Thursday, March 02, 2006
Violent death raises troubling questions
In 1999, Rashad Williams was an antidote to the poison of despair that was the aftermath of the Columbine school shootings. Just 15 years old, he became a national celebrity after raising tens of thousands of dollars for one of the victims. Williams was interviewed by many TV networks, including CNN. He even made an appearance on Oprah.

Popular, handsome and athletic, Rashad Williams strikes me as the kind of kid that many teenagers wished they could be. He was probably the kind of kid a lot of parents wished they could have raised. So it was with particular surprise and sadness that I read of his violent death a few months ago in California.

In December, Rashad was shot twice in the back and died in the middle of the street -- the result of what authorities describe as a violent home invasion. But then, details surfaced that floored me. Rashad, 21 years old, wasn't a target of the home invasion -- he was an intruder and was shot by the homeowner. Turns out that in recent years he had robbed banks and passed counterfeit checks. I have since talked to people who knew him best and we all share the same question: How could this happen?

Some possible clues emerge in these interviews, which we will feature tonight. At times, Rashad had problems with stress from the demands of celebrity. Also, there were issues at home with his mom going through a divorce. He was so burned-out in his senior year that he flunked classes and couldn't get a diploma. But are these reasons for such a terrible turn in a once inspiring life? I never found that answer and probably never will.
Posted By David Mattingly, CNN Correspondent: 3:29 PM ET
  50 Comments
It seems we are always looking for the "why" in peoples bizarre behavior. Clearly others have dealt with parents divorce, etc. in their lives without resorting to violent, reckless and troubling actions. Could it simply be laziness or apathy that drives them to this? Isn't it the same scenario as ex-cons and repeat offenses? Nobody said the path through this world was going to be easy!
Posted By Anonymous Bruce Willig- Ft. Lauderdale Florida : 4:05 PM ET
Unfortunately, Rashad suffered from what this culture now promotes: celebrity is more important than substance. What he accomplished for the victim before was substantial, and should be lauded, but turning him into a celebrity was wrong. Celebrate the action, not the person. When the people doing the works become more important than the works themselves then you are doomed to failure. No one can live up to the perfect sense created by something totally selfless. Praise is good. Supporting the emotional impact is better. Rashad needed love and comfort just like the victim's family he helped. When he was turned into a celebrity, he was given a carte blanche to waive off decency and lost sight of the blessing he gave others. His life was ruined. He was taught to believe that he was the focus when it was his efforts all along. When he could not live up to the celebrity he failed. He did it to himself as well. When faced with cameras demanding to turn you into a celebrity, just quietly say no thank you. Let the work speak for itself. Take pride in knowing you did something good. Celebrities falter and fall, even die. Love continues on.
Posted By Anonymous Richard R, Charlotte, NC : 4:07 PM ET
It's a hard fact of life, but you really cannot trust anyone. Manipulation and greed seem to run so many lives. I always wonder when the strong become weak ... and why there are so many weak people in this world.

What a crazy story; shocking, but not surprising.
Posted By Anonymous Rebecca B, Houston, Texas : 4:18 PM ET
I have often wondered what makes young adults turn in different directions with their lives. I'm about to turn 30, and I'll admit that my life has not turned out the way I thought it would. I can trace it all back to the decision I made to drop out of college a support my family after my father left. I have no regrets about that decision, but it certainly changed the course of my life. Reading a story like this one makes me wonder what could have possibly changed so dramatically for this young man that he disregarded the opportunities presented to him. Nevermind the opportunities all people have to create for themselves. It seems he was a bright and compassionate young man. Such a tragic loss for someone who could have changed so many more people's lives. I think I understood as a young adult that I had the power to make a differnce. I think that idea is lost on many kids today. I think they hear a lot of negative ideas and comments from adults that makes it seem as if attempting to do any good is pointless. I hope that soon young people start to think for themselves again and start to strive to be Hillary Clinton instead of Hillary Duff.
Posted By Anonymous Sarah, Syracuse, NY : 4:20 PM ET
The old "broken home excuse" is bunk! Did his parents' marital problems prevent him from going somewhere quiet to study? Why didn't he earn a GED at least?

