Shortly before 8 a.m. on Dec. 4, 1986, 14-year-old Kristofor Hans pulls a gun from his bag in the auditorium of Fergus High School in Lewistown, Mont. The pistol is a Smith and Wesson .44 revolver with a six-inch-long barrel that he swiped from his stepdad's pickup. As he shows it to his classmate Shannon Foucher, he lays out the plan, which he would later tell investigators was inspired by a now out-of-print novel called Rage. At the beginning of seventh period, Kris will knock on the door of Foucher's typing class. She will meet him at his locker and she will become his hostage. Then they'll go to room 213, the second-floor foreign language room, where Kris will kill his French teacher, Mrs. Simonfy.
Kristofor Hans was not the first person to bring a loaded weapon to school, but that day in December came at a time when Americans were waking up to the idea of school as a potentially dangerous place. Through the 1990s and 2000s, school shootings occasionally made the news, and mass shootings at Columbine in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2006 made national headlines and invigorated divisive national debates about firearms regulations and mental health. But no single incident has changed the way school administrators think about security as much as the December 2012 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary.
"People couldn't believe it happened, but it happened," Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Alex Apostle says of the murders in Newtown, Conn. Less than a week after the incident, Apostle announced plans to form a task force to recommend ways to make Missoula's schools safer. "We have our regular drills, we have our safety plans, we have our building plans, but when something like [Sandy Hook] happens, you're digging deep, if you have any sense about you, and asking, 'Are we truly prepared for something like this?'"
Three decades ago, no one was asking these questions in Lewistown. On Dec. 4, 1986, Fergus High Assistant Principal John Moffatt was checking on substitute teachers when he heard what sounded like "something in the heating system had exploded" on the second floor. He ran up the stairs, rounded a corner and found Kristofor Hans standing at the opposite end of the hallway, a revolver in his hand. The first bullet hit Moffatt in the stomach. The second whizzed by his head.
Today, Moffatt works as a substitute teacher for MCPS, and aside from Congress passing new firearms legislation"common sense" changes, Moffatt says, like universal background check—he's not sure how to prepare for the unimaginable. "I think it would be unlikely that we would create a facility [in Missoula] that is more technologically prepared to deal with something like this than Sandy Hook was," he says of the school that serves one of the nation's wealthiest counties, and that was credited earlier in 2012 by a private security firm as "being proactive on school safety."
"And in the end," Moffatt continues, "a determined person was able to get past all that."
When Kristofor Hans was little, his father, Michael Hans, beat him with a belt. Sometimes with the strap, sometimes with the buckle. During Kris' 1988 sentencing hearing, his mother, Terri Hardy, recalled her ex-husband's harsh parenting: "No matter how well [Kris] dressed, no matter how well he combed his hair, that hair was never really combed quite well enough..." she said. "Kris would be severely reprimanded for it."
Around ages 5 and 6, Kris stopped crying. His father would hit him, and if a sob welled inside of him, Kris would swallow it down. One day, Hardy remembered, Kris was receiving punishment for "something or other," and Hans accidentally yanked Kris' hair. Kris immediately began to cry before choking back the tears. "That became the new form of punishment. Sometimes Kris would still get the belt, but more than likely he'd get his hair pulled...," Hardy said. "And he would just force himself not to cry."
In May 1979, Hans and Hardy divorced. Hardy received custody of the couple's two daughters, Janice and Kim, and Kris went to live with his father. At that time, Hans was studying to become a school psychologist and took Kris to live in Deer Lodge and Great Falls so he could complete internships. Eventually, the father and son settled in Casper, Wyo. Hardy remarried later in 1979, and settled with her new family in Lewistown.
Kris spent the summer of 1981 with his mother in Montana, and remained there for the school year. He returned to Casper in the summer of 1982, but again was enrolled in a Lewistown school that fall. Kris was happy thereto that point, it was the longest he had attended one school—and, in June 1983, Hardy requested Hans allow their son to spend a third year of school in Montana. It's what Kris wanted. When Hans refused, she filed a court petition requesting that their custody decree be modified. In 1984, the petition was denied because the court felt "[Michael Hans' home] provides considerably more structure and challenge to a very talented and capable young man."
