Killing Time at Shadow Mountain High

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And as often happens, the "good" boys were not so good as they were painted, nor the "bad" boys so bad. The good boys had been drinking and belligerent; most of the bad boys had never been in trouble before--one of them was an honor-roll student. The parents of the assailants were as puzzled by their sons' actions as the parents of the victims.

All of the boys had been caught up in hormonal rage. "Roostering" is how one of the victims' mothers put it, the macho posturing of adolescents in good neighborhoods and bad. Like other childhood diseases, sometimes its fever breaks, sometimes it kills.

Good neighborhoods--and all the boys were from good neighborhoods--just aren't zoned for trouble. So when trouble shows up, no one sees it coming. Call it street smarts: Kids in "bad" neighborhoods have a more realistic idea of when to make eye contact and when to turn and run. They have a greater chance of realizing that when a smaller kid picks a fight, he's probably packing a weapon.

The good-neighborhood upbringing gives a false sense of security, a heightened sense of the immortality all teens feel anyway, and a whole lot ofattitude. Murder just isn't supposed to happen there.

"Some of the kids who grow up in affluent neighborhoods have a bit more self-esteem, and they're taught to stand up for their rights and not back off," says Captain D.P. Gonzalez of the Department of Public Safety's state gang task force. "Whereas if you have a street-life kid in south or west Phoenix, the majority of them know what their limits are."

Ironically, in the unfathomable intensity of adolescence, self-esteem and self-worth--positive qualities parents want to instill in their children--can cloud judgment.

Two boys jumped headlong into killing; two others jumped to their deaths.

Shadow Mountain High School sits a quarter mile west of the intersection of 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard and a short mile east of the North Phoenix Mountains Preserve.

It's in an old neighborhood, by Phoenix standards; most of the houses were built in the 1970s, and the families that live in them are predominantly upper-middle-class folks. It seems safe and quiet, the kind of place where you want to raise your kids.

"The vast majority of the students at Shadow Mountain are good kids," says Captain Gonzalez of DPS, "and a small minority of the students cause a majority of the problems."

And most of those students are not involved in street gangs. According to Gonzalez, gang activity, although chipping away at the outskirts of the neighborhood, is minimal at Shadow Mountain. In fact, he claims, there are just as many white, teen and twentysomething skinheads in the district as gangbangers, who also commit assaults and auto thefts and drug deals. Chris Colombi's ragtag, MTV version of a gang, which calls itself Piru Blood, doesn't even show up on the DPS charts--which doesn't mean the kids aren't vicious, but only that they don't have significant arrest records.

"Our little wanna-be gang killed Ryan Winn," scoffs Theresa McCarville, Pat's mother.

Yet police insist that both events had less to do with gangs than with teenage testosterone.

Dr. Connie Liddle, the principal at Shadow Mountain, refused to talk to New Times. A coach at a nearby high school, who used to teach at Shadow Mountain, said of the Shadow students, "Everything's an attitude with these kids."

According to police, many of the juvenile problems in the Shadow Mountain area are caused by jocks.

"They think they're above it all because their status as athletes allows them to get away with things," says Gonzalez. "We can't classify them as gang members, but they create as much fear and intimidation at a high school or a neighborhood as any street gang would."

The parking lots of the fast-food joints up and down 32nd Street, less than a mile away, are filled with sour-faced, posturing young men just daring passers-by to make eye contact. And many of them are the good kids. They polarize into cliques--preppies and skaters and stoners and hip-hop dudes. And jocks.

And many of them live in a fistfight culture. They arrange for fights with other schools, in open fields, at pizza joints, and most of those arrangements are for effect only--everyone knows that one side or the other won't show up.

"We have a lot of calls of juvenile fighting near 32nd Street and Shea at all those fast-food restaurants," says Phoenix Police Lieutenant Brenda Campbell, "but by the time we get there, the problem usually has resolved itself or the kids left."

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Michael Kiefer