We as a society are so quick to place blame on others and on external forces for "dragging us down." What happened to the concept of personal responsibility?
Posted By Anonymous Rachel Delgado, Philadelphia, PA : 4:21 PM ET
With the subject dead, you will never find the answer, but many will probably express opinions. The circumstances have all the earmarks of a drug problem, but who knows?
Posted By Anonymous Bill, Dickson, TN : 4:23 PM ET
Heroic aspiration in men young and old is most often an expression of need. As a culture we love the heroic, but we do little to address the need. Rashad's rise and fall was similar to that of many gifted athletes who, for a time, experienced fame and fortune.
We can do better for these young men, hoefully we will.
Posted By Anonymous Dale R. Evans, Los Gatos, California : 4:23 PM ET
"How could this happen?" Your puzzlement is a typical reaction for someone who is a naive idealist. Don't get me wrong: I don't hate naive idealists; I used to be one myself; I know they mean well; but they just do not want to accept the awful truth: most of those we admire as 'underdogs' and root for, and lovingly describe as 'the most vulnerable among us,' etc., are fatally compromised psychologically and do not make it. Yes, a few do, but they are the exceptions. We should not be surprised by the vast majority who do not. And we need a new approach to solving this problem. Naive idealism is not the answer.
Posted By Anonymous Bill Parker, St. Paul, MN : 4:27 PM ET
Much like all of us, this young man went through many trials. The one difference is that the trials beat him, and he alone allowed it. Enough with the "why" and give us all some "that's why" - that is what our world is in need of, heart-felt accountability to your fellow man, not just reasons why we fail or succeed. Given his experience, life would obviously take on new meaning´┐Ż.he chose the wrong one. Next.
Posted By Anonymous Carl Samuelson, Lake Havasu, Arizona : 4:35 PM ET
As soon as we drop this culture of excuses we can start rebuilding this country. "So burned out" his senior year he flunked out. It doesnt take much effort to graduate high school. The kid was a criminal. No excuses. He had chances and options, but he chose a life of crime. With the amount of good, honest hard-working people who are struggling along and need our help I'm not going to lose any sleep over some kid who robbed banks and got shot breaking into someones home.
Posted By Anonymous Richard, Pittsburgh PA : 4:44 PM ET
troubling and interesting, but hardly shocking. history is rife with examples of bizarre behaviour. truth is the only only one who may know what motivated such actions is not talking. It is fundementally human to try and understand such things, however it is likely that sometimes people just make bad choices and end up having to deal with unfortunate consequences. sad story all the way around.
Posted By Anonymous dan k freehold nj : 4:48 PM ET
It amazes me how people are quick to characterize and criticize a DEAD person for his/her decision in life.

The author offered no opinion about this young man's life before and/or after Columbine. Unfortunatly, Rashad Wiliams can not tell anyone WHY?

