By Bryan Carberry
James Lewerke was raised by his mother in Wauconda, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago. In the summer of 2004, James moved to the upper-middle-class town of Valparaiso, Indiana, 20 miles southeast of Gary, to live with his father. In August of that year, Lewerke, 15, enrolled in the 9th grade of Valparaiso High School, where teachers described him as a studious and quiet A-B student. His fellow classmates described James as:
RoxyMal22: kinda cute
RoxyMal22: haha no he really wasnt bad
JTsoccer00: u sure bout that?
RoxyMal22: haha bad looking*
JTsoccer00: there u go
RoxyMal22: i don’t think i heard him talk ever.. he lent allison a pencil once tho
JTsoccer00: haha, i bet she didnt give it back and that’s what did it…
RoxyMal22: waay too soon to joke about that!! >:O
JTsoccer00: oo cmon it happened like what,
on the morning of Wednesday, November 24, 2004, the day before Thanksgiving. Lewerke attended his first period Spanish class, taught by first-year teacher Ashley Dobis. He had reportedly brought his backpack with him and stored it under his seat, a practice that students say is common in the school. At approximately 7:45 a.m., Lewerke sat resting his head in his folded arms and gazing out the window. The first snow flurries of the year had just begun to fall, and James watched as they cautiously floated from the sleepy Indiana skies to their resting places on the grey asphalt of the school parking lot. His mother had told him that no two snowflakes are ever the same, that God makes every snowflake unique, just as He makes every person unique. They’d been Christmas shopping in downtown Chicago when his mom told him this, and he’d tried to catch the falling snowflakes to see if they really were different. To James though, they all looked like little white dots as they melted in his hand.
INT. SPANISH CLASSROOM ” VALPO HIGH SCHOOL ” MORNING
James smiles softly as the other HIGH SCHOOL CHILDREN stir in an anxious buzz that only first snows and half-days can bring. They joke, sit on their desks, listen to headphones, finish homework, etc. Their teacher, ASHLEY DOBIS, attractive and in her twenties, sits in the front of the room at her desk, finishing some work of her own. Not minding the NOISE, she smiles to herself in anticipation of the upcoming break.
ANGLE ON: ALLISON BROOKES, 16, pretty and sociable, as she walks past James’ line of view, breaking his drowsy vigilance. His distant eyes focused in on her bouncing curly blonde hair as she hop-skip-walked over to her friend Conner, who was scribbling down the answers to a third period test hed never take. James watched from across the room and smiled as Allison covered Conner’s eyes and punched him for guessing the wrong name. It wasn’t a bad guess, though Mallory had been writing on Conner’s book cover yesterday, while Allison had been drawing on Nick’s hand. Now Nick was playing with Mallory’s hair, and Allison was in a boxing match with Conner, and James didnt see how it all worked out so he reached into his backpack and
AllisonLuvsUU: j played w his calculator
JessyP453: haha, nerd
AllisonLuvsUU: not really
AllisonLuvsUU: like every guy plays calc games
JessyP453: oo im sorry i almost forgot youre in love with him
AllisonLuvsUU: o so im in love w him bc i dont think hes satan..
JessyP453: yeah and because he have you a pencil at the beginning of the year
AllisonLuvsUU: dont be gay
JessyP453: lol sorry
JessyP453: so were his eyes like all
glassy as his fingers moved mechanically over the plastic buttons of the calculator. He stared vacantly at the little black starfighter on the screen, blasting enemy ships and maneuvering around meteorites. His starfighter, which was really a sideways letter W, had scored 2500 points and he’d upgraded his ammunition from periods to asterisks. He watched the W drift up the screen and fall back down, all the while unleashing devastating volleys of asterisks. He’d flown that asteroid belt countless times before though, and losing interest he let himself crash into an ampersand mine field.