In spring 1986, while living with his father, Kris got on a bicycle and rode to Kaycee, Wyo., about 67 miles north of Casper. For Hardy, it was the last straw. She went to Casper to ask Hans what it would take to let Kris move back to Montana. Hans outlined contingencies regarding schoolwork, grades and participation in sports. Hardy agreed, and when she returned a short time later to move Kris out, Hans handed her a contract, which she refused to sign. Once back in Montana, Hans sent her a second draft. She refused again because she felt the "contingencies were unreasonable."
In summer 1986, Hardy and Kris received a third and final draft. Among other things, it stipulated that Kris participate in sports and for his freshman fall enroll in classes not typically taken by first-year students: geometry, world history and French II. The contract also required Kris maintain a 3.3 GPA (3 As, 2 Bs). Breach of any of the contract's clauses would result in Kris moving back to Casper.
"I had my very serious concerns about it. ... I was under the definite impression, and so was Kris, that if some agreement did not get signed, Kris was going back to Wyoming," Hardy said during her testimony. "I knew down there Kris was unhappy."
In August 1986, as Kris began his first semester at Fergus High, he and his mother signed the contract.
In the early 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control began the School-Associated Violent Death Study. In partnership with the Departments of Education and Justice, the study set out to provide data to help "inform efforts to prevent fatal school violence." From the outset, the findings were troubling, if, at that time, lacking in context. During the '92-'93 academic year, the study found that 57 people, including 34 children between 5-18 years old, were murdered on school grounds. During the following year, 48 people were killed. Between fall 1992 and spring 1999, the study would later report 358 people were victims of homicide at school.
During the early years of the study, the enigma of school violence began to move toward the front of public consciousness as well. In 1992, ABC's "Primetime Live" produced a story called "Deadly Lessons" about violence—namely gun-related—in American schools. Anchor Diane Sawyer introduced the piece with an anecdote about a 6-year-old threatening his teacher with a gun. "It's a timely example of what educators say is the spreading contingent of guns and violence in American schools," she says. "Most of us have already thought it was an inner city problem confined to a few gangs and a handful of schools. But it's not."
Still, for most educators, the threat of a person brandishing a loaded weapon in their own school was an abstraction. Melanie Charlson taught math in Missoula public schools in the mid-1990s. She remembers hearing about school shootings in the news, even in Montana, but the threat didn't seem imminent. Like most school districts at the time, MCPS protocol didn't account for a gunman walking down the hallway. "Things like lockdown drills were not a part of my early career. There wasn't a lot of training for that," she says while sitting behind her desk at the Missoula Education Association, where she became president in 2011. "It was so far removed from what we knew. We had that shooting in Lewistown, but even that seemed like an isolated incident at the time."
It wasn't until 1999, she says, that things began to change.
Minutes after 11 a.m. on April 20, 1999, Eric Harris, 17, and Dylan Klebold, 16, planted two 20-pound propane bombs in the cafeteria at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. The bombs were supposed to detonate at the beginning of the lunch period, killing most of the people in the school. The boys would wait in the parking lot armed with two sawed-off shotguns, a semi-automatic pistol and a Hi-Point carbine rifle to pick off the fleeing survivors.
When the bombs didn't explode, Harris and Klebold walked to the west entrance of the school and began shooting people.
The school's resource officer was eating lunch in his car at a nearby park when a custodian called him on the radio. He got back to the school and exchanged several shots with the boys before they disappeared through the school doors.
Nearly 50 minutes later, a police SWAT team entered the school, just before Harris and Klebold killed themselves. In the end, 12 students and one teacher were murdered. Twenty-four others were injured.
