On September 18, 1986, a student at Benicia High School in Benicia, California was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend after an on-campus quarrel. I was a high school sports reporter for the Benicia Herald in 1986-87, and wrote the following column for the newspaper, which it published on September 21. At the request of a high school classmate who remembered it after the Aurora shootings, I am posting it online.
A loss of innocence
I hear about it all the time. A rumor spreads, a boyfriend gets jealous, starts an argument with his girlfriend, and kills her. But it always happens somewhere else. In San Francisco, Oakland, Fremont, Richmond, any big city…but never here. How could it happen here? This is a small town. Most people move here to get away from that sort of violence, to go somewhere where the streets are clean, the citizens are friendly and the schools are safe. Benicia’s always been that kind of town. It still is. But you wouldn’t have known it Thursday.
It’s been said that the worst time in a person’s life is the day he loses his innocence. The day he realizes that the world by its very nature is a place where sadness and death are a daily fact of life that touches all of us, regardless of who or where we are. Some claim that no one has any innocence [any more], that all the violence and death we see on television has numbed us to any sense of loss about death. I wish those people who believe that could have been at Benicia High School Thursday afternoon.
I never knew Heather Dunn. I’d heard an occasional comment about her flaws, but what else do people ever talk about? All I knew was that she was a reasonably good-looking sophomore who had a couple of friends that I knew. Nothing that would set her apart in my mind from any number of people at Benicia High. Until Thursday.
I only knew Leonard Rubio slightly. He was a good football player last year, but not someone who was particularly violent or hot-tempered off the field. If you’d asked my opinion of him, I would have described him as a young man who had been a credit to his high school and had a good future ahead of him. Until Thursday.
A happy couple, or at least as happy as a high school couple could be. The three-year age difference didn’t bode well for a good future between the two, but it was just a high school romance, and who ever thinks about the future anyway? Until Thursday.
When the news came, it was a shock. Most people in the school knew either Dunn or Rubio, and most couldn’t understand how it could have happened. We didn’t even need to know who Heather Dunn was to be shocked. Some people walked around stunned. Others gossiped about the why and how of the murder. Students who wouldn’t have cringed or screamed at the worst bloodbath in a horror flick cried. But everyone had one question on their minds. Why here?
The students of Benicia High School lost a lot on Thursday. Some lost a friend, others a classmate, still others their faith in the safety and isolation of Benicia. But for many of us, it was the day we lost our innocence.