Only Skyler Cullitan could have told you why he decided to bring a gun to school Friday and shoot himself in the head.
But if his stories, commentaries and other writings provide a window into his mind, you’d find a 16-year-old boy with lots of friends and lots of questions, a creative, introspective teen who spent many hours reflecting on his life and the world around Cullitan, who died Friday evening of his self-inflicted wound.
At the same time, the animations and short stories posted on his own Web site reveal a tinge of sorrow, darkness and even violence. While friends described him as a happy, outgoing guy, his journal on the Web hints at feelings of depression, anger and futility.
“He was a riot,” said Alicia Fiorentino, a former girlfriend and a sophomore at Lakeside High School. “Very funny and random. He really liked to do crazy things for people to laugh at.”
But Corie Boley, a teammate on the school’s cross-country team, said Skyler had been a little quiet lately – an indicator that something was brooding beneath his usual effervescent surface. If Skyler wasn’t hugging everyone in sight, “that’s when you knew something was wrong with him,” Boley said.
His latest entries in his online journal discuss movies and his friends, but don’t appear to reflect the struggles he experienced about a year ago. Last December, he wrote: “I don’t know what you’d call it. Maybe a panic attack. Maybe a sudden glimpse of reality. Maybe hormones. Maybe several inconvenient misfirings in Skyler’s brain. I don’t feel depressed anymore, but I still get these feelings of extreme inadequacy and lack of purpose.”
Over-the-top violence is a theme of some of the animations Cullitan featured on his Web site.
Stick figures shoot each other, cut each other with razor blades and hit each other with hatchets. Blood squirts in all directions. In one, two characters drag a Radio Flyer wagon filled with explosives to a school.
But in another, titled “The Life of a Flower,” a seedling sprouts from the ground and blooms into a yellow flower that quickly withers in the sun and dies. A brief message flashes on the screen – “Fall in love with skyler.”
Other animation topics include religion, cross-country running and the military.
Some of his classmates found him jovial, but eccentric – a little on the strange side. “Would you rather be a ceiling or a wall?” he once asked Kimberly Kiperash, a junior at Lakeside. This façade, perhaps, made it difficult for some to understand the depth of his sadness.
Skyler won awards on the chess team when he was a student at St. George’s School, according to Errol Schmidt, a former teacher and administrator at the private, north Spokane school. Even during his elementary school years, Skyler already displayed an aptitude for intellectual pursuits. The boy was in the fifth grade when he left the school.
“He needed to stay at St. George’s. He was intellectual, independent and an original thinker,” said Schmidt. “He loved inventing things. He was always searching for new ideas. He was very nice to people.”
In a 2003 autobiography he posted on his Web site, Skyler wrote about being on the track and wrestling teams and Lakeside High School, as well as competing in chess, Knowledge Bowl and “Math is Cool” tournaments. “I am a geek,” he wrote. “A self-acclaimed geek.”
While he laughed on his Web site at his own attempts at sports, friends say he is actually a talented athlete. In a September 2003 newspaper article, Matt Sullivan, his cross-country coach at Lakeside, called him the team’s “dark horse” early in the season, the runner who might end up being the best on the team. Sullivan, who also teaches history and English at the high school, was Skyler’s favorite teacher, according to the boy’s live journal on the Web.
In his autobiography, Skyler described his own face: his odd-shaped nose (caused by the family dog, which bit him when he was 11), his gray eyes with a tint of blue or green, his dirty-blond hair. He described himself as “a pretty hygienic guy,” who “unlike some kids … who will go days on end in the same clothes without taking a bath,” took showers every morning and sometimes again at night.
His live journal also details other aspects of his life: His parents were Peter and Beth; he had four siblings; the family has a dog. His favorite food was ramen noodles. His artist of choice was Goya. He listened to rap, oldies, pop and techno. He answered a total of 693 questions ranging from “What kind of shoes do you wear?” (“the Nike kind for track”) to “Rate your social life on a scale of 1-10” (“9”).
He was a class clown “when I feel lonely and desperate enough for attention” and a loser “in my own fashion.” Under “three things you want to do before you die,” Skyler wrote: “lose it somewhere on school grounds.”
Jamie Toone, a 17-year-old senior at Lakeside High School, said she wasn’t surprised her good friend would resort to suicide.
Cullitan once came to school with a shaved head and eyebrows.
“He did it out of rebellion. He looked kind of funny at first, but we got used to it,” said Toone. “I think he was always wanting extra attention.”
At this year’s homecoming dance, Cullitan and his date switched outfits. He wore her dress, and she wore his tuxedo, Toone said. The stunt, plus going into the girls’ changing room, got him kicked out of the dance.
Toone said she had seen a marked difference in Cullitan this school year. She said she also learned from a friend that Cullitan had tried to kill himself.
“When we first heard about it, we kept e-mailing him these friendly little messages. We told him ideas about where he should go and what he should do” to get help, Toone said. “There’s only so much you can do. He’s got to make the choice.”
In November 2003, he mentioned in his Web journal how his parents talked to him about “cutting myself.” He also wrote about how his friends accept his “weirdness,” unlike the sixth-graders on the bus who called him “queer.”
In another entry later that month, he continued to struggle with depression. “But I don’t want it to end,” he wrote. “I want to keep on being Skyler and living life as I have. I don’t see any downward spiraling. I don’t see things getting worse.
“As tragic as it is, I have very little to live for. But as long as I have nothing to die for, I’m okay.”