The Columbine massacre resulted in more casualties than any school shooting in United States history to that point. The incident incited national debates about gun control, bullying in schools, violent video games and the dangers of young people having unfettered access to the Internet (Harris and Klebold blogged on America Online about making bombs and threatening teachers prior to the attack). The incident again turned the attention of the federal government to the threat of school shootings. In June 1999, the Secret Service launched the Safe School Initiative, which analyzed the actions of 41 perpetrators of "targeted school violence." The findings were opaque. Among the conclusions were that "incidents of targeted school violence at school rarely were sudden, impulsive acts," and that "there is no accurate or useful 'profile' of students who engaged in targeted school violence." The Secret Service did report, however, that all of the perpetrators were male.
In fall 1986, Kristofor Hans was obsessed with the novel Rage by Stephen King. He carried the book around the halls of Fergus High and read it during class. When he stayed home sick from school, he asked that his sister get it from his locker and bring it home to him. It would require a leap of suspect deduction to say he killed Henrietta Smith, the substitute teacher assigned to his seventh period French II class, because of the book, though Kris would later admit the story played a role in his planning.
Rage is told from the perspective of Charlie Decker, a high school senior consumed with his own estrangement from the people around him. Through his eyes, the reader sees a world full of dilettantes and power mongers, and a father who could not be bothered to understand his son.
When Decker is expelled from school, he leaves the principal's office, lights his locker on fire and fatally shoots his algebra teacher, Mrs. Underwood, in front of the class. He then holds the class hostage for an hours-long standoff with police. In the end, he releases his classmates and is shot three times by the first officer to enter the room. He survives, though, and is sentenced, by reason of insanity, to a term at the state hospital.
Besides Kristofor Hans, at least four other students were known to have read Rage before bringing a gun to school. The incidents prompted King, in 1997, to request the publisher cancel future pressings of the book. "Now out of print, and a good thing," King said of the story.
What makes Rage more than a horror story of fetishized violence—what likely made it the subject of fantasy for at least five troubled kids—is not the acts of senseless violence, but rather what happens in the classroom after Decker pushes aside Mrs. Underwood's body so he can sit in her chair. Decker's captive classmates begin to sympathize with him, to talk to him and listen to him in ways he'd never experienced. As police rally outside the classroom window, with sirens and megaphones blaring, Decker and his classmates bond, irreverent to the trauma and to the authorities surrounding them. Eventually, Ted Jones, the most popular dude in the school who remained uninspired by Decker, attempts to escape. The boys and girls of the class stop him, though, and beat him with school supplies until he lies catatonic on the classroom floor.
To what depth Charlie Decker's fictional experience informed Kris is impossible to say. What is certain is that during fall 1986, Kris became increasingly preoccupied with violence. He enjoyed fantasy novels and playing Dungeons and Dragons. The only time he got in trouble at school was after he and some friends removed the foam filling from practice dummies on the football field so they could make armor for play sword fighting. His interests were innocuous, even typical for a 14-year-old, but the fantasies in Kris' mind were turning darker. He thought about hurting people.
Another certainty was that Kris was going to fail French II. Earlier in the semester, as his grades slipped, his mother met with LaVonne Simonfy, Kris' French teacher. His mother explained her family's complicated custody agreement, and showed Simonfy a copy of her ex-husband's contract.
For a time, Kris did some extra credit work and on one occasion stayed after school to make up assignments, but it didn't last. On Dec. 3, Simonfy asked Kris to stay after school a second time. He didn't.
The next day, the Fergus Golden Eagles hosted the Montana State A Girls Basketball Tournament. The school was more crowded than usual, with visiting students, parents and coaches. Periods were shortened and many classes were taught by substitute teachers, including seventh period French II (Simonfy was in charge of halftime performances in the gym). Henrietta Smith lived in the nearby town of Moore with her husband and their two young children. She was a regular substitute at Fergus High, and on that day planned on showing Simonfy's French class a slideshow from her travels in Europe.
Sometime after the period began, as Smith told the class about her visit to Piccadilly Circus, a knock came at the door. When Smith opened the door, Kris removed his hands from his pockets, leveled the gun to her face and pulled the trigger.
