Former SHS misfit: Threat’ spun out of controlProvided Photo
Gina Conn, a Barre native, recently posted an article about her experience as a harassed student who became feared by her classmates and teachers.
BARRE — She was told there would be parents with shotguns waiting for her in the parking lot if she showed up at her junior prom.
Barre native Gina Conn has received national and international attention for her first-hand account of a 1999 incident at Spaulding High School where she was considered a possible school shooter.
The article was posted on Jan. 8 on the online magazine www.Vice.com and was quickly picked up by news outlets such as the Huffington Post and the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting where 26 people were killed, including 20 children. The article was written under Conn’s pen name of Gina Tron.
In the article, Conn gives vivid detail about the kind of kid she was, eccentric and outlandish, the environment she grew up in, the small-town mentality of Barre, and how the combination of the two made for a hazardous high school experience in which her friends were only friends by mutual isolation and most of the students bullied her “mercilessly.”
Conn said she wrote the piece as a response to the Connecticut shooting because she wanted to give a voice to those like her who may get labeled as possible school shooters when they are simply different.
“... Troubled teens, or children that are thought of as troubled, are not able to articulate themselves,” she said in a telephone interview Thursday. “Teens that go through these situations have no one to identify with.”
Conn’s high school troubles took a drastic turn 11 days after the Columbine school shooting in 1999, when 13 people were killed in Colorado. She said she and a friend were waiting for a ride home from school. The friend decided to leave a note on the car windshield of a girl Conn said was her “chief tormentor” — the note called the girl derogatory names.
The friend signed the note “the Trenchcoat Mafia,” a group the Colorado shooters were thought to have belonged to.
Conn thought nothing of it at the time — she was just happy the note could not be traced back to her. But as she was being driven home, Conn heard about a wave of threats from Columbine copycats and she started to worry as she said at least 10 students saw the friend place the note.
Next thing Conn knew, she was pulled in front of school officials. But the officials did not want to talk about the note. They wanted to talk about Conn’s “death plan.”
Conn, who admittedly has a dark sense of humor, is a natural writer. One of the ways she expressed herself was to write a book of charts, short stories and rhymes. In the book, Conn had written a story about killing some students by cutting the rope of a disco ball during an event at the Elks Club in Barre. She shared the book with her friends and she said it became a source of inside jokes.
After the windshield note, Conn said one of her former friends must have told school officials about the book and they wanted to see the “prom murder spree manual.”
Conn wrote in the article that after that, rumors of her “wanting to go berserk” spread around town and it was even covered in The Times Argus and by WCAX-TV. The situation only got worse as time went on.
“No one tried to hide their fear and hatred of me, either,” she wrote. “When I walked down the halls of school it was like the parting of the Red Sea. Crowded restaurants fell quiet when I entered. Students who feared they were on my non-existent hit list dropped out of the classes they shared with me.”
Conn wrote that her house was egged and people would throw food at her when she entered the school cafeteria and shout things like “psycho” at her when she walked around school.
The school’s response was not much different, she said. The school demanded to see the book and, after she handed it over, school officials found it so unthreatening they demanded to see the “real” book, she said.
When she talked about the harassment she was receiving, she said, the school’s therapist told her that kids were just blowing off steam. Conn wrote that she was blacklisted from classes with her “intended victims” in them and from classes where the teachers expressed their fear of her — which she said was most classes.
One teacher who had called Conn “gifted” in middle school now was telling people there was nowhere in the community that Conn could be placed and that she would probably be dead before college, Conn wrote.
Conn was banned from going to her junior prom because school officials told her parents of students had contacted administrators saying they would be waiting with guns in the parking lot at the location of the prom — coincidentally, the Elks Club.
In response to all the negative attention and harassment, Conn wrote that she decided to dress and act more outlandishly than before.
“I wanted to create a persona that would help to minimize my harassment, which I figured would be a hyper-real, meaner version of myself,” she wrote. “I grew tired of trying to do damage control so I figured I may as well give them what they wanted.”
Then, at the height of her isolation, something happened that was exactly what school officials were trying to prevent. Conn found herself identifying more and more with the Columbine shooters. She wrote about having dreams in which one of the shooters, Dylan Klebold, would call her about killing people in her gymnasium.
“I could no longer relate to any character in television or films because I assumed that all of them would detest me on sight if they met me,” Conn wrote. “I began to identify with other school shooters, not because I wanted to kill people, but because their lives were the only ones that I figured were comparable to mine.”
Conn stressed that she never had any intention of harming anyone, and she did not write the piece to “bash” Barre. She still has a soft spot for where she grew up.
“This did have a negative impact on me and if I wasn’t as strong of a person, it could have destroyed me,” Conn said. “But I’m not angry or vengeful. I don’t hate Barre. I hope that Spaulding and every school can learn a lesson from this and minimize the bad experiences for students now.”
Conn’s advice for high school students who find themselves in similar situations of harassment and being ostracized: Try to take their frustration and anger and turn it into something positive, like her article, “because in the end you will be the better person.”
“Life will get better. Nothing is permanent,” she said.
While it may be hard to do in the moment, Conn said, students should try not to hate those harassing them, because the tormentors have their own problems as well — such as problems at home, being a past victim of sexual assault, or having self-esteem issues.
“Those people may end up being your friend some day,” she said.
Conn said the response to her article has been very positive. She has received apologies from many of her former classmates who treated her badly, even though she had already forgiven them, and some of those classmates are now her friends.
Conn has also been contacted by principals and teachers from around the country who have told her that her article has helped them in trying to understand troubled or bullied students in their own schools. They have used the article as a way to get inside the minds of students they would not be able to understand otherwise.
Conn now lives in New York City. She works as a technical director for a Catholic television news station, writes for magazines like Ladygunn and prom and wedding magazines, and is the creative director for Williamsburg Fashion Weekend and the editor-in-chief for the event’s magazine.
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