Evan Ramsey, in the yard at Spring Creek Correctional Center, four years after he shot up his high school. Picture: Rex Rystedt
Evan Ramsey, in the yard at Spring Creek Correctional Center, four years after he shot up his high school. Picture: Rex Rystedt

Inside the mind of a school shooter

IT DIDN'T go quite as he'd imagined it.

In Evan Ramsey's mind, he was taking a gun to shoot up his school so people would leave him alone. Brandishing the weapon, he'd make them all listen.

Instead, it ended with two people dead, two more injured, and Ramsey locked up until he's at least 82 years old.

Before he shot up his high school in the tiny Alaskan town of Bethel - population 5000 - on January 19, 1997, he'd never fired a gun in his life.

He'd even had to be shown how to load it.

Ramsey's case is highlighted in 60 Minutes tonight as Tom Steinfort investigates school shooters and American gun laws in the wake of the Florida school shooting in which 17 were killed earlier this year.

The massacre has prompted fresh calls and new resolve for America's gun laws to change.

Asked by Steinfort did he want the school pupils he hated dead, Ramsey replies: "Yes. I would've killed them if I had the chance."

‘I would have killed them if I’d had the chance,’ Ramsey tells 60 Minutes' Tom Steinfort. Picture: Channel 9/60 Minutes
‘I would have killed them if I’d had the chance,’ Ramsey tells 60 Minutes' Tom Steinfort. Picture: Channel 9/60 Minutes

But, as Ramsey revealed in the wake of the killings, as an angry 16-year-old, he had no real concept one or two shots could kill someone. That wasn't how it happened in video games.

In far-reaching interview in 2017, he relieved the Alaska's first, and only school shooting and the day he irrevocably, horrifically changed so many lives. Including his own.

BROKEN TEEN

The day of the shootings, Ramsey got up, brushed his teeth, got ready for the day.

Living with longtime legal guardian Sue Hare was a rare dose of stability for the teen, who had bounced from broken home to foster homes, as a litany of abuse piled up against him and his siblings throughout his life.

He was just five when his father was jailed after a police standoff.

His mother was an alcoholic - "a binge drinker" who would "turn the music up loud ... just looking to have a good time," Ramsey said in 2017.

Placed in foster care aged seven, he lived in 11 different homes.

At one, his younger brother, William, said their foster brothers would pay other children to beat Evan for their amusement. They'd wake the brothers by pinching their faces.

One foster father's favourite punishment was to make Ramsay "hold my hands out in front of me and he would whip my hands with a bungee cord".

‘I decided I needed to do something to stand up for myself and unfortunately I chose to … commit my crime,’ said Ramsey, 20 years after the murders. Picture: Loren Holmes/Alaska Dispatch News
‘I decided I needed to do something to stand up for myself and unfortunately I chose to … commit my crime,’ said Ramsey, 20 years after the murders. Picture: Loren Holmes/Alaska Dispatch News

"Sue was not like one of my previous foster homes," Ramsey says. "She was nice."

But school was different.

"I've been spit on for being half-native. And I've been beat up for being half white," he told the Anchorage Daily Newsin 2017.

"At first it was superficial things. People make fun of me for what I look like, how I dress."

He tried to listen to Sue and report the bullying to authorities - "which was do the mature adult thing".

But "it didn't seem to work". When it worsened he stopped reporting it.

"I decided I needed to do something to stand up for myself and unfortunately I chose to … commit my crime," he said in 2017.

Breaking point, he tells 60 Minutes, took 18 months.

"To this day, I still don't know how I was supposed to ignore someone spitting on me or putting their hands on me," he says.

"So I decided that I had enough of that ... I decided that I was gonna take the shotgun to school at that moment."

'I WAS LOADING THE BULLETS WRONG'

It took him a fortnight to make his plan.

The .12 gauge shotgun belonged to Hare's late husband. Ramsey got it from a gun rack at the house. He didn't even know how to use it.

