Crimes and Misdemeanors

By Michael Leahy
Sunday, June 4, 2006

TODAY IS MONDAY, and a Monday presents the fewest hassles for a high school security chief, Wally Baranyk will tell you. "They come in feeling pretty good from the weekend and usually not acting like knuckleheads on Monday," he says. Knucklehead is one of Baranyk's favorite terms. "But it can only get worse from here."

A retired deputy chief of the Fairfax County Police Department, the 54-year-old Baranyk nowadays heads up the four-person security team at Oakton High School in Vienna, which has never, in his three years there, had a security incident that he'd call frightening -- no sexual assaults, no fights that put anybody in a hospital, no teachers attacked, no kids who flipped out and did harm to a group, no gang brawls, no stabbings, no shootings. Still, Oakton -- which is, by all measures, an elite public high school, ranking 104th on Newsweek's list of the 1,200 best public high schools in the country -- is no sanctuary from trouble or anxiety; no high school nowadays ever is.

It is only 8:45 a.m. on Monday, but already a kid is being asked to visit the security office, not summoned, "just asked to drop by for a little talk," Baranyk explains. "We want to keep it low-key with this kid for now." The kid, he notes, has been in frequent trouble at school, and is now accused by his ex-girlfriend of threatening to beat up another student. The situation has grown more alarming because suspicion is building that the troubled boy may be associated with a gang and that his threatened foil -- who says he was beaten up by another Oakton student just three days earlier -- has ignored a drug debt; the story is that he either was given or stole marijuana that belonged to other boys, and hasn't paid them back. Baranyk would like to bust someone for the assault, but he doesn't have a witness, besides the victim, whose credibility has never been rock solid. Baranyk is hoping, among other things, that the kid coming to his office now might be able to fill in some blanks, in addition to confessing to his own wrongdoing.

The kid arrives. He is tall, rangy and agitated-looking. Baranyk, a couple of inches shorter than the kid, gestures at a chair. The kid is pacing. A thin man marked as middle-aged by bags under his eyes, Baranyk carries neither a police baton nor anything else to restrain the unruly. But in his cream polo shirt with Oakton Security stitched on it, he has the right bearing -- lithe and fit, with taut forearms -- and a manner that says he is unfazed by trouble.

"Hi, good to see you," Baranyk says brightly. "How are you?"

"I'm pissed off," the kid says.

Baranyk lets him vent.

"Like why do I gotta waste my time?" the kid snaps. "People lyin'. You know what I'm sayin'? Pissed off."

"Gosh, and you've been doing so well lately, which I'm proud of," Baranyk says gently. "Hey, just tell me what's going on, so I can help."

"Everybody knows what happened. People are lying and snitching on me."

Baranyk says what the kid already knows: Witnesses have claimed he threatened a boy.

"Oh, man," the kid groans. "You gonna believe that?"

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