His schoolmates bullied him. His mother rarely saw him. His father neglected him. Even his friends taunted him--and may well have goaded him into his shooting rampage. A Williams associate told TIME that more than two months before the attack, one of the boy's closest friends boasted that Williams had taken one of his father's guns and hidden it in bushes behind a park they frequented. The weekend before, when Williams began saying that he was going to "pull a Columbine" on Santana High, two of his friends called him a "pussy" and dared him to do it.
Others were sufficiently concerned to pat down his clothing in search of a gun on Monday morning before he entered the school. But nobody said anything to the school authorities. At 9:20 a.m. on Monday, Williams took out a .22 revolver--secreted either in his trousers or in his yellow backpack--in the boys' bathroom of the school and started firing, first into the room and then into an adjacent courtyard. Many students initially thought it was fireworks and moved toward the popping sounds until they saw others falling wounded to the ground.
San Diego County sheriff's deputies, who responded rapidly to the first emergency calls, cornered Williams in the bathroom. He handed over his weapon, which had been reloaded and was cocked to fire again. Six minutes of shooting and 30 rounds left Bryan Zuckor, 14, and Randy Gordon, 17, fatally wounded and 13 others hit. It was the worst school shooting in the U.S. since the Columbine massacre two years ago.
As the town of Santee buried the two dead children last weekend, parents, teachers and counselors were struggling to understand what had turned the baby-faced Williams into a stoned, smirking gunman who had changed their life forever. Doctors said all 13 wounded victims were set to make full recoveries. But slowly Santee started to learn things about itself that it didn't like to hear--that despite street names such as Peaceful Court and Carefree Drive, it was far from the idyllic, pacific suburb that many of the adults in Santee imagined. "There's a lot of hate around here," says Gentry Robler, 16, a sophomore at Santana High. He reels off the high school cliques: the gothics, the freaks, the dorks, the jocks, the Mexican gangsters, the white supremacists. "This is a school that was waiting for something like this to happen." But who would have guessed that it would be the skinny, jug-eared, timid freshman wearing a silver necklace with the name MOUSE on it who would make this happen?
Williams came to California less than two years ago from a town in rural Maryland. After a spell in the town of Twentynine Palms, his dad got a job as a lab technician for the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, and the two moved to Santee (pop. 58,000). Williams was instantly picked on by the bigger, more streetwise kids there. Laura Kennamer, a friend of Andy's, saw kids burning their lighters and then pressing the hot metal against his neck. "They'd walk up to him and sock him in the face for no reason," she says. "He wouldn't do anything about it." Jennifer Chandler, a freshman, saw the same pattern of torment: "Kids were mean to him. He'd slack it off. Like he kept it all inside."
Things weren't great at home either. Williams' parents had divorced when he was 5, and he rarely saw his mother after that. Several friends said he would automatically call their mothers Mom. Williams lived with his father Charles Jeffrey in a dank stucco apartment house about one mile from the high school. Adrianna Aceven, a fellow freshman and one of the few friends whom Williams invited back to his apartment, said the father was distant, disappearing to work on his computer when the kids walked in. On weekends the senior Williams is said to have stretched out on the floor, sipping beer and watching the sports channels. "I never saw Andy go anywhere with his dad," says Shaun Turk, 15. "Andy would call him and say it's raining and beg him to give him a ride home. But you could hear his dad yelling into the phone, 'Get your ass home!'"
So Williams sought out another place to belong. He ended up with a band of dope-smoking skateboarders who hang around Woodglen Vista Park, a short walk from the school. "When I first met Andy he was, like, a good Christian boy from Maryland," says Aceven. "But he started hanging with a different crowd, getting into trouble, ditching school, acting different." Aceven called Andy's new friends the Grommits, a term that eludes meaning even for her. The kids would sit at the tables behind the park toilets, smoking marijuana and drinking tequila they would shoplift from the Albertson's supermarket opposite the school. One of the tables has a graffito of a marijuana leaf.