‘The 8th Wonder of the World.` That's what they began to call him at WNSI. The stories from Rand East High School all lead to one point.
“The mental illness rates are unheard of among their students.” Kelly’s boss had said two weeks ago. “567 students started this year’s graduating class in their first year. Eighty of them dropped into a remedial school. Fifty left the district. Thirty were placed into long term institutions for depression, anxiety and other severe disorders. This is before a ten percent suicide attempt rate,” Kelly gasped. “The class graduated with only three hundred forty four under normal circumstances. Only three students had higher than a 3.8 GPA.”
“And you want me to find out why?” Kelly asked, curious and horror stricken. “What’s there to investigate? Poor counseling services? Strict class structures? Poor parenting?”
Her boss stared deep into her eyes. “Every other class before and after have normal rates of mental health issues.” He emphasized the final syllable like a snake. “There’s something going on with this class. We need to find out why. You have no choice, you’re going to find out before those students go out into college and the workforce. It’s May now. You have until August to bring me something.”
Kelly was given no other option. She would have said ‘no’ otherwise. At least, at the time. High school stories are risky territory, especially if suicide is involved. By June, however, she figured it would be the biggest scoop of the year, perhaps the decade.
“Lionel Nole.” It was the name every lead pointed to without fail. Every single student, teacher, and faculty member at Rand High said his name, and it was because everyone believed, knew, he was the root of the problem.
“So why hasn’t he been arrested?” Kelly asked The 11th grade composition teacher. “Shouldn’t authorities or someone have done something if he’s involved in every ‘incident’ including the suicides of other students. Couldn’t you have been able to report something?”
“Because he didn’t do anything. He never bullied his fellow students, belittled them or even made fun of them once. He was silent in class and always tried to isolate himself. If anything, you’d think he had some problems. But he got near straight As. He was invited to speak at the graduation ceremony even.”
His freshman year counselor said more. “We’re supposed to build a relationship with students you know, but...he insisted.” Her eyes darted around the room. “I tried to be friendly, but nothing seemed to reach him. There wasn’t a brightness in his eyes that most students have when talking about the future. I felt for him, I really did. He didn’t have friends, really, but I tried and...” Her eyes fixated on something on the floor.
“And what, Mrs. Chester? It can be off the record if you want.”
“It’s Ms. now. My husband left me. My fish died and if I got another one, it died too. None of them lasted a week. I started to lose it. More of my students began having problems, even those three grades up and with perfect grades. They began to have problems with me particularly. It was the weirdest thing. Leo, he seemed to enjoy being called that, told me something near the end of the first year. This was right before I requested he be transferred to another counselor.”
“He told me that ‘The more you try the worse it gets. I’m obligated to tell you. I’m sorry, but stop now before it gets worse’” Ms. Chester paused. I almost stopped the recording. “Maybe not in those exact words, but I’ll never forget that he said it was an obligation, not a feeling. I don’t know what to think of that. I thought he enjoyed me as his counselor”
His classmates were less confused.
“I hate him.”
“After Jared killed himself, my parents told me to avoid him at all costs.”
“Once we noticed....it...we just ignored him.”
“He has the smoothest voice in choir, the best grades, and we used to want to be friends with him, but he would cut us all away within a week or two. I don’t think anyone could be close to him for long before he started avoiding them.”
“I wanted to hurt him. I just felt like he needed to be smacked or something.”
“It was sad, really.” Another of the valedictorians said. “I’ve known of Leo since second grade. We were never close, but we were in the same classes often. He’s always been distant. I always felt like I should talk to him or something, but it felt like...wrong. Like it’s not what he would want in the end. So I never did. I don’t know if I regret that or not.”
That was the most intriguing one. It was so strange, but it made sense. If he was the source for the misery and disaster in others, then why would he want to instigate it more?
“Kelly!” Mr. Lin yelled from across the news office. Her boss was impatient. It was the third week of July. “Where is that story?”
“Almost done, Lin.” She shouted back over the din of typing. Some heads turned. “I only need two more interviews but they’re the most important ones.”
He walked into my cubicle. “And they are?”
“Lionel’s parents and then Lionel himself.”
Two weeks later, Kelly found it difficult to get in contact with anyone from the Nole family. They were busy bodies. Mrs. Nole’s current husband was a director of engineering at Materio Matics, A plastics company. It was a startup ten years ago and now it’s one of the major providers of malleable, disposable plastics globally. He was on work trips constantly. She was a doctor of psychology with her own practice. She was on call constantly for various institutions around the state. She was home more often than her husband, but perhaps only for a few days at a time. She couldn’t find anything about her ex-husband, Lionel’s biological father. He was arrested for assault thirteen years ago. She had no more details than that.
Kelly sent them email requests, phone calls, and inquiries to their companies letting them know she was interested in an interview. She never received a reply from them directly and their companies and organizations sent a short denial and legal notice on employee investigations. Even still, she found their businesses’ work hours and checked the business news on anything involving Materio Matics. Kelly found their address. August 3rd, was the most likely day all three would be at their house together.