The story of one of America's first school shooters, a brilliant loner, and what he has become in the 23 years since. It's also a story of what we. have become.
Illustrations by Times artist
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001
With 1,600 students, Everett was the biggest high school in Lansing and a microcosm of the diversity that made the Michigan capital more cosmopolitan than the typical midsized Midwestern city. The offspring of state employees and college professors shared classes with the children of the South, many of them black, whose families moved north after World War II for jobs in the big auto factories and stamping plants.
Everett High had one major claim to fame -- it produced Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Just one year earlier, in 1977, Johnson had led the Everett Vikings to the state basketball championship.
As the final bell rang that Wednesday afternoon, three sophomores -- Kevin Jones, Bill Draher and Roger Needham -- left their American literature class and joined the flood of students eddying toward the second-floor lockers.
Jones and Draher had been close friends since junior high. They lived near each other, in an older part of town with big trees and small, steep-roofed houses designed to shed the prodigious amounts of snow that buried Lansing each winter. Both boys came from blue-collar backgrounds -- Jones' father was a pipe fitter, and Draher's parents worked for a company that hauled new cars for Oldsmobile.
A straight-A student, Draher was fascinated by the marine world and talked of becoming an oceanographer. He was well-liked and never caused trouble. At 15, red-haired and skinny, there was still a bit of the nerdy kid about him.
At 16, Jones was older, bigger, tougher. He collected guns and sometimes hung out with a rough, leather-jacket crowd. He was smart, but he often cut classes. He and Draher played a lot of chess together.
Neither knew Roger Needham well. No one really did.
After a brief time on the track team, Needham had not participated in any extracurricular activities. Other kids walked home in groups; Needham went by himself.
In Bruce Schulert's science class, he sat alone in the back row, always dressed the same: jeans, olive drab jacket, wire-rimmed glasses. He fidgeted a lot, not enough to cause trouble, just enough to be a distraction.
A lawyer's son, Needham struck Schulert as a classic underachiever: exceptionally bright but bored with school. He easily could have handled Schulert's physics class but instead settled for a less demanding course in physical science.
While Needham's teachers found him a disappointment academically, classmates found him an out-and-out weirdo. There were rumors around campus that he talked about building atomic weapons, burning down houses and throwing bombs in school.
Needham seemed to have it in for Draher, picking on him whenever he got the chance. In turn, Draher and Jones would make fun of the pin Needham always wore.
It was a Nazi pin.
As the three boys stood near Draher's locker that day, Jones razzed Needham, as he had razzed him many times before.
"Only a punk would wear something like that," Jones said, gesturing at the Nazi pin.
"What are you going to do about it?" Needham replied.
Jones had hoped he might goad Needham into a fight. Instead, Needham reached into his pocket, as if to pull something out. Jones figured it was a knife.
"You don't scare me," he said. "You can bring it out any time."
Needham withdrew his hand. He was holding what looked like a German Luger. Jones couldn't believe it. A gun?
The bullet grazed Jones' scalp, so close he could feel the gunpowder sting his face. He ducked as Needham fired again, this time at Draher. Hit in the jaw, Draher went down.
Jones backed against the locker, then ran when Needham walked over to Draher, aimed down at his head and fired a third time.
"He's got a gun! He'll kill you!" Jones screamed, shoving his way through the crowded hallway.
Students laughed. They thought he was kidding. So did the faculty. This was 1978 -- Saturday Night Fever, disco mania and all that -- and who had ever heard of a kid shooting a real gun in school?
Then Sam Davis, a social studies teacher, saw the body on the floor and a dazed-looking Needham walking in his direction. "I'm tired of being pushed around," Davis heard him say. "Now I'm even."
Needham approached another teacher, bilingual specialist Aldo Martinez, and handed him the gun, a knife and a box of ammunition.
"Here," Needham said. "I give up."
It was over. Except for the pandemonium.
Fleeing students nearly knocked Martinez down. Members of the Vikings football team blocked doors and closed off the second floor. Tom Wilson, a Lansing police officer who had been speaking to an American history class, ran upstairs and radioed for assistance.
Jones, bleeding from his scalp wound, made it to the first-floor administrative offices, where he jumped over the counter and yelled for help. School nurse Carolyn Cheadle raced upstairs.
She and paramedics spent nearly 30 minutes trying to revive Draher. Blood had soaked his red hair and spread across the floor.
Her son Jeff, an Everett student, noticed something else.
Feathers. Lots of feathers.
A bullet had torn through Draher's down jacket. Every time anyone moved, little rushes of air would send the feathers floating up and down, around and around.
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