There is only one way in and one way out of Bethel. An isolated town of 5,000 residents on the Alaska tundra, its name means Â"hallowed spot.Â" Today, that spot is marked by one unholy act: a crime that no one was prepared for.
60 Minutes II Correspondent Carol Marin takes an inside look at a high school haunted by the memory of one studentÂ's savage violence.
Â"I was in the teacherÂ's lounge and heard a popping sound,Â" says Bethel High School art teacher Reyne Athanas. Â"It sounded like a firecracker or a balloon popping. So I walked down the hall. The kids were streaming past down the hallway screaming, Â'heÂ's got a gun, heÂ's got a gun'.Â"
The boy with the gun, 16-year-old Evan Ramsey, had already shot his first victim. A popular student and athlete, 15-year-old Josh Palacios had been mortally wounded. Ryan Curda was sitting next to Josh.
Â"Josh grabbed his stomach and fell to the ground,Â" Ryan recalls. Â" Â'IÂ'm hit. IÂ'm hit.Â' And then I got up, I turned and I ran back into the classrooms.Â"
Reyne went to the spot where Josh lay dying. When she looked up, Evan was pointing his .12 gauge shotgun directly at her.
Â"I said, Â'Evan put the gun down, put the gun down, you donÂ't have to do this',Â"says Reyne. Â"That uncontrolled anger, I had never seen that. He was not in control at all.Â"
Evan left, and minutes later returned and killed Principal Ron Edwards. Then, it seemed, he had one more victim to claim.
Â"He started putting the gun under his chin,Â" Reyne says. Â"He put his gun under his own chin and he started saying, Â'theyÂ're not going to take me alive, theyÂ're not going to get me.Â'Â"
Evan Ramsey never fired the final shot. After a short standoff with police he surrendered, and was convicted of murder and assault. Why he did what he did was what many people in Bethel could not understand. In an exclusive 60 Minutes II interview at a prison in Anchorage, Evan Ramsey tried to answer that question.
Â"My main objective of going into the high school was to check out -- to commit suicide,Â" says Evan. Â"I really wanted to, to die.Â"
The story of EvanÂ's life is a tortured tale. When Evan was seven, his father went to prison. Subsequently, his mother became an alcoholic and Evan and his two brothers were shipped off to a series of foster homes. In one of those homes, according to court testimony, he suffered sexual abuse and humiliation. Psychiatrist Dr. John Smith examined Evan a few months after the murders and found at the age of 10, Evan had already attempted suicide.
Â"He went to a cliff as he described it to me and got in the water and was planning to wade out to sea and drown himself,Â" says Dr. Smith.
By the time Evan was in high school, he was using marijuana, getting poor grades, and struggling to control an explosive temper. But friends saw another side to the troubled teenager.
Â"He was quiet sometime. But when he started talking, heÂ'd talk for hours on end,Â" says one of his friends, Tiffany Gwinn. Â"I saw he was depressed sometimes. But thatÂ's like any other kid is depressed sometimes.Â"
But Evan said no one, not teachers, friends or other students, understood the rejection and pain he felt.
Â"I never knew my family, except for my little brother. And just people picking on me,Â" Evan says. Â"IÂ'd be called a piece of shit, a bastard, IÂ've been called a spaz and a retard.Â"
On the day he was sentenced for the two murders, Evan showed little emotion in the courtroom until he was given a chance to speak. Â"IÂ'm so sorry,Â" he said remorsefully.
Evan is sorry that he has to face the dire consequences of all these things.
Renee Erb prosecuted Evan Ramsey and said despite his current contrition, he planned and practiced the shooting, and Principal Ron Edwards was someone he wanted to kill.
Â"There are some people in this world that are no good,Â" she says. Â"Nobody really knows where they come from or why, but they've always been with us and it may be that they always are. He's dangerous.Â"
But this is not just a story of one boy with a gun. Evan Ramsey did not plan his violence alone, as he had help and encouragement from two 14-year-old boys, one of whom helped him learn to load and fire a .12 gauge shotgun.
The day of the shooting, a group of students gathered in the second floor library, overlooking the lobby because they were told by Evan and his accomplices that something big was going to happen. By the time Evan arrived, Dr. Smith said, there was no way for him to back out.
Â"He had been up all night. His thinking had become narrow in terms of his mission to do something big,Â" says Dr. Smith. Â"That trapped him.Â"
But prosecutor Renee Erb maintains that Evan wasnÂ't trapped, but instead driven by his own ego.
Â"The event here, in this case is all about the fact that i'ts public, it's all about Evan. ItÂ's not about the people that he killed,Â" says Reyne. Â"Some of the kids I donÂ't think knew that there was gonna be a gun involved. I donÂ't think they really believed itÂ…like they were going to watch TV or something. It wasnÂ't going to be real. You know they didnÂ't really think somebody would die. Why somebody wouldnÂ't tell has bothered all of us.Â"
There is one more theory for why Evan did what he did. This theory goes beyond depression and isolation: it is the so-called family curse.
Evan said that he believes that this family lives under a kind of generational curse.
EvanÂ's father Don Ramsey became known as the "Rambo of Alaska." In 1986, enraged when the Anchorage Times refused to publish a political letter he had written, Don showed up at the newspaperÂ's office.
Â"I was armed and ready to go to war,Â" says Don. Â"I had a AR 180-223 semi-automatic, something like 180 rounds of ammo for it, a snub barrel .44 magnum, and bout 30 rounds for it.Â"
Don Ramsey said he was ready to die, just like Evan was. And just like his son, after a short stand-off with police, he surrendered and went to prison. He was released from prison in February, 1997, just two weeks before the shooting at Bethel High.
Â"The tragedy of everyone in Bethel, particularly the young man and the principal who were killed, and their families, is that Evan was not recognized as needing as much help as he did,Â" says Dr. Smith.
The frightening thing that some individuals told 60 Minutes II in Bethel, was that there were other kids who looked like they were far more problematic than Evan Ramsey. So how is one to know which children may be on the verge of violence?
Â"You donÂ't. ItÂ's scary to face that, but you donÂ't,Â" Dr. Smith admits.
Two years later, many lives are still affected by what happened in Bethel. At EvanÂ's sentencing, the judge called Renee Anthanas Â'a hero,Â' who three times tried to stop Evan, but for her that provided little comfort.
Â"IÂ'm mad at Evan for putting me through this,Â" says Renee. Â"IÂ'm mad at all those other boys and girls who didnÂ't come forward and say anything. IÂ'm mad at parents for not taking care of their children so they ended up doing this. IÂ'm mad at teachers and society for not being aware of the problems and dealing with it young. Kindergarten, first grade, thatÂ's when you need to do it. This tragedy didnÂ't have to occur. Those other ones didnÂ't have to occur.Â"
EvanÂ's two accomplices were tried and sentenced as juveniles. They will be free when they turn 19. Evan Ramsey was sentenced to 200 years in prison, and will be eligible for parole when he is 75. In the end there was no lasting fame for Evan Ramsey, but it was something that was still on his mind.
Â"IÂ'm dead to the world,Â" Evan says. Â"In a few months, nobody willÂ…really remember me. There will be other people that will commit other offenses and IÂ'll be considered yesterdayÂ's news.Â"
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