Looking up from his calculator, James noticed Adam, the emo-punk who sat to the right of him, hunched over a book, visibly enthralled by the story. Adam’s knees bounced nervously up and down in his skin-tight pants; he leaned forward, adjusting his thick-framed glasses and absently straightening his tube-sock wrist bands. James had heard the wrist bands were for hiding cut marks and wondered why Adam would want to cut his own wrists, or if he really did at all.
Reaching the end of a chapter, Adam leaned back, let out a sigh of relief, and smiled to himself. James saw he was reading Harry Potter and the something of something. James had never seen Adam smile before, and his own lips curved into a faint smile as well. Feeling he was watched, Adam hunched back over the book, read matter-of-factly for half a minute more, then whipped out his tattered black notebook and began jotting down song lyrics.
Closing up his calculator, James dropped it into the front pocket of his Jansport backpack, its impact creating a soft ping. The smile drained from James’ face and his eyes slowly floated back to the falling snow. For the hundredth time that week, he thought back to Sunday night.
EXT. JAMES’ HOUSE – NIGHT (FLASHBACK)
A quaint middle-class house sits between an old shed and a garage at the end of a small driveway. The house is dark except for a solitary light over the front door and the illuminating glow of a TV in a first-story room. Fresh from evening church service and bundled up in a parka, James trudges up the front steps and opens the door, still carrying a BIBLE under one arm.
INT. KITCHEN – JAMES’ HOUSE – MOMENTS LATER (FLASHBACK)
The room is completely dark until James turns on the lights, revealing a well-kept kitchen and the sleeping SOPHY, James’ fat, arthritic 12-year-old white Labrador. Sophy gets up with some effort and, wagging her tail, saunters over to James as he unzips his parka. He kneels down to Sophy’s level and gently pets her. He has her sit, gives her a biscuit from a jar on the counter, stands up.
INT. LIVING ROOM – JAMES’ HOUSE – CONTINUOUS (FLASHBACK)
TODD LEWERKE, James’ father, sits reclining on a La-Z-Boy chair in the darkened room. He is drenched in the electronic glow of the TV, the only light source in the room, and the SOUNDS of Sunday night football can be heard. He sips from a glass of beer as James enters, but his eyes remain glued to the screen. James stands and watches a play, but is not a big fan of sports, and hangs his parka on the coat rack as he exits the room. Finished with his beer, Todd Lewerke is the grandson of Dennis Lewerke, Vice President of the family-owned Woodharbor Doors & Cabinetry Company, a prominent business in Mason City, Iowa. In Mason City, a north central Iowa town of 30,000, the Lewerkes are considered successful businessmen and community leaders. The family is large, but the Lewerkes communicate frequently since many of them work for Woodharbor.
The Lewerke family traditionally gathers for the Thanksgiving holiday but decided against it this year before the incident. Family members expressed shock regarding James’ room. A few dog-eared movie posters adorned the otherwise austere white walls, and a computer sat idling in a corner on a small desk. Over James’ bed hung a portrait of the Holy Family, an Easter present from his mother.
James tossed his Bible onto his night stand and sat down at his computer, logging into Instant Messenger and looking at the 20-odd screen names that silently stared back at him. After a moment, he started up a conversation with Rebecca, an old friend from Wauconda, but she wasnt at her computer and so he logged off and laid down on his bed.
He stared up at the plain white ceiling, but it was overwhelming and he closed his eyes. His chest rose, fell, hesitated, and rose and fell again as he listened to his breathing. Aside from the muted chatter of football from the other side of the house, the quiet whurr of his computer, and the dull thumping of his heart, he was surrounded by a density of silence, and between inhalations, he could hear the high-pitched ringing that comes in complete solitude.
His hands lay still by his sides, the blood softly pulsing through each finger with every heart beat. A gentle, familiar pain swelled up in his chest, and he sat up and reached for the Bible. As he felt the leather cover with his delicate fingers, he thought of how many people had found solace in that book over the years. He wished he could be one of them. He wanted to be like the kids in his youth group who closed their eyes tightly as the pastor prayed, who held up their palms to the alter, and who sang loud and terribly. But he kept his eyes open, his hands folded, and his mouth shut. One day, he imagined, he would feel some sort of signhe would feel the presence of a God, or of anything realand then he would believe. He would believe in something real and his world would be real and then he would pray like an angel on ecstasy.
