Before I put the Ferrers School shooting to bed, I feel I ought to respond, in detail, to a comment written on yesterday’s post.
The person who left the comment subsequently contacted me on Facebook to say he was worried the picture I’d painted was less than accurate, because it didn’t deal with the causes of the shooting, and that the comments I’d made about the Fowler family were not just unfair, but based on rumours rather than fact.
The first thing I should say is that I’ve never claimed to have known Fowler personally, and if the blog gave a different impression, I apologise. Fowler was a loner. Everyone knew who he was, but no one seemed to know anything about him. We were kids. We didn’t know much about cause and effect. It felt simple enough to brand him as weird.
Yesterday’s comment made me realise that my blog had been written through the black and white eyes of an adolescent. Until recently the shooting had occupied a space in the very back of my mind, which I’d never really processed as an adult. I reported in the blog what I remembered about the event, and what had been said to me at the time about it, which was twenty five years ago. The curious thing about the shooting is that it was rarely talked about afterwards. The media lost interest, or were told to stop reporting and in the ensuing years, no one wrote a definitive account about it. The affected teacher opted not to do interviews (which is why I’ve opted not to name him) and a few posts on Friends Reunited about the attack were hastily removed. I suppose the event was unprecedented in its scale, and the good, but guarded folk of East Northamptonshire simply didn’t want the rest of the world to peer in. The comments left on my Facebook page after yesterday’s post were proof that the whole event has subsequently found itself shrouded in rumour and legend. How many people were actually hit by pellets and flying glass? Was the teacher shot through a window? Are the bullet marks still in the wall?
That said, although suggesting I’d “not allowed the truth to get in the way of a good story”, what yesterday’s critic didn’t mention was how I’d got the story wrong, other than by recounting gossip about the family in question, and not knowing that Fowler was rumoured to have been bullied by the science teacher he came into the school to find. This, I confess, is something that I hadn’t heard, although ask any kid enough times, and he’ll claim to have been bullied by at least one teacher!
The point of my blog was not to belittle the Fowlers, but point out that Darren and the school were grossly let down by the authorities. However – and this is a big however - if Fowler’s father really did buy him a gun for his 14th birthday, the family have to take some responsibility for what happened. The mother didn’t have to send the rest of her kids to the same school. Some staff members found their attendance at the school incredibly traumatic, and I seem to remember one of Darren’s brothers hanging out with the school caretaker because no one else would talk to him. Those kids deserved a new start, which, for whatever reason, they were not given.
There were plenty of kids from the same town who grew up in abject poverty, and plenty more who were brutally bullied, but they didn’t take a gun into school. Furthermore, Fowler didn’t actually choose to shoot the teacher who’d bullied him, he shot three other (totally innocent) people.
Look, as with all these things, it’s always a combination of little things; weird co-incidences, which come together to create a disaster. Fowler lived in a “closed” town which was very much under the rest of the world’s radar. Someone, possibly his father, gave him a gun. Teachers did what they could to tell the authorities that he was a walking time bomb but the authorities, for whatever reason, decided not to act. At the same time, Michael Ryan gained notoriety by walking through the streets of Hungerford killing people. Fowler was bullied, angry, and got himself expelled, and then BOOM.
The sad part of all of this is that, for whatever reason, it feels that no lessons were learned from what happened, and maybe, just maybe, if a proper enquiry had been held at the time, lives might have been saved elsewhere. Columbine. Dunblane. Sandy Hook. What is also clear, is that, given a few other weird co-incidences: if Fowler had been given a different gun; if the games teacher hadn’t tackled him to the floor, the Ferrers School might have become as infamous as the other places I’ve listed, which, of course, are sadly known to us all.