Did homophobia drive this troubled teen to murder?

By Walter Armstrong

A ninth-grade special-education student reportedly bullied by classmates with taunts of "fag" and "faggot" murdered his high school principal last week in a tiny Wisconsin farm town. The incident might have drawn national attention to the high costs of unchecked school homophobia had it not been overshadowed by yet other school atrocities—one days before, the other hours after, in each of which an adult man took a group of female students hostage and then shot them and himself.

Last Friday morning, Eric Hainstock, the 15-year-old only child of a broken home, walked into his Cazenovia school brandishing a rifle he had taken from his father's gun cabinet and announced, "I've got a gun, I'm not kidding, and this is real," according to the Reedsburg Times Press. He was immediately spotted by the school custodian, who wrestled the weapon away from him—but not before Hainstock slipped free and pulled a handgun out of his jacket. As a code blue went out over the intercom, the Weston Schools principal, John Klang, ran out of his office and confronted Eric in the hallway. The two began struggling, and the teen got off three shots before Klang brought him down. That afternoon Klang, 49, was declared dead, with gunshot wounds to the head, chest and leg.

Police investigating the murder said that the trigger event may have occurred the previous day when Klang disciplined Hainstock for having tobacco on school grounds. They emphasized that Eric harbored resentment against Klang for what he saw as the principal's failure to stop the frequent homophobic hazing he endured at the hands of other students, who routinely calling him "fag" and "faggot" and rubbed up against him.

News reports painted a bleak portrait of Hainstock as a deeply troubled, nearly friendless teen who was persecuted by his fellow students and, even more ominously, abused and neglected by his father. The youth had a long history of school suspensions, including one recently for throwing a stapler at a teacher and a chair at the principal. He did not play sports. His sole enthusiasm was his artwork. A design he made featuring the word "slayer," flames and the anarchist symbol of a letter "A" with a circle around it—was still hanging outside the school cafeteria after the murder.

In fact reporters uncovered so many early warning signs of Hainstock's impending crisis that the most shocking aspect of the murder may be that no adult did anything to prevent it. Court records show that his father, Shawn, was charged in 2001 with felony child abuse and ordered to have no contact with his son. But at the time of the murder Eric was living with his father. Neighbors recounted Eric suffering a relentless round of punishments delivered by his father, who often hit his son with a paddle he called "the board of education," put hot sauce in his mouth and forced him to run laps around the house for hours. "Shawn's got one hell of a temper and Eric's got it, too,'' a friend said.

The funeral for principal John Klang was held on Wednesday in Weston High School gym, "home of the Silver Eagles," which was packed with the town's 300 citizens. Hainstock sat in jail on $750,000 bail, charged with first-degree murder and facing life imprisonment.