After confiding in two 14-year-old boys (they were ultimately charged with being accessories) he learned how to load it.

"Turns out that, I was going to load the bullets the wrong way," he says.

When he shoved the gun in his pants that deadly morning, he'd never actually fired one in his life.

‘I felt guilty about cheating people out of the justice that they might feel,’ says Ramsey of ceasing appealing his sentence. Picture: Loren Holmes/Alaska Dispatch
‘I felt guilty about cheating people out of the justice that they might feel,’ says Ramsey of ceasing appealing his sentence. Picture: Loren Holmes/Alaska Dispatch

 

"I got dressed, put the shotgun in my pants," he said. "Walked down the street to a bus stop. Had casual conversation with people at the bus stop. Got onto the bus. Went to school. Took the shotgun out of my pants. Went around the corner. Shot into the crowd."

Asked by 60 Minutes does he remember firing that first shot, Ramsay replies: "Yes. After firing into the crowd, I fired ... two to three shots into the ceiling and I have no idea why.

"My initial reason for firing into a crowd is ... there was a boy, a couple of boys actually that ... I hated. I disliked them so much I actually hated them".

How many people did he want to kill? Steinfort asks.

"I'd rather not say," Ramsey replies. "What is the significance in knowing how many people I was interested in ... murdering?"

In 15 chaotic minutes, Ramsey killed school principal Ron Edwards and fellow student Josh Palacios. Two other students were wounded.

"Unfortunately ... Josh was shot and he died," Ramsey tells Steinfort.

"And I had nothing against Josh."

LOSING CONTROL

Ramsey didn't account for the panic which would grip students when the shooting began.

"The initial plan, what I actually expected to happen, is I would bring the shotgun to school and fire into a crowd of people. I would pace back and forth in the lobby, ranting and raving and yelling and screaming and telling people how I felt," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

He remembers "everything being real chaotic ... I didn't understand why nobody was sitting there like I expected".

"At one point I remember Josh asked me why I shot him. I never looked at him. I actually ignored him," he said.

He listened briefly to the appeals of a teacher he liked - art teacher Reyne Athanas - to give her the gun.

"The only reason she didn't get the shotgun is there was another teacher behind her who was approaching and I didn't know what he was doing. what he was up to … so I pointed the shotgun ... and ended up firing ... and it turned out to be the principal (Ramsey's second victim)."

Face-to-face with a school shooter: Ramsey shakes hands with Steinfort. Picture: Channel 9
Face-to-face with a school shooter: Ramsey shakes hands with Steinfort. Picture: Channel 9

After an exchange of gunfire with police he "decided I didn't want to die" and threw the shotgun down.

"I was sixteen," he says.

It was an age at which "I didn't really understand how they could have died because a lot of what I'd based what would happen was off of video games. In video games you can shoot people lots of time before they end up dying."

NO EXCUSES

Ramsey has known for a long time video games are a long, long way from reality.

He's 37 now, resigned to a life behind bars.

"I've accepted my life for what it is," he said on the 20th anniversary of his crime.

"What I wanted from committing my crime was to get people to leave me alone and in one sense that has actually happened. People do leave me alone."

He's not making excuses. He's dropped legal appeals. He accepts his fate.

The reality of that fate is a 198-year sentence, reduced from the original 210 years.

With "good behaviour" he'll be eligible for discretionary parole when he's 82.

"Do you think there is a parole board that would actually let someone out after serving 66 years in prison? I don't believe so," he says.

He stopped appealing his sentence because "I felt guilty about cheating people out of the justice that they might feel. Some people might have found closure in the judgement I received."

"It wasn't until my mother passed away that I actually got it - I understand - because I realised that the loss I felt for my mother dying. the Palacios family and the Edwards family … they feel similar," he says.

"I'm sorry. I sincerely hope that they've been able to find closure."

60 Minutes airs on Sunday night at 7pm.



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