Therefore, everyone should STOP trying to figure out what went wrong.
Posted By Anonymous R. Mitchum, Chicago, IL : 4:50 PM ET
What we see on the outside is not an indicator of what's going on inside. No one can ever know what demons are haunting the mind of another individual. The tragedy here is that a once promising life had ended in a violent death.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 4:57 PM ET
I don't know how long ago Richard from PA was in high school, but he is clearly out of touch. My sons high school classes are very difficult, much more so than my college classes back in the 70's were. Add to that all the social pressures...its a pressure cooker for sure.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Houston TX : 5:02 PM ET
Dealing with a celebrity status and grieving over parents' divorcing is no excuse for becoming a criminal. He knew what crime could do to a person, to families, to communities firsthand and still he chose to ruin his own life. He had so many opportunities and was capable of leading a wonderful, productive life, something the Columbine victims will never have. Why did he have to waste it?
Posted By Anonymous Courtney, Chagrin Falls, OH : 5:04 PM ET
It doesn't really surprise me at all. Lets face it, our world is corrupt from the top down. We have corrupt and greedy politicians. We have hypocritical religious from the leaders of our churches. We have parents who teach that is not your fault to kids when they don't act right. I have a 3 year old daughter and I am so scared for her in her life. I am also scared for other kids too. I don't control what happens to them. There is no real morals anymore. Its a real shame too.
Posted By Anonymous Jeff, Columbia SC : 5:09 PM ET
It's all about chooses we make. Some people chose to accept the problem at hand and find ways to overcome them. Others just give up and say "poor me". It's all about how we chose to live our life.
Posted By Anonymous Rachel Saiz-Albuquerque, NM : 5:09 PM ET
Rashad Williams selfless fund raising now appears as an ominous fixation on larger problems. For those who are obsessed with societies problems, taking care of themselves sometimes falls off the radar screen. Failure obtain basic skills, earn a living and deal with personal issues can lead to dangerous consequences.
Posted By Anonymous Don Trask, Madison WI : 5:10 PM ET
Psychology is a black box effect, one can never be certain why people exhibit certain behaviors, even with years of scientific experiments defining these behaviors and the underlying mechanisms.
Posted By Anonymous Andy Scooper, new hampshire : 5:16 PM ET
The author doesn't tell us much about who Rashad was BEFORE the tragedy at Columbine. All we really know about Rashad was that he was popular, handsome, athletic, and raised a bunch of money for one of the victims, which resulted in instant fame. Unfortunately, popularity, good looks, and athleticism aren't the qualities that sustain us as we grow and mature, later in life. Isn't it interesting that these superficial qualities are the ones we focus on to wonder what was the undoing of poor Rashad?
Posted By Anonymous Schelle, Lake City, Colorado : 5:23 PM ET
He went into depression and could not live up to his fame and celebrity status. Perhaps he was just an average (or even lower) student. It is hard to live up to other people's high expectation.
Posted By Anonymous Ben, Poughkeepsie, NY : 5:28 PM ET
My feelings sit with R. Mitchum from Chicago. The answer to the question of why can only be answered by Rashad himself. It's outrageous that so many feel the right to comment on anothers life, especially with such heartlessness. What ever it was that was going on inside of Rashad is what led him down this path. Those of us that can voice an opinion should feel more compelled to comment on those things that we can affect rather than those things we cannot touch.
Posted By Anonymous Sheh Fatemie Redlands, CA : 5:32 PM ET
I think it's odd that so many people are quick to blame a dead kid when no one has any idea what he was going through. I don't condone what he did; it was wrong. However, I think it is only fair to stop asking why and start asking how each one of us can help children, young teens in the same situation as Rashad. After all, it's his generation that will end up taking care of my generation.
Posted By Anonymous Lisa, Sacramento, CA : 5:33 PM ET
Perhaps the moral here is that in death, Williams sends a clear message. Steer afoul of the law and civility, be prepared to pay the price.