Kris would later say that everything went quiet then. He ran down the hall, forgetting about his hostage, Shannon Foucher. He turned the corner into the art hallway and saw John Moffatt, the assistant principal, who had just run up the stairs. They ran toward one another and just before they met, Kris fired a shot that hit Moffatt in the gut and spun him around and dropped him to his knees. Kris kept running toward the stairwell but, before entering it, he turned and faced Moffatt. He spread his legs and aimed the gun with both hands at Moffatt, who was unable to stand up. He pulled the trigger and ran.
Kris left the school through the back door as students and staff ran toward the lobby. Some people were crying, some screaming, others asking what happened.
Kris ran home. He hid his stepdad's gun, which had two rounds remaining (Kris fired a fourth random shot on his way out of the school). Kris' mother arrived shortly before the police surrounded her home. After 20 minutes or so, she walked with Kris out the front door. Officers flanked the house. At the gate to the front yard, the assistant chief of the Lewistown Police Department told Kris to take his hands out of his pockets. Then he told the boy that he was under arrest.
Melanie Charlson remembers doing her first lockdown drill sometime after Columbine. "Everybody was feeling like school is a very safe place, and it statistically is, even with the number of shootings that have occurred," she says. But Columbine shook people. "People were afraid," she says.
MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle remembers similar steps were taken in Washington state, where he was the assistant superintendent in Tacoma. "Basically, we would drill down just like every school district in America was doing," he says. "Quite honestly, we didn't have the resources to do the things we were trying to do. I think things have changed since then."
They have and they haven't.
According to the CDC, the number of violent deaths at elementary and secondary schools between 1992 and 2010 remained fairly constant: there's never been more than 63 ('06-'07) or fewer than 33 ('09-'10). And another study, issued by the group Mayors Against Illegal guns, reports that between December 2012 and February 2014, 28 people were killed in school shootings, nominally the lowest number in decades. What has changed is the paradigm of responding to the crises.
Columbine spurred the first major alteration. Nearly all of the victims that day were killed as officers surrounded the school and waited for a SWAT team to be assembled and dispatched, which protocol dictated. Today, officers don't wait. Current procedure says that when an officer responds to an armed intruder call, that officer enters the building upon arrival and first and foremost attempts to stop the assailant.
The second catalyst for change came more than a decade later, in 2012, when a 20-year-old named Adam Lanza, with a history of social and behavioral disorders, returned to his former elementary school with a Bushmaster rifle and two semi-automatic pistols he had taken from his mother's gun collection. Just after 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 14, Lanza shot through the locked front doors of Sandy Hook Elementary in Fairfield County, Conn. A group of staff members were meeting in an office near the front door when they heard the shots. The school's principal told her colleagues to "stay put," and ran into the hall with the school psychologist while someone in the office called 911. The principal and the psychologist were the first people killed at Sandy Hook.
Four minutes later, an officer arrived at the school just in time to hear the final gunshot that Lanza inflicted on himself. Eight minutes after being dispatched, officers entered Sandy Hook, but the shooting was finished.
Like Columbine before it, the incident prompted pundits, school administrators and parents to ask an impossible question: Are schools safe enough?
In Apostle's mind, having to ask was an answer in itself. "Truly, there's only one thing that matters to me. I want to make sure that our students and our staff are safe and secure, and that we have action plans to react to whatever may happen," he says. "My nightmare is to not be prepared."
Days after the shooting at Sandy Hook, Apostle announced his intention to form the Community Task Force on Safety and Security. The effort would consist of three committees: facilities safety and design, public safety and mental health services. (Facilities and public safety have since consolidated to one committee).
It didn't take long for the committees to effect change. Last year, based on committee recommendations, MCPS's phone system was updated to allow 911 dispatchers to more easily trace emergency calls, and the district is enforcing a more stringent identification process for school staff and visitors.
