Killing Time at Shadow Mountain High

When bad things happen to good neighbors

Chris Colombi is out on bond; at least one of his pals from the party is still attending Shadow Mountain. The knifers in the PV Mall incident come from a northwest Phoenix neighborhood that is a blue-collar mirror image of the northeast Phoenix neighborhood of their victims: None is in jail; one is staying with family and going to school in Seattle, and one was never charged.

The mothers of the victims, understandably outraged that their sons' assailants could stay out of jail, have joined together in gathering signatures on petitions asking for legislation that will require that children 15 or older be tried as adults if they commit murder, rape or armed robbery.

Everyone is scared. Witnesses to Ryan's shooting have received death threats. Misguided teenage friends of the dead youths have vowed revenge in special violence-counseling sessions that the schoolarranged.

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"You've got a loaded gun there at the high school," says Loretta Winn, "with many kids who are very angry. They see no consequences."

The kids claim to be afraid of Chris Colombi, who is regularly spotted near the school although he does not attend it.

"I don't want to give Chris Colombi all this power," Loretta Winn continues. "I think kids, with all theirrumors and their passion and their compassion, they're putting all thesemind-things together. And I want to stop that, because we all have to go on withour lives. Nothing will be the same for us--but don't give him more than he deserves."

Joan Colombi, Chris' mother, refused to talk at length about her son's case on the advice of her attorney, but she, too, worries that vengeance will catch up to Chris.

"That's always possible in this day and age," she says. "I have been in fear for my son."

Chris' attorney, however, speaks more strongly.
"I am bothered and concerned that these kids from the high school are being done a disservice, probably by the school and maybe by their parents," he says. "The first incident [Ryan's death] never should have happened. And the second incident [the mall stabbings]--how could you ever accept that? Instead of the school making heroes of all these kids and instead of pointing at outsiders, they should be sitting the kids down and saying, 'You should adjust how you act.'"

Although his defense has tried to portray Chris Colombi as a poor, disadvantaged youth from a broken home, he lives with his mother in a pricey home near the mountain preserve. He committed his crime while driving his mother's late-model Jeep Cherokee. And when the police came to his door looking for him, his mother paged him on his beeper.

He'd been in trouble before.
Christopher Colombi is a darkly handsome, seemingly clean-cut kid. But every parent in the neighborhood with children his age remembers him as the class problem. They all know his name.

He was the elementary school pupil who would push the limits of misbehavior in class, working the teacher for the amusement of his classmates. He was the kid most likely to be caught fighting in middle school. And even in eighth grade, according to police reports, he was haggling with and running from bigger boys in gangs.

Chris left Shadow Mountain High School in his freshman year, his mother told the court, because he was afraid of being beat up by jocks at lunch time. Instead, he enrolled at North Canyon High School where his mother works. His father is a public school guidance counselor.

Chris' friends and other teens at Shadow Mountain told police that it was general knowledge that Chris had been carrying a gun for months before he used it on Ryan Winn. They came forward with unverifiable tales of Chris' infractions, ranging from throwing rocks and tagging to stealing cars and pointing guns. It came out during his court hearings that he'd already been sent away once to a hospital for drug rehabilitation, and once to a wilderness camp aimed at rebuilding his self-esteem.

One police officer recalls throwing him out of Paradise Valley Mall on two separate occasions just for daring to show his face there. Mall security apparently knew him by reputation--and by sight. And just a few weeks ago, he was thrown out of Burger King on 32nd Street near Cactus, for dumping salt out of salt shakers; then he lurked in the parking lot until the restaurant manager called police.

And though Chris' attorney claims that he no longer runs with the group of lost boys that called itself Piru Blood, neighborhood kids have reported seeing him with them during his bail. Parents of those other boys in the would-be gang do not understand why their sons act as they do.

Coni Schelling, whose two sons run with Chris Colombi, claims that the parents of the boys have sat them down in a group and asked, "What's going on with you guys? Why so much anger with other kids?"

Neither Chris' nor Ryan Winn's friends seem to know why the two boys had been cultivating a grudge for so many months. Rumors floated that Chris had stolen a stereo out of Ryan's car, but Ryan's parents say that didn't happen.

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