I have no sympathy. Williams, for all the good done while a child, turned into a criminal opportunist who had no sympathy for the impact that he was to have had on his intended victim.
Posted By Anonymous Lon, Nashville TN : 5:35 PM ET
There are many variables and dynamics that happen in a family. The old addage that "nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors," is true. Some situations in his childhood had to have triggered his impulse to commit the crimes which eventually caused his death.
Posted By Anonymous Anita, Austin, Texas : 5:36 PM ET
Is it a weakness in humanity to want to be loved within a functional family? A child is not borned alone, grown, and needing no care from others. Even though a divorce needs not lead a child to crime, it's an influencing factor. The implication of divorce and its stress can be comparable to a post traumatic stress syndrome. Parents, beware and be ready. Otherwise, simply be careful and use condom when having sex. Don't be caught becoming a not-yet-ready parent. Coming from a divorce family myself, I had a childhood filled with loneliness, emptiness, suicidal-thought, tendency to commit crime, but because of the fear of God's punishment, I stayed off committing crimes. May be Rashad has not had faith in God yet. May be he thinks no one really cares for him. May be he is in despair, finding no right purpose of living it right. Only he knows.
Posted By Anonymous willie, Short Hills, NJ : 5:40 PM ET
I have to think Rashad was carrying a tremendous amount of emotional baggage around with him and that whatever the situation was with his Mom's divorce (and his family life in general) it had a huge impact on him. In my experience from working with a lot of young kids,the ones who end up committing crimes are kids who have had extremely difficult home lives. It is sad though that this happened to Rashad when he once seemed to have such a bright future.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer , Durham NC : 5:40 PM ET
Obviously the kid had two sides or more to himself. One side was socially proactive and responsible the other an irresponsible flake. Divorce of his parents is not a reason for such a sour turn south. Possibly that stress or other stresses made him turn to drugs. Hard to say but the fact remains that a good seed turned into a bad apple and lost his life in the commission of a crime.
Posted By Anonymous Geoff, Long Beach CA : 5:42 PM ET
I remember when i was fifteen or so the only thing on my mind was getting the heck out of my house, finding a job or military service. I did to , 17 working and 18 gone. Some how drugs or money corrupted this guy. No one breaks into another persons house unless some kind of a illegal addiction is involved.
Posted By Anonymous Dave Winfield Quincy, Il : 5:44 PM ET
People, like the weather, are very difficult to predict. One day is sunshine, the other is a hurricane.
Posted By Anonymous Ben, Morgantown, WV : 5:46 PM ET
You people know nothing about this kid or his life, yet you are so quick to judge. Too bad someone couldn't have helped Rashid the way he helped the Columbine victim. Maybe his life would have turned out differently, then, too.