He flipped open the Bible to a random page, dropped his index finger onto a random paragraph, and read:
But his eyes began to hurt so he flipped the book closed, then changed into his pajamas and fell into a deep sleep. Then the LORD called unto James: and he answered, Here am I. But the LORD was not known unto James, and James did not know from whence the voice came. And the LORD called a second time, and a third, and it was then that James’ eyes were made open: and he answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth. And the LORD said unto James, Behold, you shall do a thing, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. I have sworn unto the school that their iniquity shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever. Arise, and strike against thy class, for their wickedness is come up before me. And James rose up to flee, but the LORD put fear into his heart, and James was established to be a prophet of the LORD. And James lay unto morning, and the LORD was with him in the following days, until the morning of the incident. Lewerke said he acquired the machete and tree saw from his family’s shed and stowed them in his backpack. After planning for “quite a while,” Lewerke decided to carry out the act on that day, said Sgt. Perry Stone. “It was between him and God. He said kids were sinners and God had given him direction.” Ashley Dobis confirmed that Lewerke had not been bullied, but that on that day he seemed
xXcryformeXx: emotionally detached.
BeastFroMidEast: ill bet
xXcryformeXx: I know he just made that god bullshit up tho.
xXcryformeXx: I was raised christian and I think its fucked up that he could say that god would say shit like that.
xXcryformeXx: someone should buy him a fucking bible.
BeastFroMidEast: or not
BeastFroMidEast: ever read the bible?
BeastFroMidEast: take it literally and the kids in the class were sinners
BeastFroMidEast: omars muslim, so hes a sinner, billys gay, claires an aethiest, allisons had sex, nick smokes pot, you drink etc etc.
BeastFroMidEast: old testament says the class was full of sinners and sinners don’t deserve life, etc etc
xXcryformeXx: wtf do you know about the bible- its not the koran
BeastFroMidEast: obviously I kno more about it than u
xXcryformeXx: dont try to fucking twist my religion around on me.
xXcryformeXx signed off at 7:25 a.m., and Lewerke reportedly sat quietly at his desk, looking “detached but nothing too out of the ordinary.” Dobis said class was more relaxed that day because of the upcoming holiday. She put on a Spanish video at approximately 8 a.m. and sat down at her desk to grade papers, at which time Lewerke walked up to her desk and asked
JessyP453: if he could turn off the lights and close the door
INT. SPANISH CLASSROOM VALPO HIGH SCHOOL MORNING
At the back of the classroom, James glances into the hallway, closes the door, and turns off the light switch. The classroom becomes dark, the only light coming from the TV and the windows. He walks slowly back to his desk, his eyes far-off and glassy, and sits back down. He opens his backpack, but before picking up his weapons, he stops and looks around at his classmates. White light from the video softly splashes against their faces as they watch in silence, some smiling, some falling asleep, and we can see that James now sees their humanity as compassion washes over his eyes. But his trance is broken when a students’ cell phone RINGS. It’s quickly silenced, but James’ eyes resort to their former state, and he reaches into his bag, wielding the tree saw in one hand and the machete in the other. Feeling a lightness in his body he could only imagine to be the grace of God, James swung the machete forward with all his soul and might into the neck of Sarah, who was writing a text message to her friend Jenny. Whap. Sarah’s hand shot up to feel what had brushed against her neck, and James realized he had swung with the dull edge forward. Sarah was still wondering what had scraped against her smooth, moisturized skin when his sword connected with her face, slicing across her cheek and carving a scar that would still be repulsive on the day of her wedding, as for the rest of her life. A thin ribbon of blood sailed up into the air and hung briefly at its apex, momentarily glistening in the white cathode rays, before completing its arc against the sleeve of Nick’s new Polo shirt. Nick turned to see James
NTP369: j swinging away
NTP369: both hands
NTP369: sarah was screaming
NTP369: everyone was screaming
luke da stud: some fucked up shit
NTP369: true story
luke da stud: i wudda tackled him or somethin
NTP369: dude.. he
just began swinging at whoever was closest to him,” said Stone, who interviewed the suspect. Ashley Dobis told police officers she “heard a commotion,” looked up and saw the bloodied faces of her students, and Lewerke “wielding a weapon in each hand.” Dobis “screamed for everybody to get out,” at which point she fled the room as well.
