Friday, August 19, 2011

The Story Behind the Teen Killer

I remember watching the news on April 20, 1999 and the days and weeks that followed, disturbed and shell-shocked at what had happened in Littleton, Colorado. 

I stared at my television, absolutely distraught, watching helicopters flying overhead and the terrorized faces of the students as they wandered outside seeking and offering comfort. Do you remember that? Do you remember how you felt?

Do you remember that cold, heavy feeling that fell from your chest, into your gut, weighing you down like you were carrying the universe on your shoulders?

I do.
I felt sick.

And that’s where the idea of my latest novel, Reunion, came to life. I started to think about the survivors and what their lives would be like ten or twenty years later. I wondered what the long-term consequences would be. I wondered if they’d be able to cope, to live normal lives, to have normal relationships. I often thought about the immediate break, for lack of a better word, that they must have experienced as their lives, young and forward looking, changed in an instant—literally in a flash.

Those wonderings haunted me for years, reminding me again and again, after the other shootings that followed, including those in my home states of Indiana and Ohio. Columbine wasn’t the first and there have been over a hundred since then, in the United States alone. Still, I don’t think we’ve grown numb to these atrocities and I hope we never do.

Fast forward to 2007.
The Virginia Tech shooting reminded me of that dark feeling once again, nurturing my questions, feeding my muse. Then in 2009, my questions finally began to take root. David Ray, the killer and troubled teen in Reunion started to develop in my mind. From there, the story began to unfold and the other characters took on their own personalities.

My wonderings started to stir the character stew boiling inside my head. Who were David’s victims? Why did he do it? What was his state of mind? Was he bullied? Who bullied him? What were the students doing the morning of the shooting? What were they thinking the day their lives turned upside down? How did their futures deviate from that moment forward? 

Jared Cano, Teen arrested for suspected bomb threat.
Just this week, Tampa police arrested expelled student, Jared Cano, for threatening to detonate an explosive devise at Freedom High School. Can you imagine the horrific nightmare that would've played out if Jared had succeeded?

Thank God he didn't!
Thank God he's locked up and facing many, many years in prison.

Jared is unfathomably similar to David Ray, the young killer in Reunion, and I can't imagine the damage someone like David could do in real life.

After learning about Jared's plot, I've returned to my wonderings and I'm convinced more than ever that  the topic of school shootings, bullying and school violence in general must be addressed not only in our daily lives but in literature as well.

But creating a realistic and powerful novel that addresses so many issues isn't easy.

I researched PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and the public lives of some of the survivors so I could understand, as best I could, how they've suffered. I filled my black book with notes and names and timelines and general goals for each chapter, but then I let the twists and turns happen in their own way as the characters lived out the tale according to their design and the complexities that are inherent with PTSD.

Reunion is not only a novel about the dark, supernatural side of humanity; it’s a story about finding hope in horrific circumstances that appear hopeless. It's a story about retracing your life when it veers off course. Reunion is my second born as far as novels go. I would practically die for her. She’s tender. She’s dark. She’s horrific. She's romantic. She’s full of hope and beauty, and frightening at the same time.

And isn't that what life is like? Thank God it's not always tragic and that some nightmares never come to fruition.

If you read Reunion and recover from the triumphantly chilling experience, I hope you walk away with more than a good read. I didn't write it simply to entertain. I wrote Reunion to create a better understanding of school violence and bullying and to offer hope—hope that this life is not all there is, and to leave you grateful for the precious few moments we are given.

Thanks for reading.
Why not get your copy of Reunion at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or anywhere books are sold online? 
- Jeff Bennington


  1. Isn't it amazing how we can remember exactly what was happening around us those days that these kind of events took place! The mind holds onto these images and statuses all on it own because of the tragedy and heartbreak involved. I can't even begin to imagine how those directly related can cope. Great post Jeff.

  2. Incredible post, and such an important and complex topic that all of us need to address. It's terrifying, but ignoring the signs and symptoms can only lead to tragedy. Bullying, violence, and angst are too often considered rites of passage for teens, and overlooked. It's great that your book is bringing attention to these issues and offering hope.

  3. Great to get an insight into the thought process behind the novel. It's a fascinating subject. I think it's all to easy to demonise the individual rather than ask what drove them to take the action. Whether it's bullying, abuse, culture of violence will not excuse the actions but if we don't strive to understand how can we avoid repetition. Thanks for the post. I look forward to reading the book

  4. I agree and the biggest thing you can do is talk with your kids are they feeling isolated or bullied? Know your kids and address what you consider bullying before they are teens so they know what is unacceptable.Talk to the administrators if your child is being bullied and make sure it isn't swept under the rug.Don't think just because their teens they don't need you that's when they need you most to listen and offer advice when they need or want it.

  5. Wow. This is an ambitious idea for a story. I'm sure it will be a powerful one.

  6. Thank you LJ. I cant tell you how many tears I shed writing it. I truly felt for the victims as my characters lived out a representative life.

    Sheilagh, I'm amazed at how much bullying has exploded over the years. Probably due to all kinds of factors like breakdown of the family, internet, tv, who knows.

    Thanks Matt. It was quite daunting. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Laurel
    I dealt with a bully in the 9th grade. Never messed with me again.
    Thank you for stopping by. You WIN! I really appreciate your comments.

  8. Hello Jeff:

    Love your blog, and your story is intriguing to say the least. I think you may be as good as I am. (haha). Lots of love, Jeff and great success to you. Maybe you'll take a look at my blog and follow me since I am following yours.

    Love Cheyenne

  9. Hi Cheyenne,
    Just saw this. I'll make sure I'm following. : )


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