A thought: before there is another dead kid, and a "next time," perhaps you should try to help a kid who needs it, instead of passing your sanctimonious, ill-informed judgments.
Posted By Anonymous Nick, St. Louis, MO : 5:51 PM ET
That's one proof that in our society of human beings past good performance is not always a good indicator of future notable deeds. I am not trying to be sarcastic or turn upside down Rashad's grave here ( he should rest in peace because he did a lot of good for suffering people)but people tend to believe that if one person is a remarkable person today s/he will always be that way even in the future and this is not the case. Living is a long journey and sometimes the road is pretty bumpy if people are not careful enough with the social environment where they live and ought to face. My guess is that this young man was a good kids from the get go but along the way something impacted him to the point that his life was turned around 360 degrees (no offense to your show Anderson I really like it)in the wrong and fatal direction. And nobody would ever pretend to have all the answers this tragic death of a young man who cared deeply for his fellow human beings but at the end got corrupt by who knows what? Things happen
Posted By Anonymous Jean-Luc, Washington D.C : 6:23 PM ET
21. I remember that age; old enough to be responsible, but too young to know how. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a parent, guardian, or mentor with the compassion (and fortitude) to stick with us through the early twenties; a time when our "education" in living really begins.
Unfortunately, many of us are left on our own to make our way, without much guidance in this very crucial time in our lives. When we're young, we tend to think we're invincible; we have a long-life ahead so we can afford to take risks. Perhaps that's why so many young people are killed in car accidents, suddenly disappear, or just happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
I'm sorry Rashad lost his way, maybe we can learn a lesson from his tragedy, and take some time to help a "wayward" young person we may know.
Posted By Anonymous Mick, Advance, NC : 6:25 PM ET
It's such a shame that there are people who quickly judge without all the information. Human beings are complex. What may seem easy for one, may be very difficult for another. We don't know what this man's life circumstances were. We don't know what his coping mechanisms were. It is a shame that a life was wasted. It's a shame when any life is wasted. There is not enough compassion and understanding in this world. There is so much negativity. I am looking forward to seeing the story and reserving judgement until then. There's got to be more than what's on the surface.
Posted By Anonymous Paige B., Dallas, TX : 6:28 PM ET
My parents divorced when I was 12, it was horrible, both pitted my brothers against each parent and against each other, one day we were going with my father, the next day going with my mother. But I graduated high school, went on to get my BS in Chemistry and another in Architecture Engineering, I've never married, but I lead a wonderful life. I never used my hardships as a child as an excuse for failure. We all have choices, some choose the easy way out and then blame others for their personal failure. I was even shot once, right between the eyes, ruined my hearing, but I moved on, I just talk loud, so what.....
Posted By Anonymous M. Patton, Phoenix, AZ : 6:48 PM ET
I agree that we are all responsible for our own actions. Many children survive divorces and other personal issues without resorting to crime. However, as long as there are people like some of those in this forum that chose to put down their beer cans long enough to express their lack of empathy for another person who in the past has shown great empathy for others we will never move forward as a nation. Thanks for dragging us down!
Posted By Anonymous Henry, Bronx, New York : 7:23 PM ET
Just as it is possible that Rashad changed overtime, it is equally possible that he was troubled all along. Maybe he perceived his experiences as painful, saw others in pain and was driven to do something meaningful and kind to help out. We'll never know, but it could just as easily be that over time, there wasn't much change at all for Rashad.
Posted By Anonymous Lisala, Celveland Ohio : 8:25 PM ET
Are you really unable to answer whether a parental divorce and fame are "reasons for such a terrible turn in a once inspiring life"? Well, has your own fame given you reason to rob?
Perhaps I am assuming that by "reasons" you mean excuses" or even understandable reasons. If you meant excuses, then I think that you are being very self-indulgent in your liberalism, to put it kindly; if you really meant just reasons then, with all due respect, the question is a bit pointless. I know of a defendant whose reason for holding someone down and taking to the victim's face with a straight-edge was that the victim (a passerby on the sidewalk who was not known to the perpetrator) had "looked at me, he was asking for it." That was indeed the reason, but who cares? There is no sense in trying to understand every individual sociopath's personal motivation.
Posted By Anonymous Bill, New York, NY : 8:45 PM ET
A combination of things may be the result, a loss of someone who was doing important things. 15 mins. of fame when none was expected, how do I keep that leval of focus, never being able to morn the losses. The list goes on. Just a shame the path he took, but pride in the path he created.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, New Orleans, La. : 8:58 PM ET
David, Just a guess! Drugs.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Stage Brooklyn, Michigan : 8:58 PM ET
Be sure to update us on the lawsuit the family files because the homeowner shot him in the back.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy, San Diego, CA : 9:26 PM ET
There always seems to be a tendency in the country to blame or justify the criminal acts on some deep rooted issues from the past or something troubling in the criminals childhood. Rashad Williams is clearly is criminal here and much that I wish that he had not met his end like this, there are no excuses to justify his behaviour whether it is a stress from divorce or living up to his celebrity status. Compared to this , there are ppl with bigger problems in the developing countries who live under the excessive strain of poverty and misery and sometimes can not even afford a single decent meal in a day or have a roof on their heads. Those are real problems .
Posted By Anonymous Monica S, Hoboken, NJ : 9:53 PM ET
There's always an excuse for anyone to become violent, but whatever it may be, each person is responsible for their own actions...a different generation, the same excuses.
Posted By Anonymous Virginia E. A. Metlakatla, Ak : 10:26 PM ET
I am 36 years old, and am surprised by all of the cynical, un-empathetic, 'I have no sympathy' type answers on your message board. The human spirit is fragile, and each individual has an individual threshold for the amount of stress they can endure. People react or act out in different ways. What surprises me is that after reading so many entries, not many respondants seem deeply saddened by the entire tragedy that unfolded here. Basic human understanding and objectivity are virtues. No one truly knows what was torturing Rashad's soul. Originally, he showed through example that it was inherent in his nature to help and serve others. Something in his life happened that clipped the wings of his positive spirit, and when no longer able to fly...sadly had no support net below to offer him a place to regain his footing. Then he tragically crashed and burned. No one knows for sure, but had Rashad realized that he had choices and a support system, or could there have been an intervention somewhere a long the way, perhaps he wouldn't have wandered down this fatal road. It is true that not everyone that is served a bad hand reacts in a negative way (gets involved in crime, drug use, etc.), and not everyone can be rehabilitated, but as I mentioned before, the human spirit is fragile and mysterious. What is bunk to me is the total numbness that now exists amongst mankind...the inability to have compassion for an extinguished life of a contributing human being whose soul was once bright and thriving. I hope that some of your readers will reconsider their harsh responses to such devastating and tragic news.
Posted By Anonymous Ashley Epes, Dallas, TX : 10:33 PM ET
Perhaps it is - Pride before the fall.
It says he had issues dealing with instant celebrity. Pride - the cause of wars and heartache, and the fall of nations. When will we learn?
Posted By Anonymous Wayne, Kirkland, WA : 11:33 PM ET
Sometimes people plunge so far from the ones that love them to realize that making the bad choices in life can lead to tragic ending.
Posted By Anonymous Stephanie Jarvis, Abilene, Tx : 11:45 PM ET
It breaks my heart to see this young man cavalierly labeled corrupt, irresponsible, lazy, and evil. My guess is that he wasn't any of those things, but rather lost, confused, desperate, and afraid.

