FOR THE RECORD: April 11, 1996 CORRECTION: Moses Lake murder victim Arnold Fritz was 14. His age was wrong in a Wednesday story.
FOR THE RECORD: May 3, 1996 CORRECTION: During research for an April 10 article about how Moses Lake classroom shooting suspect Barry Loukaitis may have been influenced by a Stephen King novel, a reporter did not attempt to call Loukaitis’ lawyer for comment. The story indicated otherwise.
Barry Loukaitis may have been acting out the plot of a Stephen King novel when, police say, he shot up a Moses Lake classroom last February, killing three people and wounding another.
A dogeared copy of King’s book “Rage” was found on Loukaitis’ night stand during a search of the 15-year-old’s home shortly after the Feb. 2 shootings, authorities said.
Twenty-seven other Stephen King books lined the shelves in Loukaitis’ bedroom.
None was as worn as his copy of “Rage,” which King started writing as a high school senior and later published under the pen name Richard Bachman.
The book is about a teenager who holds his algebra class hostage using a .22-caliber revolver. The protagonist, Charlie Decker, kills his teacher and another instructor who steps into the room and for several hours toys with the idea of also shooting the most popular boy in the school.
During Loukaitis’ rampage, the Frontier Junior High School student carried a .22-caliber revolver and a hunting rifle, which police say he used to kill algebra teacher Leona Caires and students Manuel Vela, 14, and Arnold Fritz, 15.
Vela was popular and athletic and dating a girl many thought Loukaitis had a crush on, friends said.
King’s publicist on Tuesday said the author was out of town and could not be reached for comment on the Moses Lake shootings.
“This has happened before,” Shirley Sonderegger said from King’s office in Bangor, Maine. “And, of course, it’s always Steve’s fault. We have no comment.”
The boy’s father, Terry Loukaitis, and defense attorney Garth Dano did not return telephone calls Tuesday.
But sources close to the investigation, who requested anonymity, said they cannot ignore the “disturbing” similarities between the “Rage” storyline and the shooting spree.
For example, Loukaitis and character Charlie Decker are straight-A students who have trouble making friends. Both have ongoing conflicts with their fathers - hunters who keep guns at home, investigators said. Like Charlie Decker, Loukaitis sneaked the murder weapon from his father’s arsenal and toted it to school.
Investigation sources also said Loukaitis wrote poems in English class about how “worthless” his father is and how he wished he was dead. King himself has referred to Charlie Decker’s actions in the book as “a pathological rage fantasy about his father.”
At one point in the book, Decker looks at his teacher’s dead body and tells the students: “Now I wish it was (my dad) I’d killed, if I had to kill anyone. This thing on the floor between my feet is a classic case of misplaced aggression.”
Sources said another similarity is what Loukaitis reportedly asked his classmates after shooting Caires in the back:
“This sure beats algebra, doesn’t it?” - a quote straight from Decker in the King book.
Investigators also said Loukaitis lined up the students at the back of the classroom and announced they were going to have a hostage situation.
Even Jon Lane, the physical education teacher who finally managed to disarm Loukaitis, said the gangly, honor student appeared to have “rehearsed” his actions.
“Barry was focused,” Lane said shortly after the shootings. “It was like he was in a trance or playing a role.”
It isn’t the first time King’s book “Rage,” published in 1977, has been suspected of inspiring youth violence.
In 1989, a 17-year-old Kentucky boy held 11 classmates hostage at gunpoint for more than 10 hours. He finally surrendered and no one was injured.
“Rage” was found inside that suspect’s home as well, although he denied ever reading it.
In an interview with reporters after the Kentucky standoff, King said he knew from the time he watched a television news account that “it was my story.”
He denied, however, his book was responsible.
“Crazy is crazy,” he said at the time.
Spokane child psychiatrist Michael Manz said King’s book “didn’t go into the classroom and shoot anyone.”
“A lot of things influence children and a lot of them are terrible,” said Manz, who works at Sacred Heart Medical Center. “But can a 15-year-old know that killing a teacher and his classmates is wrong? Absolutely.”
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