|In late 2000, I met with Jamie Rouse at a correctional facility in Tennessee. After passing through razor wire and heavy metal doors, I found him in the prison infirmary. He seemed uncomfortable making eye contact. But even if the goateed 22-year-old hadn't been handcuffed, Jamie posed no threat that day … a far cry from five years earlier. |
On Nov. 15, 1995, Jamie walked into his Lynnville, Tenn., high school carrying a .22 caliber rifle. Before being tackled by a teacher and having the weapon wrestled from his grip, he had killed a teacher and a student. A second adult was struck in the head by a bullet, yet miraculously survived.
Why did he do it? Even today Jamie says he's not sure. He just knows he was angry and empty on the inside.
Despite drug use and problems at home, he refuses to shift blame. He alone pulled the trigger. Still, other factors influenced him during those dark days, including his entertainment choices. Jamie believes the media had a huge impact—especially music. It all began with Nirvana CDs. An ever-darkening obsession led to violent, nihilistic bands such as Nine Inch Nails, Pantera and Korn. That gave way to the death metal artists Morbid Angel, Deicide, Napalm Death and Obituary. Here's some of what Jamie had to say:
I know you'd never say that entertainment made you do it, but I sense that you definitely feel it was a factor.
When I started listening to heavy metal music, it had very anti-Jesus lyrics and that's what inspired me to carve an inverted cross [on my forehead]. I just thought it'd be cool, and I didn't have strong support at church or at home—just a big void. I started experimenting with music and, unfortunately, it was the wrong type.
How did that music make you feel?
Angry and sometimes just evil, outright evil.
Your dad said something about the two of you watching Natural Born Killers together about a month before the shooting. Did that movie affect your thinking?
I found it very entertaining. It made killing seem cool. That's the way I took it.
What caused you to take a gun to school?
[After explaining relational problems with a peer] I put in Morbid Angel and it just made me feel capable of evil. It makes you feel like you want to kill someone.
What advice would you give to kids who watch slasher films, listen to violent music, play violent video games and find them funny?
I used to think, "This ain't affecting me, you'd have to be weak-minded to let this stuff affect you," and the whole time it affected me—it helped shape the way I thought. … All those songs and the movies that make killing look cool—they don't show in the movies what it does to those people and their families. And sitting in prison for the rest of your life isn't fun.
As you were going to bed Nov. 14, 1995, what was going through your head?
I was listening to "Diary of a Madman" [by gangsta rap group Gravediggaz] which starts out in this courtroom setting about these guys who went off and killed these people.
Speak directly to the teen who says, "I listen to this negative stuff, and it doesn't have any influence on me."
It already has influenced you and you just don't realize it. I'm sure not everyone's going to do something as bad as I did, but how do you know it's not you? … Almost all this music has anti-God lyrics and when you hate God, nothing seems hopeful.
Since the shooting, Jamie has committed his life to Christ, and is working to be salt and light in prison. His parents have recommitted themselves to the Lord. All three want to see some good come out of this horrific tragedy. Perhaps that "good" can begin as we share Jamie's story with our own teens, as well as with others who stubbornly contend that anti-social entertainment doesn't influence society.
Published January 2001