When a Student Threatens Murder

A couple of years ago, I taught technical writing at a community college in Minnesota. What I’m going to tell you about is a rare event for any college instructor. So, of course it happened to me and now I’ll always wonder what happened to that boy.

He leaned in on the second night of class after not showing up for the first. He got too close and told me too much, about his older brother who was mentally challenged and then died while they were both just boys. Andy mentioned living in a half-way house for a while. He mentioned drugs and something about the law. His vague, random, rambling, uninvited words glued my eyes to his, needing him to know I was listening. I cared.

The next day I called the school to get Andy some help, counseling I hoped, but he didn’t show up in class the following week. I worried a bit, but frankly, I wanted to forget.

On the following class meeting, I told him I wanted to get him help. “Let’s just walk downstairs and see if there’s somebody you can talk to.” There wasn’t. It was a night class at a community college. The walk afforded Andy the opportunity to reveal to me that he thought he might be the Messiah, who was definitely coming he said, even if it wasn’t him. Andy then told me he was going to have to murder “those people,” referring to some of his neighbors who weren’t taking him seriously. He told me he didn’t want to kill them but he had to; it was karma.

“Yes,” I said, “That may be true. They might even deserve it as you say, but I’m concerned about you. You’re going to school and improving your life. If you do what you’re saying, you’re going to be living in a cell for the rest of your life.”

“Do you think I’m insane?” Andy asked.

“I think we’re all a little insane at times,” I said.

“Well,” Andy said, “I heard there’s a fine line between insanity and genius.”

“Exactly,” I said. “If we get you some help, maybe you can get to the genius side.”

I didn’t know how to help him that night on our 15-minute break, other than to beg him not to kill anyone, at least for a couple days. I promised him someone would call him tomorrow.

Just to be safe, I slipped a note to one of my students who I knew had firearm and military experience, asking him to walk me to my car after class.

         The following day I called the school counselor. She asked me, “Does this student know if he mentions murder to me I’m obligated to call the police?” It seemed an odd outlook, but Andy said the word to me three times. I encouraged the counselor to try to get Andy to come in and talk to her.

The next thing I knew, the police called me, searching for Andy. I wondered if it was good or bad that they couldn’t find him. He seemed so lost and the image of police swarming him could freak him out even further.

Then, I received a call from the dean of the college. “I understand you have a religious zealot in your class?” What had I brought down on this boy? The dean reminded me of other scenarios like Virginia Tech where security and police hadn’t intervened, the way they would at Andy’s next accounting class. I hadn’t gone too far in calling the counselor. I didn’t stretch the truth. The kid was talking murder. Hopefully, I helped divert disaster. But, could somebody please help the boy?


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