The most radical addition, though, comes in the form of active resistance training for MCPS staff. The training is based on a course designed by the Safariland Training Group, a private company that specializes in tactical and patrol training for law enforcement. The mission of the course is to give trainees the tools to make life-saving decisions in critical situations. The course lasts for eight hours, and covers everything from how to improvise a weapon with a fire extinguisher to how to barricade a door with a rope and a 2x4 to how to treat a sucking chest wound.
So far, two sessions have been offered at Missoula schools, and the district hopes to offer at least one every month. But there are hurdles. A maximum of 50 people can be trained at a time, and trainings require a completely empty school building, which means they are only offered on weekends, outside of regular working hours. Right now, certified staff are compensated with credit hours toward their requisite professional development, while other staff are compensated with flexible work schedules. There is also the issue of staff attrition, new hirings and the fact that, in order for the training to be truly meaningful, staff will likely need to be trained and re-trained.
Apostle acknowledges the hurdles, but he feels they are worth jumping over. "I think that if we weren't trying to train our teachers, that would be worse ... We're trying the very best we can to prepare them for any situation that may come about. It's not 100-percent guaranteed to protect every student or to protect themselves," he says. "But right now we haven't done anything in terms of that issue. We're trying."
In May 1988, Kristofor Hans pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide, attempted deliberate homicide and two counts of felony assault. The issue at the center of his sentencing hearing was to what degree Kris could be held accountable for his actions. The state sought to prove Kris acted knowingly, while the defense looked to show that there existed mitigating mental health problems, which were exacerbated by the demands of his father.
On the second day of the June sentencing hearing, the state called John Van Hassel, a clinical psychologist at Montana State Hospital, who had evaluated Kris. He diagnosed Kris with schizotypal personality disorder as well as conduct disorder, which Van Hassel told the court was characterized by "behavior that's discrepant with community standards."
"Kris expressed to us a philosophy that he had been born in the wrong time," he said. "That he did not fit into society."
As to the role the contingencies of his father's contract may have played in Kris' actions, Van Hassel was unconvinced. "I think [Kris] would say he felt they were unreasonable. That doesn't necessarily mean, in an objective sense, that they were unreasonable ...," he said. "[W]e can say almost everything that occurred in Kris' life up to the shooting was a precipitant."
After Van Hassel, the state called Dean Smith, a psychiatrist at Montana State Hospital. He concurred with Van Hassel on his diagnosis of Kris and the role of the contract. Smith also added, however, that the circumstances from which the contract was born took a toll on Kris. "I also am concerned whenever someone, a young person, is placed in the position of either having to decide who his custodial parent will be or have to earn the right to have a certain parent as his custodial parent," he said.
In the end, of the 17 witnesses who testified at the hearing—including Henrietta Smith's husband, John Moffatt and Moffatt's wife, Maggie—only two were called by the defense. Eventually, Kris would be handed two 100-year sentences, and he would be designated a dangerous offender when it came to parole eligibility. No one in Fergus County had ever been sentenced to so many years in incarceration.
At the end of the second day of the hearing, the defense called the final two witnesses to the stand. The first was Ned Tranel, a psychologist at the Children's Clinic in Billings. He'd interviewed Kris, and traveled to Casper, Wyo., to interview Kris' father. He agreed with the other doctors that Kris suffered from mental and behavioral disorders. He had a different view, however, on the ramifications of the contract:
"My understanding of the data and the messages I received from all the people that I talked to, indicated to me the contract symbolized a circumstance which, while in itself not unrealistic and unattainable or unachievable by Kris, to him said that there is one more point at which love from his parents is conditional. You may remain with your mother if. Or you may remain with your father if. Depriving a child of unconditional love is tantamount to withholding one of the essential ingredients of sanity, of mental health. No one can survive sanely without unconditional love. And to tell a child—and that's one of the things this document said was, 'we love you if you behave according to a certain way, according to certain standards'. If I say to my children, 'I love you if,' that's devastating to their mental health."
Terri Hardy was the final witness to take the stand. Her testimony reiterated the terms of her ex-husband's contract and the abuse her son endured as a small boy. "[Kris] told me just yesterday," she testified, "he's sorry about the first time he ever cried."
