cries out in grief over the horrendous shootings at Sandy Point Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and as we desperately seek wispy solutions to a psychotic puzzle with seemingly no pieces, allow me to share a very true story about a teacher and one of her students, and what really happened one time at the second largest high school in nearby Massachusetts.
The day that Amylee Bowman walked into Rachel Jupin’s English class in New Bedford, the teacher sensed the girl was struggling and that was okay. Mrs. Jupin had endured some struggles, too. Not until she was in her 40s did Rachel go to night school to get a degree and, while she relished teaching, she unknowingly had developed quite a heart for different kids like Amylee.
Soon the two began to talk, at first about general things and school stuff, but as the child warmed, the talks got more personal and more frequent. The student talked about being angry and confused and, when Amylee’s home life would get so bad she wanted to scream, she actually would go to Mrs. Jupin’s house for dinner but, far more, to talk to an adult who the teenager sensed really cared about her.
Amylee even asked Mrs. Jupin if she could attend church with her and, when the teacher happily agreed, the 17-year-old jumped at the chance. But then came one particular Sunday when Amylee showed up in church with her entire head shaved. Rachel was startled but stayed calm. "I knew she was trying to tell me something when she did that," she would tell reporters later, "but I also knew I wasn't going to be able to force anything out of her. I just had to listen carefully and hope she would eventually tell me."
Rachel nurtured the friendship with the girl, giving her a Guardian Angel pin several weeks later and telling her to “remember there are angels who watch over all of us.” Amylee was soon glued to Mrs. Jupin’s side, coming be her room often and always after school, and she wore the pin every day.
"It was obvious that she was dying to get something out, and I could tell it was something important," said the teacher and new confidante, "but it was as if she didn't know how to say it, and it was killing her. I just had to pay really close attention."
Several days before Thanksgiving – this was in 2001 -- Amylee Bowman sat down with her favorite teacher and finally told her of an intricate, precise and well-planned Columbine-type massacre that would soon take place at their school -- New Bedford High School. Amylee realized that if the others involved found out, they would kill her but the thought of something bad happening to her beloved Mrs. Jupin in a killing spree was just too overwhelming.
Amylee told more details when she actually ate Thanksgiving dinner at Mrs. Jupin’s house and the teacher immediately reported all she could to school authorities and police officials. The plan was for New Bedford High School, the second-largest in Massachusetts, to be attacked the Monday after the holiday weekend with rifles, pistols and bombs in an attempt to kill as many “thugs, preppies and jocks” as possible.
Amylee Bowman was an integral part of the clandestine team that would carefully imitate Columbine’s famed “Tenchcoat Mafia,” and was among those who had vowed to sneak guns into the school, mount a concerted and well-timed attack, and then – in the end – all gather “in victory” on the school roof to smoke marijuana, take other drugs and drop Acid … all before killing one another.
"It was the most horrifying thing I ever heard," the teacher said later. "Of all the things I could have expected her to say, this wasn't one of them. I know she believed that those kids might kill her for telling me … and she also realized that I would need to report this, so she knew she could get into a lot of trouble, too. But she came forward anyway."
The students who were involved in the deadly plan were quickly arrested. Amylee Bowman told police investigators the only reason she ever told was to save Mrs. Jupin, the only adult who ever listened and the only adult who ever really loved her.
The next year Mrs. Jupin was named as New Bedford’s Woman of the Year after the aborted siege. “I love being with the kids all day; seeing their faces light up when they get something,” she said when she accepted her award, but she also said something else. “The real story should be the importance of teachers and about kids having someone to listen to them. Some of these kids,” she said, “have no one who cares.”
Perhaps that may well be a piece of today’s puzzle.