Facing utter hopelessness, I snapped. I tried to get a gun; I wanted to take out as many people as possible — people who had tortured or ignored me — and then kill myself. It was 1997, and I had two possible locations mapped out: my school and a mall food court. I wanted to be heard. The abuse I’d suffered had closed me off, and I wanted to feel an emotion other than pain. I wanted to feel, for once, like I was in control, even if that meant spreading destruction and death.

But two things happened that stopped me. First, I tried to get a gun. The gun store seemed out of the question, because I was under 18 and raised with a deep fear of authority, thanks to frequent evictions, drug use at home and my own truancy. So I sought a group of local gang members who gathered outside my school. They had dealt drugs to people in my family, and they knew I didn’t use myself, so they trusted me. They always talked about “being strapped,” and because I was not raised around guns, they were the only connection my young mind could imagine. I approached one member and asked about a rifle, something that would let me inflict maximum damage in a small amount of time. The exchange was businesslike. He suggested that he could procure one, and we exchanged phone calls for three days.