The father of James O. Huberty, the man who killed almost two dozen people in a southern California McDonald's on Wednesday, stood in his living room today trying to account for the atrocity his son committed.

Somehow horror had sprung from the fertile soil of northeastern Ohio. Somehow Earl V. Huberty's son, Jim, always high-strung, had come unwound and, in a burst of weapons' fire, killed 21 children and adults.

"I painted this for my church," the senior Huberty was saying. "There are 12 sheep there, see, by the River Jordan, tended by their shepherd. And there's one apart, by itself. It's the lost sheep."

Huberty, 73, suddenly broke down. "Yesterday was the worst day in my life . . . ," he said. "I feel so sorry for those people."

It was in this house, in a town of 289 people, that Jim was living when he was graduated from Waynedale High School. For 10 years before that, he had lived across the street, in a smaller house, while his father fought a losing battle with the soil.

His father had wanted to be a farmer, but that dream was never realized. Instead, pinched by economic circumstances, Earl Huberty labored at the Timken Roller Bearing Co. factory in Canton, 20 miles northeast of Mount Eaton. He was a reject investigator.

But it wasn't just the hard arithmetic of farm life that bedeviled Earl Huberty and his son. There was also the matter of Icle Huberty, Earl Huberty's first wife and Jim's mother.

When her son was 7 and her daughter, Ruth, was 11, Icle Huberty left the family to become a Lutheran missionary, working with native Americans in the West, Earl Huberty said. The year was 1950, and he had decided that it was time to move out of industrial Canton and settle with his family on a farm in Mount Eaton. He said she refused to go.

"My first wife, she didn't want to move out here," Huberty said. "She said she didn't want to live out in the middle of nowhere . . . . She wanted to be a missionary in Jamaica. She did go with the Indians out West. I don't know where."

Anger boiling up, he said, "You shouldn't leave your family. You shouldn't leave your children."

First at the Mount Eaton Elementary School and later at Waynedale High, classmates of Jim Huberty became aware that he was from a "broken home." They left him alone, and he seemed to prefer that.

There were other problems. His father said Jim was stricken with polio and suffered spastic paralysis. One of his teachers, Harold Henderson, remembered, "He had a little bit of a peculiar motion when he walked. He had a little bit of an odd carriage and movements."

School records and the recollections of classmates and teachers indicate that Jim Huberty attracted very little notice in school. He was graduated 51st out of a class of 77 at Waynedale High, "Home of the Golden Bears." Young Huberty was never a Golden Bear, though. He played no sports, participated in no organized activities that anyone can remember.

"He was the kind of person that didn't stick out," Henderson said. "As far as I know, he didn't have any discipline problems. He was something of a loner. He didn't have many friends. He wasn't 'in' with the gang."

He flunked a course called "Civil Service," which was designed to teach students the practical necessities of life, such as keeping a checking account. His teacher in that course, Ron Fike, who now sells insurance, said, "I can't believe I failed him and I don't remember him."

When it came time to get his senior picture taken for Waynedale High's yearbook, the "Hill 'n' Dale," Huberty apparently ducked out. He was one of only two in the graduating class whose picture did not appear.

Perhaps his isolation did not seem unusual in the world in which he grew up, where rural farm communities were separate from each other.

Then, as now, the Amish in this region, with their disdain for modern machines, plied the fields and roads around Waynedale High with horses. Mennonites, though they adopted modern technology, also brought to bear their own ideas about society and commerce.

Among their children and the children of other farmers and factory workers who commuted to nearby cities, Jim Huberty went virtually unnoticed. For amusement, he shot his rifle at targets and groundhogs. He kept close to his dog, Shep.

JoAnne Stallman, a classmate, recalled that children from one community usually stuck close to their neighbors; the cliques in high school were defined by geography and culture. So it was not especially odd that Jim Huberty kept apart. Many of the children did.

Huberty, she said, "was just very, very quiet. He read a lot and didn't do anything, didn't run around with anybody, didn't go to the games either."

He did play chess. He built his father a wood-inlay chess table, which stands in the middle of the Huberty living room here, one of the few remaining connections between father and son.

Earl Huberty said he and his son went their separate ways after Earl remarried in 1971. Evidently, the son never adjusted to the loss of his mother. The Rev. Dave Lombardi, pastor of a Canton church, told The Repository newspaper there that her departure left him embittered.

"He made it very clear that any God that required a mother to leave her children is not one that he wanted to serve," Lombardi said.

The details of the mass murderer's adult life have become known. A would-be mortician, James Huberty had no flair for the public relations needed to handle customers. Married to Etna Markland, he was father of two daughters and provided for them as a welder at the Babcock & Wilcox power generating plant in Massillon, Ohio, where he moved when the rift developed with his father.

The tendency toward the solitary life, and an apparently growing bitterness, led Huberty into an obsessive pursuit of self-defense. He studied martial arts, collected weapons and hoarded food.

For a while, he enjoyed financial security, owning a house and a six-unit apartment building on a tree-lined street in the older residential section of Massillon. But when the state's economy soured and he was laid off from his job in late 1982, his bitterness grew.

His anger scared acquaintances. Neighbors, fearful of the odd loner on the corner, gave him a wide berth. Huberty was able to get another job, but it too fell through. So, with his wife and children he moved to a southern California town near the border with Mexico with a plan to settle in Mexico and live the good life.

The plan failed. Huberty lost a job as a security guard, and, according to a statement that his widow released Thursday, he began claiming that he heard voices in his head. On Wednesday afternoon, striding into the neighborhood McDonald's, Huberty exploded.

Earl Huberty took the news from California hard. His son had committed an atrocity to which the family name always would be linked.

Tended by his second wife, Rosalia, he rested on the living room couch, trying unsuccessfully to compose himself. Somehow, no explanation could quite account for it -- his son's polio, his loner's ways, his mother's sudden departure, his problems keeping a job -- nothing could explain the violence that erupted at the restaurant.

All Earl Huberty could do was weep and say, "I feel so sorry for those people."