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a man wearing a padded suit marched down a hallway in Lewis and Clark Elementary School. He carried a rubber replica of a shotgun. Behind him, another man held a .38 revolver loaded with blanks. When the second man pulled the trigger, the sound seemed to push against the walls of the school and smoke rose to the ceiling.
In one classroom, a group of 12 MCPS teachers and staff scrambled at the sound of the first shot. One of them tried to close the outward opening door, but didn't want to expose herself in the hallway, which she had been trained to avoid. Instead, several other women turned a table on its end, and pushed it against the door frame. They moved a filing cabinet behind the upturned table, and a woman lay with her feet propped against it. Another woman lay behind her, and another behind her, until the chain of women reached the opposite side of the room, like a doorstop made of bodies.
When an air horn announced the end of the scenario, the man in the padded suit popped his head around the table, and complimented the women on their tactics.
This is what active resistance training looks like, and it is not a joke. One of the course's chief purposes is to prepare participants for the physiological effect of a real encounter with an armed intruder. Stress inoculation is essential to the course, says Missoula County Sheriff's Capt. Brad Giffin, who's been volunteering his time to lead active resistance trainings. "It's one thing to talk about it," he says, "but it's a whole other thing to put them under that stress and see how they perform."
To drive home the point, trainees are offered to check their heart rate before a simulation, and again immediately following its completion. One of the women who acted as a link in the human doorstop reported that her rate was between 60 and 75 beats per minute before shots were fired. After, it was 200.
Giffin admits the training may seem unorthodox. "It's kind of taboo, to tell you the truth. It's dangerous training," he says. "People get hurt doing it." But he also believes ardently in the cause. "Statistically speaking, in an active shooter situation someone dies every 15 seconds. The whole situation is over in three to four minutes. Municipal police response time is five to seven minutes. County sheriff might get there in seven to 20 minutes. The math just isn't on our side," he says. "My opinion is, you focus on the real first responders who actually have to deal with things before police get there."
There were 24 trainees at the Lewis and Clark course, including a school therapist, a culinary arts teacher, a football coach and a receptionist. Gene Oliver, a guidance counselor, found the training to be "very valuable." He says he is generally a pacifist, and though his legs shook while he was taught to disarm a gunman by hitting him over the head with the barrel of his own weapon, Oliver says the experience was eye-opening. "I realized that we do all these drills like the lockdown, but then that's it. It really hit me that we're passive and we've never really talked about that."
The active resistance trainings have been the most reported-upon and publicized change so far implemented by the public safety task force. And while it has been universally well-received by the people who have taken the class, it is a decidedly reactionary measure. What about prevention?
Carol Ewen works for MCPS as the Response to Intervention Specialist, and has been a leader in pushing the task force's mental health committee forward. The most significant change her committee hopes to enforce involves fully integrating all MCPS schools with the Montana Behavioral Initiative, a broad-reaching system that works to identify at-risk children and expeditiously provide them with support. The system is already in place in some elementary schools, but she hopes it won't be long before the program is ubiquitous.
She believes the recommendations of the safety and security committee, including the hiring of a security officer, are valid, but she wonders if society places too much emphasis on reaction rather than prevention. "I think it's important. I don't think we should take things like active resistance training away," she says. "But I think we as a community need to recognize that we need to invest as much in training teachers to recognize mental illness and prevent problems before they happen."
She says there are lots of kids in the Missoula school system with challenging lives, and some of them act out in a class and test the patience of the teacher. "To think about what that child woke up to in the morning, and it's just a miracle they showed up to school at all," she says. "I think sometimes we do forget about that."
Oliver echoes the sentiment. He appreciated his resistance training, but he says it's also important to remember that as a society "we're woefully lacking in support and staffing for high-needs, at-risk, aggressive kids."
He's also willing to imagine the implications of training teachers to take down armed bad guys—to wonder what steps might be taken next.
