The Reason for the Killing Season
Two weeks after the tragic murders at “Lieutenant Junior Grade Surfy ‘The Octopus’ McGrady’s Water Wonderland”, a community attempts to come to grips with such an enormous crime.
Perhaps more intolerable than even the loss, the shock and the long and slow process of recovery is the presence of so many questions — most unanswered, some perhaps unanswerable. Who was Jerrold Melnichek, the 15-year-old gunman who turned this aquatic-themed suburban theme park into a killing field? How did he work his brutal mischief in view of not one, but six highly trained private security guards? Why did some escape the water park unharmed? Why where they spared while others were not? Why did no one see this coming? And most importantly of all, why did he do it? What dark drive possessed him to wake up one Sunday morning and take the No. 38 A.M. Express Bus to Water Wonderland, murder eight of his fellow fun-seekers and 5 Silly Seamen, and then return home on the No. 38 P.M. Twilighter Bus? Police, psychologists, criminologists, friends and family of victims and villain alike all search for answers, seemingly in vain.
An early lead in the case proved to be a dead end. “After we brought him in, the first thing we did was search his room,” explains Lt. Peter Ready, the lead investigator in the Melnichek case. “There was no smoking gun right away — he didn’t keep a journal, own a black trenchcoat, or have an Arabic surname. But when we checked out the living room and found the PlayStation, we thought it was going to be an open-and-shut case.” Much to the frustration of police, however, the game console was well over a decade old, dusty, and the property of Jerrold’s older brother Marvin, who left it behind when he left to study animal economics at Boise State. Jerrold Melnichek barely played with the machine, and owned no first-person shooters, war sims, or fighting games of any kind. “He had PaRappa the Rapper 2, and a couple of sports games. But what, a kid’s gonna kill 13 people because he can’t get Jason Kidd to average more than six assists per game in NBA 2K3? Unlikely,” says Lt. Ready. “His folks said he mostly used it for watching DVDs. The only game he even bothered to save was NASCAR Thunder 2002. I have more violent games than that on my cell phone.”
Combing through Melnichek’s entertainment choices proved even more fruitless. His small DVD collection consisted mostly of the first few seasons of Friends episodes and a handful of Farrelly Brothers comedies, and his choices in music were frustratingly bland and MOR-centered. Three full CD racks yielded not a single album of gangsta rap, European industrial metal, or shock-rock. “Culturally speaking, the kid was pure vanilla,” notes Dr. Margaret Helspeth, a psychologist specializing in adolescent violence. “He had Seal, Michael Bublé, Randy Travis. I mean, that sort of thing makes you want to kill yourself, maybe, but not other people. Other than perhaps Michael Bublé himself, who sadly was not at the water park that day.” A closet full of loose-fitting blue jeans, navy blue pocket tees and off-brand loafers provided no further clues, and even the sex angle proved elusive. “He had a girlfriend,” explains his mother, Cynthia Melnichek. “One time I caught him watching a dirty video, but it was just one of those Girls Gone Wild things. That’s tame even by my standards.”
Jerrold Melnichek’s friends describe a sociable, friendly young man who mixed with easily other people. Not especially popular in school, he was, perplexingly, not especially unpopular either. “He wasn’t one of those quiet loners who kept to himself, mostly,” says Melnichek’s chem lab partner Tim Yancey. “Not like, say, Billy Steffan. If that guy flipped out and wasted a lot of people, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. But Jerrold — I mean, he was nothing special, you know? He was on the debate team, for Christ’s sake.” Teachers point out that he was an average student who was generally indifferent to athletics, got along well with students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, and ate in the cafeteria three days out of the week. “Somebody at school was saying he was a Satanist,” notes fellow student Kelly Uriquidez, “but that was a different kid.”
“You mean Billy Steffan, right?” inquires Yancey. “Right, that guy,” a desperate Uriquidez, struggling to make sense of a life so marred by violence. “That guy is totally fucked up.” (Steffan could not be reached for comment.)
Investigators, under community pressure, began to follow any lead they could think of. The history cache on the Melnichek’s home computer revealed that Jerrold had been a prolific internet poster, so experts were brought in to cull his web writings for any clue of what might have triggered the massacre. Disappointment followed when it was discovered that the majority of his online time was spent getting homework tips and posting on a message board for model airplane enthusiasts. Though not an avid reader, Jerrold’s library files were combed through by detectives, who still came up empty-handed. “No Catcher in the Rye, no Blood and Guts in High School, not even that Stephen King book where the kid wastes his teacher,” admits Lt. Ready. “He didn’t own a basketball or a diary, let alone The Basketball Diaries. We asked his parents if maybe he listened to Pearl Jam or Ozzy — no dice. We’re really clutching at straws here.”
Even the method of the murders leaves the community with no easy scapegoat. “We thought at least we could blame the thing on how easy it is to get a gun, but he didn’t even have a butcher knife. He was just grabbing people’s ankles in the Tropical SunSplash Reggae BonanzaJam pool area until they drowned,” explains Gary Stilson, weekend manager of “Lieutenant Junior Grade Surfy ‘The Octopus’ McGrady’s Water Wonderland”.
“It was really busy that day — the main pool is always super-crowded on holiday weekends — and we didn’t really notice anything out of the ordinary. I mean, it looks like people are just diving for pennies or whatever, until you get like a dozen or so bodies floating around.”
A town devastated; a baker’s dozen lives lost; a popular community fun center no longer a place of mirth, family enjoyment and harmless chlorinated horseplay. In a quiet cell in the county lock-up, a monster sits silent, only occasionally asking if he can get a glass of pineapple juice or if the latest issue of R/C Sport Flyer magazine is out yet. And a country asks: how?
And also, why?