Charles 'Andy' Williams

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Charles Andrew Williams looks down during his arraignment in San Diego

Monday, after Charles Andrew Williams fired his .22-caliber revolver at least 30 times, wounding 13 and killing two at his Santee, Calif., high school, he dropped his gun and waited for the police, who approached the 15-year-old freshman with understandable caution. "It's just me," he murmured to an officer who asked if there were any other shooters. With this incongruously meek surrender, Williams was taken into custody. Wednesday, he was charged with two counts of murder.

So, because he has refocused national attention on the sullen, confused kids who skulk around our schools, harboring grudges and entertaining violent demons, and has forced us to ask sickeningly familiar, unflattering questions about our country and our societal obsession with violence, Charles "Andy" Williams is our person of the week.

Before the hailstorm of indignant criticism begins, we ask that you note the following caveat: We did not choose Williams as person of the week to glorify his murderous rage or to in any way minimize the damage he has inflicted on his suburban community. We chose this 15-year-old because he has resurrected our darkest, post-Columbine fears, and reignited innumerable stalled debates over gun control, parental responsibility and school safety measures.

Williams is 15, and California law requires him to be tried as an adult. His youth, however, precludes him from receiving the death penalty. Perhaps because of his tiny, hunched frame, or the doelike downturn of his adolescent eyes, Williams commands a certain pity, even sympathy, despite his horrific act. When he appeared in court Wednesday, he was alone — neither his mother, who lives in South Carolina, nor his father attended the hearing. This kid, it is clear, is operating utterly without the safety net called family.

While most lawmakers consider it unlikely that new gun control legislation will emerge out of Williams' long shadow, the debate over personal, parental and community responsibility has already begun. It's our customary line of discussion: Does a family, or a network of friends, prevent this kind of senseless violence? Are kids like Williams born with the propensity to kill, or does our society breed it into them? We're pretty sure that even an Ozzie and Harriet home life wouldn't have saved Williams from himself, but there will be endless speculation anyway, as the country tries to pin down the root of Williams' rage.

Williams used his father's gun, and under California law that means the father could be open to criminal prosecution. The backlash against violence is reverberating beyond Williams' family as well: Thursday, four students who reportedly heard Williams talking about his planned rampage and who dismissed his plans as "a joke" were barred from returning to school for the rest of the year. And while school officials insisted the suspension was for these students' own safety, there is an indisputable air of retribution about the action. Why didn't you tell anyone? You could have saved two lives and incalculable pain.

Today, the walls of Santana High School in Santee, Calif., are pocked with hastily covered bullet holes. And while the halls are once again filled with students, there are some absences. This weekend, the community will gather to say good-bye to its dead and attempt to collect its shattered illusions of safety. And the rest of the country will watch, feeling guiltily grateful that the latest shooting happened there — and not here.