Just the other week, he says, he was walking to his office with a student who struggled with emotional trauma. They saw a school resource officer standing in the hallway. Most children are titillated by the sight of badges and uniforms and gadget belts, he says, but this student panicked and hid behind Oliver. The student asked him what the guy was doing? Oliver said he was a policeman, a good guy, but the student continued to hide and began hyperventilating.
"Bad things have happened in [that student's] life, and that was a huge trigger ...," he says. "I think about those kinds of things."
At the end of the 1992 "Primetime Live" story, Diane Sawyer interviews Kristofor Hans at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. Kris is 20, with sandy blond hair swept to one side. He wears big glasses. He speaks slowly and quietly about his crime. "It was like a dream," he says. "It was like none of it was really happening."
Sawyer then asks Kris if he wants to say anything to his victims and their families. He begins to cry and removes his glasses. "I want to tell them I'm sorry," he says. Sawyer then tells him John Moffatt is in the next room, and that he came because "he wants you to be all right."
When Moffatt comes through the door, Kris breaks down.
The conversation between the two men was not aired. Moffatt says they spent about 30 minutes together and that Kris was inconsolable. "Probably two- thirds of that time, I ended up just holding him," he says. "[Kris] was sobbing."
After Moffatt recovered from the gunshot wound and four subsequent surgeries, he became the principal at Garfield Elementary in Lewistown, a position he held until retiring in 2010.
Today, he and his wife, Maggie, live in Missoula, and Moffatt occasionally substitutes for MCPS. He applauds the district's efforts to address difficult issues, and he says he's "for anything that schools do to make the environment safer for kids." But, in his mind, any district can only achieve so much as long as gun laws remain the same. He points out that homicide is now the second leading cause of death for school-age Americans, and while school shootings are "horrific tragedies," homicides on school grounds account for less than 2 percent of the lives lost.
"Some people think it always happens somewhere else, others think it's going to happen anytime," he says of school shootings, "but we need to look at the big picture. There are relatively few communities in the United States that have dealt with a school shooting ... But there are very few communities that have not lost a child to gun violence."
More than 25 years after he shot Moffatt and Smith, Kristofor Hans also has thoughts about school safety and what could have curbed the trajectory of his young life. In February 2013, before he was transferred from Montana State Prison to a treatment-based facility in Warm Springs, a reporter from the Montana Television Network interviewed Kris. He wore a black shirt and a black ball cap and glasses, though markedly smaller than those he wore for the ABC interview. Kris is middle-aged, and when he talks about what he did and why he did it, he speaks with the assuredness of a man who has had time to reckon his mistakes.
"I had read this story called Rage by Stephen King, and I don't know if you've heard but that's been associated with other school shootings. I got the idea that if I carried out this act that the same things would happen to me that happened to the character in the story," he says, "which is that in the end he got approval from his peers."
Kris goes on to say that he wishes there had been a way to stop him. "But I think the only way to stop me would've been something earlier, something in the prevention phase," he says.
Kris declined to be interviewed for this story. He is currently in the Warm Springs Addiction Treatment and Change program, or WATCh, and is scheduled to enter a Missoula pre-release facility in June. If he serves a year at the pre-release facility without incident, he can be set free.
In 1988, at Kris' initial sentencing hearing, the first person called to the stand was Shannon Foucher, the classmate who agreed to be his hostage. She admitted to the court that Kris had told her about the plan in science class a few days before the shooting. Kris had told her to read Chapter 9 of Rage.
When asked why she didn't stop him, why she didn't tell anyone, Foucher told the court, "I didn't really know. I just—you know, I didn't really believe it."
Chapter 9 is a quarter page long, and opens with Mrs. Underwood, the algebra teacher, standing at the blackboard, addressing her class. Just before she looks up and sees Charlie Decker, just before he shoots and kills her, she gives her last lesson.
"... So you understand that when we increase the number of variables,'" she says, "the axioms themselves never change..."
Then she looks to the back of the room and asks Decker if he has a hall pass.