Wednesday, December 15, 2010

With no warning. Wednesday, December 15, 2010.

"I'm as puzzled as everyone else. There were no clues. There were no red flags." – Teacher Keith Schroeder

Monday, November 29, started out like any average day at Marinette High School. And 15-year-old sophomore Sam Hengel was like any average kid – except more so.

“Better than average,” like all youth in the mythical Lake Wobegon, Sam was one of those kids that were too good to be true. He was good-looking, in an innocent sort of way. He was a Boy Scout, working hard toward a variety of badges. He enjoyed doing community service in the small community of Marinette, Wisconsin, and was known to treat adults respectfully.

Sam’s grades were excellent, and he struck everybody – his friends, family and teachers – as a happy, laid-back kid. He loved outdoor sports like hunting and canoeing, and enjoyed time with his family. He was popular and had no record of disciplinary actions at school. Sam had everything going for him.

But Sam had something else. He had a duffel bag with 9mm and .22 caliber handguns, as well as more than 200 rounds of ammunition. And at the beginning of sixth hour, as the class started to watch the movie “Hercules,” he took two dozen students and a teacher hostage. Their ordeal ended six hours later, when Sam shot himself to death.

Six hours is a very long time. And Sam had a captive audience. He could have made some sort of demand – money, for instance. He could have railed about school pressures, or bullying, or trouble at home.

But as the minutes and hours ticked away that day, Sam did none of that. His best friend, Nick Nelezen, says he was thinking, “’Sam, what’s going through your mind? This is not you.’” Sophomore Nathan Miller says that Sam did not appear to be angry during the ordeal; in fact, the hostages said, Sam barely said a word the whole time.

Marinette is a close-knit, quiet, homogeneous community where the crime rate is low and not much seems to happen. The city’s police department poured all their resources into finding out why the tragedy happened, and came up with nil. "There is no common thread coming out (of interviews) regarding motive," Marinette Police Chief Jeff Skorik said. "There is nothing unusual that is coming out (of the investigation) about this boy or his family."

Hundreds of Sam’s classmates attended his funeral, including most of the hostages. “We're not angry at him,” said one of the hostages, Zach Rastall. “We feel worse for his family and we want to support his family because they're going through a much more difficult time than we are.”

I don’t believe that people “just snap” for no reason. The fact that a motive was not offered and has not been discovered doesn’t mean there isn’t one. What secret did Sam take to the grave with him? We may never know – and that’s a pity in so many ways.

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