Charges planned for student in hostage-taking

Chapel Hill teen remains hospitalized

Staff WriterApril 26, 2006 

— Police plan to charge the 17-year-old East Chapel Hill High student accused of holding a teacher and fellow student hostage Monday night with four crimes when he is released from the hospital.

William Barrett Foster of 104 Silver Glade Place will be charged with possessing weapons on educational property, discharging a firearm on educational property, and two counts each of assault by pointing a gun and second-degree kidnapping, according to the Chapel Hill Police Department. Foster remained hospitalized Tuesday. As of Tuesday night, police had not yet charged the teenager.

School officials said about 5 p.m. Monday -- a day they think Foster was absent from school -- he walked into the school toward the back of the building and held civics teacher Lisa Kukla and sophomore Chelsea Slegal hostage in room 190.

According to one of the arrest warrants, Foster was armed with a Mossberg shotgun, an air rifle and a hunting knife.

But officials didn't get word of the hostage situation until a 911 call that shots had been fired came from outside the school.

Slegal and Kukla talked to Foster as he wielded the shotgun during the hourlong ordeal, they said in statements the school system released Tuesday.

"We tried to personalize things so that he would see us as people and not objects," Kukla said, adding she was thankful no one was hurt, including Foster.

Slegal said she also spoke with Foster, with Kukla's support.

"I did my best to talk to him and understand what his problems were," she said.

After about an hour, Foster shot out at least one window, apparently after several unsuccessful attempts to fire the gun.

At 6:14 p.m., police responded to the 911 call, but by the time they arrived, Foster had left the building. Police stopped a junior varsity soccer match and moved the teams and onlookers into the school gym, then locked down the school so no one could re-enter. Parents of the student athletes waited in a parking lot across the street.

Officers set up a perimeter to catch the teenager, but he apparently got in contact with his parents. About an hour later at his home in the Silver Creek subdivision, Capt. Bob Overton said, police think Foster handed over the gun to one of his parents, and his mother drove him to UNC Hospitals.

Coping

Back at school Tuesday, Kukla and Slegal were absent, but in statements both said they were happy to be alive. Room 190 remained closed.

Aside from regularly assigned student resource officer Rex Gibson, two extra police officers and three security guards remained at the school, and counselors were on hand to talk to students about the incident.

School attendance was actually higher Tuesday than Monday, with 148 students reported absent, compared with 283 the day before.

Senior Melanie Lofgren, 17, said she spent most of the day talking with counselors. She said she knows Foster and his brother, James Foster, through her best friend's brother.

"He was one of those rebel kids," she said.

Other students described Foster as a nice but quiet boy who liked to skateboard and play video games, including the Xbox game Halo. A futuristic first-person shooting game, Halo is popular with many students.

Foster's brother James, 14, is so skilled at the game that he's on a professional player's circuit of sorts. In an article in The Chapel Hill News, James Foster said he teaches Halo 2 for $10 an hour and has made about $1,200 in the past four months. He was scheduled to participate in the new Major League Gaming season this past weekend in games that will be televised in the coming months on the USA network.

But experts cautioned against linking video-game playing and school violence. Typically there are warning signs and other symptoms besides video-game playing, said Gregg O. McCrary, a retired FBI agent who trained teachers and police on what to look for to prevent juvenile violence. McCrary now has a consulting business, Behavioral Criminology International.

"Not everybody who plays a violent video game or watches a violent movie is violent," he said, adding, "More people play video games who are not violent."

Healing

Back in the quiet cul-de-sac neighborhood where the Fosters live, no outward symptoms that anything had gone awry existed.

Next-door neighbor Sue Vredenburgh said the Fosters were great neighbors with good, well-behaved and polite children who did more chores than her own children.

The families often helped each other out with car-pooling and even cooking for each other if a family member was sick.

"They're very much part of the community and the neighborhood, and you hate to see this happen," Vredenburgh said. "We would like to seem them heal."

(Staff writers Cheryl Sadgrove and Patrick Winn contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Jessica Rocha can be reached at 932-2008 or jessica.rocha@newsobserver.com.

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