I had the pleasure in high school of being friends with my class' Valedictorian: arguably the smartest, and nicest member of the Class of 1994 at Northwest High School in House Springs, Missouri. His name was Kevin. He was a little on the short side, a congenial, usually smiling dark-haired boy who was meek and humble in stature - generally pleasant to be around. This was a guy who got straight A's all throughout school and worked his butt off but still had time to help any friend in need and listen intently to anything you had to say. It did not matter how trivial what you had to say was, he'd nonetheless be completely engrossed as if you were revealing the secrets of the universe. It did not matter how trivial your problem was, he'd always take time out to see if he could help. I know it is a cliché, but it's true with Kevin: he would give you the shirt off his back if you really needed it. While going to college in Illinois he joined an Americorps program through the Chicago branch of Public Allies. His involvement with the program included supervising an after-school program for Riis Elementary School students on Chicago's South Side and helping to implement a cross-cultural arts project. But one thing he would never, ever do, never even consider doing, was say a cross word to you. The entire time I'd known Kevin I'd never seen him angry, mad, pissed, or even slightly annoyed. He never let his ego get in the way of anything.
With the mind Kevin had, though, with the advantages he had over most of his fellow students, he could have let his ego blow up to monumental proportions. His straight A's did not tell the whole story of this guy's noggin. I don't even want to guess at his IQ, but he always scored obscenely high on his SAT's, ACT's, or any other test that ended in 'T,' especially the math part. In fact, he was one of the two students in my class that scored the highest in the country in the math section of the ACT's in 1994. (The other, coincidentally, was another friend of mine named Bill. Kevin and Bill were actually best friends since childhood and literally lived right next door to each other.)
Another amazing testament to how sharp this dude's mind was was the fact that Kevin could rattle off the Top 40 songs of every week since he started keeping track of them when he was a child. Not only could he remember all 40 songs from every week, he could remember what order they were in as well and therefore track chronologically in his mind the paths the songs took as they moved up or down the charts. When he went to Northwestern University in Illinois his Top 40 predictions for every week was a staple in the school's paper. And his predictions were usually dead on.
So what could a person do with a mind like that? Literally anything, I would guess. He could have actually been a rocket scientist if he'd wanted to. He could have been smart enough to become a millionaire and live high and large on a huge resort on Barbados. But instead of all that, Kevin chose to go into social work, a move that proved once again his love for and his devotion to his fellow man, a move that may have also doomed him.
Kevin graduated from Northwestern in 1998. Even after graduating he returned frequently to the Cultural and Community Studies Residential College to help fellow students which included talking to them all night or even giving them food. In 2000, when he was 24 years old, he entered the University of Michigan's graduate school for social work. Because of this Kevin, while traveling back and forth from Michigan to Illinois, he ended up at an Amtrak train station in Kalamazoo, Michigan on August 17, 2000.
Also there was a man named Brian Williams.
Forty-year-old Williams was from Ypsilanti, Michigan. He was a paranoid schizophrenic who, in August 2000, had not been taking his prescribed medication. Because of this he was hearing voices. While in the train station's bathroom with Kevin, those voices told him to kill Kevin, a 24-year-old graduate student he'd never met before in his life. Williams then attacked the unsuspecting Kevin and beat him with his bare hands, causing internal injuries and cracking Kevin's skull.
Williams left, leaving Kevin lying on the bathroom floor, still conscious, lying in a pool of his own blood. Kevin, though badly injured as he was, could have been saved. He could have been helped. There were plenty of other people at the train station, hearing Kevin scream and cry for help. One man even used the bathroom, saw Kevin laying there, stepped over him and left. He later told a newspaper reporter that he went across the street to get coffee at McDonald's, all the while wondering why nobody was helping that guy lying in the bathroom.
Finally, a good while after the beating took place, a 12-year-old boy saw Kevin and ran for help. But by then it was too late. Only his body was lying on the bathroom floor when authorities arrived; Kevin was gone.
So, why did it take a 12-year-old boy to run for help when there were countless adults around hearing Kevin's cries for help? Was it too much of a bother to find a phone, or find somebody with one, and get the word out that there was possibly somebody dying in the bathroom? Was it an inconvenience? Or, did they just not want to "get involved?" I guess that's something too many people are afraid to do, whether it's helping somebody bleeding and dying on a bathroom floor or making sure a paranoid schizophrenic is taking his meds.
I remember the day clearly when I got the phone call from Bill. These were his exact words: "I've got some bad news. Kevin was murdered..."
"Murdered?!" I thought. That very week my friend Brian and I were talking about getting back together with old chums from high school and Kevin was the main subject of that conversation. Murdered? I couldn't believe it! He didn't just die from some disease or in an accident? Somebody actually killed him? I could hardly comprehend it. I had never known anybody who was murdered. How could that have happened to one of my friends? And who the hell would want to kill Kevin, the nicest guy on the entire planet?! I was incensed, especially at the funeral when I heard the whole tale of how Kevin Could Have Been Saved. I was dumbfounded, as was everybody else, the scores of family and friends he'd had in Missouri and Illinois. We wanted answers. How could that happen? How could somebody hear a person crying for help like that and do NOTHING? All we could do is shake our heads, sigh, console each other, and read Kevin's final Top 40 prediction on his bulletin board of memoirs which had he had typed out the week he died.
Brian Williams was found not guilty by reason of insanity and currently is incarcerated in a mental facility. Some consider him a victim in the incident as well, just a good guy with a disease. Maybe I would have sympathy for him if I knew him, but I didn't and I don't. If he can't stay on his medication, I hope he's never free to walk among us again. Another result of the incident, something that creates hope that there will never be another situation like Kevin's again, is "Kevin's Law," legislation that has not been adopted yet but hopefully someday will be. It would permit court-ordered outpatient treatment for mentally ill people who are least able to help themselves or most likely to present a risk to others.
We are in a reactive society, not a proactive one, and Kevin's murder is further proof of that. I just keep thinking over and over again that Kevin could have been helped if somebody had given a damn. Instead he was killed by somebody who, through Kevin's impending social work career, he may have ended up helping. It's ironic: as willing as Kevin was to help people, in the end, all he himself needed was a little help.
He could have been saved.