INT. SPANISH CLASSROOM VALPO HIGH SCHOOL MORNING
James stands alone in the TV’s glow in the middle of the dark, empty classroom, still clutching his weapons, a crazed look in his eyes. Desks are turned over, papers are strewn about, and blood is everywhere – especially on James. We hear SCREAMS from down the hallway, and James runs out of the room in pursuit as the Spanish video continues to play
xXcryformeXx: as if nothing happened.
xXcryformeXx: we were bookin it down the hall in a pack-
xXcryformeXx: justine tripped and smackd her head on the tile.
xXcryformeXx: I heard we left a trail of blood all the way down the hall
katiebugg23: then howd you lose him?
xXcryformeXx: I dont know but he just
rounded a corner and was tackled by Assistant Principal George Gordon. Gordon and a school police officer had given chase to Lewerke before subduing him. Gordon, who played football in high school, pinned Lewerke down in the hallway until further help arrived.
“Random violence is an unfortunate and sad fact of life,” Valparaiso Principal Patrick Weil, still in his first year at the school, was quoted as saying. “Anytime something like this happens, you tend to lose your innocence.”
James looked down to notice a small pool of saliva forming that had drooled from his open mouth, which was pressed awkwardly against the hallway floor. Closing his mouth, he then noticed a puddle of blood that had formed just in front of his face, and James wondered whose it was.
He pushed his hands against the tile in an effort to stand, but found he couldn’t because Mr. Gordon was on top of him, and so he stayed still. Catching his breath, he closed his eyes and went back inside to the feeling of God that had been so liberating ten minutes before. But there was no feeling inside him, no lightness of body. He realized his entire self was completely, supernaturally numb, and he opened his eyes to see men running down the dark hallway in his direction. As he gradually regained feeling, first in his fingers, then his limbs, and finally in his chest, he was overwhelmed by the weight of the assistant principal pressing down against him, squishing his small frame into the cold, hard tile.
James would never fully regain all of his feeling, and a good part of him would always remain numb. When the sharp steel handcuffs clasped his hands together, he had almost cried out, but instead had kept his mouth shut, and in the police car hed stared out the window at the falling snow on his way to the Porter County Juvenile Detention Center, where he awaits a ruling on whether he will be judged as an adult or as a juvenile. Lewerke faces six counts of aggravated battery, for striking five of his classmates in the head and one in the wrist, and one count of criminal recklessness for chasing a student who tripped in the hallway.
INT. DETENTION CENTER – DAY
PHOTOGRAPHERS POV: James, in a bright orange jumpsuit, standing against a plain, white wall, his profile mug shot photographed. CLICK.
James turns to face the camera, and we see his face is blank and his eyes are empty. We hear the CLICK of the camera and FREEZE FRAME, slowly FADING TO
coolsn1251: blacked out or something
coolsn1251: i dont think hes crazy tho
dreamyKK22: ha, ya he seems pretty sane to
his attorneys. The legal team is claiming Lewerke was insane at the time of the attack, and are challenging the eligibility of a psychiatrist appointed by the court. A psychiatrist had testified in March that Lewerke said he had communicated with God, and believed himself to be a Messiah figure, who was “sent to cleanse the evil from the world.”
The judge and magistrate refuted the claim, quoting him as saying he “knew his actions would bring about a change in what he believed to be a pointless life.”