The weight of other people's expectations, whether real or perceived, can be a terrible burden. People expected me to go out and save the world, or somesuch. Most likely to succed, salutatorian, called the "best they'd ever seen" by my college professors, awards, research fellowships, the works. But then I went to graduate school, and I was so terrified I was going to let them all down that eventually I was too afraid to do anything at all. I was forced out of school by severe panic attacks.

Even so, I'm one of the lucky ones. Thanks to a tremendously supportive family, I fought my way back and earned my Masters degree. It's not the PhD I wanted, but it means more to me than any doctorate ever could, given what I went through to get it.

Rashid, I would guess, did not have the kind of support he needed, and so he buckled under the weight of all that "potential" everyone told him he had. Do I condone what he did? Absolutely not. But I do understand him, a little. It can be a terrible thing to be "great," especially when you don't have anyone to tell you that it's okay if you aren't "great" and that they will love you just the same.
Posted By Anonymous Erin, Urbana, IL : 3:38 AM ET
What I find astonishing as a European is that no one has questioned the right of the homeowned to shoot dead the intruder. He was shot in the back, presumably as he was running away. This was not self-defense.

Where I come from, summary execution is not regarded as an appropriate punishment for burglary.

Many people have done stupid things in their youth and have later matured to become decent citizens. Rashad Williams will never have that chance.
Posted By Anonymous David, Aachen, Germany. : 5:43 AM ET
Regardless of Rashad's life before, during, or after the Columbine shootings, he clearly made some poor choices. People seem absolutely shocked that this kid, who had become a sort of self-styled humanitarian, could have gone on to commit (it seems) a string of sometimes violent crimes.

I'm not comparint the two individuals, per se, but I'm reminded of John Wayne Gacy, who was a respected, responsible, and well-liked member of society...who donated time and money to various social causes. Well, we all know how he turned out, don't we?

The point is that a person is only judged by the worst thing they do. If someone makes a name for themselves by rescuing countless puppies; feeding and caring for them, and then the person drowns all the puppies, nobody is going to say, in the grand scheme of things, "Why did this honorable philanthropist go wrong?"
Posted By Anonymous M. Hill, Fairfax, VA : 8:50 AM ET
the home "invasion" was the home a someone who grew pot for medicinal purposes... this was a drug deal gone bad or they were trying rob a drug dealer with money....

drugs is the answer: crack, cocaine will turn a Jeckyl into Hyde. Pot less so but still can lead to other things in the hands of someone with emotional problems
Posted By Anonymous Will, New York, NY : 3:34 PM ET
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