San Diego Union-Tribune

Mar 07, 2001

A-1

Once cheerful and charming, the boy took on a darker side

By David Hasemyer, David Washburn and Joe Cantlupe
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

Inside Charles "Andy" Williams there was imagination and creativity that friends and classmates found entertaining and, sometimes, chilling.

In his younger years, he was the class clown, a boy given to humorous parody and burlesque.

A darker side to his creativity emerged in recent months.  His

improvisations no longer entertained.  They worried those around him.

In Maryland, where Williams lived until about 18 months ago, he played sports, made the honor roll and impressed those who knew him as a boy with"magnetism, personal charm."

At Twentynine Palms Junior High School, which he attended briefly before moving to Santee, Williams reveled in acting and making people laugh at the silly characters he portrayed.

But as a freshman at Santana High School he was known to some as a kid who  smoked marijuana and boozed at a local skateboard park.

The apparently dramatic change in Williams' character may have something to do with his actions Monday, yet no solid explanation has emerged for why the dreams of a boy who longed for the California surf ended with the terrible reality of gunfire and death.

School officials who knew Williams in Maryland characterized him as a charmer during his days at Brunswick Middle School.

"He was a good, happy-go-lucky kid," said Art Fairweather, principal of the middle school.  "He was a pleasure to have in class. . . . Here's someone so well-adjusted here, and then in a year and a half goes the other way.  How can that be?"

 What is known is that Williams is accused of opening fire at Santana High School on Monday, leaving two students dead and 13 others wounded. With his move, Williams' demeanor seemed to change.  That transformation was nowhere more evident than in his stage persona.

 While attending the eighth grade in Twentynine Palms, he played Linus in the school production of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

"He was comical," said Jenny Witten, 14, and now a freshman at Twentynine Palms High School.

But Christina Newcomb, 15, a Santana freshman, said she saw two sides of Williams in the drama class they attended.  He played a funny guy most of the time, she said.  But, Newcomb said, she remembers being spooked by an improvisational skit in which Williams acted out the stabbing of a classmate.

He didn't always scare people.  He usually delighted them. During the six years Williams lived in Knoxville, Md., he made his friends
laugh by composing funny songs and goofing around with his Beanie Babies.

By the time he left Brunswick Middle School, Williams was considered one of the smartest and best-liked kids in his close-knit circle of friends.

Still, they said, he frequently would give up spending time with them to hunt, fish or build models with his father.

Jeff Williams, a biological science technician at the Naval Medical Centerin Balboa Park, issued a statement yesterday through a spokeswoman, apologizing for his son's actions.  Toni Blake, the spokeswoman and a legal consultant, said Jeff and Andy Williams hunted together and had attended gun safety classes together.  Firearms were secured in a gun locker in the family's Santee apartment, she said.

"Obviously, if it was one of (those) guns, then Andy figured out how to get into the locker," Blake said.

 In any case, since Williams moved with his father to California, his
Maryland friends said, they had heard disturbing tales from their buddy. They felt he had become increasingly uneasy in the Golden State. 

He confided that he had turned to drugs after being bullied by students who wouldn't accept him. 

Friends interviewed in Knoxville yesterday said Williams was having
difficulty making the transition from that town of 8,000 people to Santee, a city of 58,000 people in the shadow of San Diego. 

In phone calls to his friends over the past year, and in a visit to
Maryland over the summer, Williams told them of his troubles: kids threw eggs at his house and tossed his homework into a garbage pail.  Some called him gay. 

Williams lived on the rougher-hewn edge of Knoxville, amid a crowded cluster of older clapboard houses on a sloping pot-holed street. 

When his father, who wanted to be a park ranger in California, decided to move west, the boy's life turned upside down, Williams' friends said. 

Williams, who never mentioned his mother, according to friends, was the product of a broken home. 

Documents filed in a recent court battle over child support payments tell some of the story. 

Williams' parents were married in 1982 in Lawton, Okla. They divorced nine years later in Maryland when Williams was 5 years old and his half-brother Michael was 10.

The divorce court ordered Charles and Linda Williams to live "free from interference, authority and control by the other," according to a marital settlement agreement the couple signed in Frederick County, Md.

After the divorce, Andrew lived with his father and Michael with his
mother.

Linda Williams was ordered to pay $113 a month in child support.

Williams moved with his father to Twentynine Palms from Maryland in December 1999. They lived with his grandparents, Charles and Doris Williams.  Father and son moved to Santee in mid-2000.

The child-support payments apparently stopped while Williams and his father lived in Twentynine Palms.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office went to court in
November to force his mother to pay back support and to stay current with payments.

From her home in North Augusta, S.C., yesterday, Linda Wells, as she is now known, expressed condolences to the victims and their families.

 "My heart goes out to them," she told a South Carolina television station.

"They've lost their babies, their hopes, their dreams for their futures."

Williams seemingly thrived during his short stay in Twentynine Palms, about 40 miles north of Palm Springs.  He did well in school and seemed to crave attention, once coming to school with his underwear over his pants and declaring himself, "underwear man."

 School officials, classmates and teammates embraced the quirky newcomer.

They said he was funny, goofy and sarcastic -- but never threatening.

"He was a good kid.  We didn't have any problems with him," said Jean

Johnson, principal of Twentynine Palms Junior High School. 

Williams' Little League teammates said he was a good center fielder, who enjoyed the camaraderie of the team.  He also liked to hang out at the public pool.  Friends said he would have been glad to stay. 

"If he still lived here, he would have never done that," said Stephanie Elwood, a 15-year-old freshman at Twentynine Palms High School. 

"He made friends easily, he hung out with everybody," said Nick Molina, who had two classes with Williams last year. 

Molina said he was shocked when he saw Williams in handcuffs on television Monday night, but immediately recognized the smirk Williams always wore.

"He was always smiling like that," Molina said. 

In Santee, Williams liked to hang out with a pot-smoking crowd, leaving him smelling of marijuana, according to Kristin Chalmers, 14. After school, Williams and half a dozen friends would sit under a tree on a corner across from school and smoke pot and cigarettes, she said. 

She said Williams would talk about taking a car and going to Mexico.

Two other Santee youths, Josh Stevens and Neil O'Grady, described Williams as a good friend who hung out with them at the local skate park. Stevens said Williams didn't skate, but would sit around and watch others. 

They also used to hang out at Stevens' house, listening to punk rock and heavy metal music. 

But Stevens described his friend as troubled. 

He remembered Williams saying one particular song by the rap-metal punk band Linkin Park inspired him. 

That song, "In The End," includes the verse: " . . . Things aren't the way they were before.  You wouldn't even recognize me anymore..."