Graduation Day In Moses Lake

A Look Back At A 1996 School Shooting

Recently, identical twins Natalie and Breanna Hintz graduated from Moses Lake High School in Washingon. It was an especially emotional day for the pair, and for others. Susan Spencer reports on a community that has tried to heal for four years.

For Natalie and Breanna and many in Moses Lake's class of 2000, graduation meant the end of a chapter many hope to put behind them. On Feb. 2, 1996, at Frontier Middle School, a feeder school for the high school, classmate Barry Loukaitis walked into his algebra class with three guns and opened fire. He killed three people and critically wounded Natalie.

"I was shot in the back, 170-grain bullet, 30/30 rifle, from 12 feet away," she remembers. "[It] blew my liver, my diaphram, my arm off."

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Loukaitis got prison for life. The violence would be only the first to rip through the innocence of the class of 2000. There was Paduchah, and Jonesboro, and Springfield, and Columbine.

Whenever another school shooting happened, Natalie says, she knew what students there were going through. "My first reaction was the deepest kind of pain," she says. "You understand so fully what they're going through."

"You know the road ahead of them," Breanna says. "You know what they're going to go through next."

Natalie nearly lost an arm, and had to undergo a slew of surgeries and a lot of hard work. She's made progress, as well as adjustments. She has, for example learned to type one-handed - at 40 words per minute.

Although she didn't witness the shooting, Brianna has also lived with its effects, particularly because she is a twin.

"It's hard to explain but our souls I guess in a way are attached," Brianna says of her sister. "When she feels pain in her heart, I feel pain in my heart. Physically, when she was in the hospital, she was under so much pain that I took over her pain."

"It's a twin thing," says Shannon Hintz, their mother. "It's a twin bond that we can't understand." That bond has made the healing easier, says Shannon Hintz.

Both twins agree that the shooting forced them to grow up faster. Natalie says that if she hadn't been shot, she wouldn't be involved i Students Against Violence Everywhere, a group devoted to helping kids solve problems peacefully.

The Hintzs weren't the only ones affected by the shooting. Among those still trying to deal with the violence is their friend Alice Fritz. Her son Arnie, who would have graduated this month, was a bright 14-year-old in 1996. He was an avid reader, and was interested in science. He was one of the three killed.

As a tribute to her son, Fritz, who now lives in Spokane, 100 miles away from Moses Lake, came to see the town's high school graduation.

"Even though he has died, I'm still Arnie's mother," she says. "This is the year he would have graduated."

Over the past four years, she has become close to her son's friend Shea Haynes, who says he was best friends with Arnie when the shooting happened. "He really loved my son and my son really loved him," says Fritz. "They were kindred spirits."

"He brings a ray of sunshine into my life," Fritz says of Shea, who will attend Harvard this fall.

Shea also left Moses Lake after the shooting. One day, he called up his friend's mother and asked her to hang out. "I was so thrilled," Fritz recalls.

The friendship has filled a void for both of them. Sometimes, they talk about Arnie. But their friendship extends beyond that.

"That's the cool thing about our friendship, is we could tell each other about our problems," says Shea. Fritz is now teaching Shea how to drive.

In Moses Lake, graduation means remembering classmates who are not here.

On the day that Natalie and Brianna and Shea graduated, Moses Lake High also awarded an honorary degree to Fritz on behalf of her son.

Says Fritz: "I think it's important for the people who loved Arnie that I'm there."

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