June Harrison was counting money in her office at Lake Braddock Secondary School Wednesday afternoon when James Stevens walked in and pointed his high powered rifle at her head.
"Lady, I'm sorry for you. You're in the wrong place at the wrong time," Stevens told the 57-year-old school finance officer.
"Help me! Somebody help me!" Harrison screamed.
"Lady," said Stevens, 18, "Nobody cares about you either."
Harrison yesterday recalled this tense exchange as the first explosive moments last Wednesday of what was to become a 21-hour siege at the normally quiet Fairfax County school. Stevens later surrendered to police and is currently undergoing psychiatric observation to determine if he is competent to stand trial.
The first hostage of what would later become nine, Harrison was alone with Stevens for the opening four hours of the ordeal. And despite her initial terror, Harrison said a "mother-son relationship" developed between herself and Stevens, whom she described as "a young boy with hurt in his eyes, a young lad crying out to be heard."
Harrison bandaged the young man's hand when he smashed it through a window; he reminded her to take her hypertension pills. When police cut off the telephone service to the office, Harrison suggested a pay phone down the hall and offered herself as a shield. When Harrison wanted a cup of coffee, Stevens had police fetch it, then told Harrison, "Anything you want, June, is yours on a silver platter."
Moments after entering Harrison's office, Stevens began throwing over chairs and scattering files on the floor. He started to turn over a desk, to barricade the door, but stopped when he saw a calculator on the desk. "Oh," Stevens said, according to Harrison. "I bet this cost a lot of money." He placed the calculator on the floor, then tipped the desk.
As time went by, Harrison said, Stevens "kept picking up the phone and calling the police. He kept saying, 'Where is Rebecca? I want to talk to Rebecca,' " referring to 17-year-old Rebecca Golas, the girl who had broken off a relationship with Stevens and rejected his proposal of marriage, igniting the rage that brought him to the school, rifle in hand.
"Then he put me on the phone. I said to the police, 'Why don't you get the girlfriend? My life is at stake.' They kept saying it takes time, it takes time. I kept thinking, 'What harm would it do to get her on the phone?' I understood why they didn't want to send her in. I mean, I'm older. I've lived a long time. She's a young girl and hasn't lived at all. I could deal with that idea -- me instead of her -- but I couldn't understand why they couldn't just put her on the phone.
"James had told me that he'd gone to the girl's house and that the father had called him a bum . . . James kept repeating, 'He called me a bum. He called me a bum.' "
Harrison said she could see "that all he wanted was someone to listen to him. But he couldn't, so he did this bad, terrible thing, and it was like a snowball that he had started rolling and he couldn't stop it."
About four hours into the siege, Harrison said Stevens got nervous, afraid that the special police team outside would come in through the ceiling. He asked her to open all the doors in the office complex. It was then that the other eight hostages, including the school principal, were discovered.
"From that point," Harrison said, "the others took the lead in talking to James, but he kept me near him." Harrison was the one Stevens would send out into the hallway to bring in the food that police traded throughout the night for the release of hostages.
Several times, Stevens told Harrison he would release her. Several times, she said no. "I wanted to be with him, to see it through to the end with him. I wanted to be there to encourage him, to smile at him. He needed that."
But by 10:30 p.m., after pizza was delivered and Stevens and his hostages had eaten, Stevens told Harrison, "June . . . it's time for you to go."
"No, James," Harrison said. "I've got to stay."
"No, you got to go . . . you need your medicine," Stevens said. He took her arm gently and walked her to the door.
"Well, then promise me you won't shoot yourself."
"I promise that but I can't promise I won't get myself shot," Stevens said.
Harrison kissed him on the cheek. "I care about you, I do care," Harrison said.
Then she walked out the door, down a long corridor to safety.