Andrew Wurst murdered a science teacher, John Gillette, on the evening of April 24, 1998, at a school dance in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. He also wounded two classmates, Jacob Tury and Robert Zemcik, and Edrye May Boraten, a teacher who was chaperoning the dance. These acts were carried out not at school, but at Nick’s Place, a local banquet hall where the end-of-the-year dance was being held. The majority of the eighth-grade class, along with teachers serving as chaperones, was in attendance. The entire incident lasted about half an hour and ended when the owner of the banquet hall confronted Wurst with his shotgun, ordering him to put the weapon down.
Wurst appeared to be in a state of confused transition. He kept Raggedy Ann dolls in his room, yet he had a girlfriend and was interested in sex. He also enjoyed reading and listening to music, although his interests in both magnified the more violent aspects of human nature. His favorite reading material was stories by well-known horror writers Stephen King and Dean Koontz that centered on violent murders and twisted psychopaths. His favorite musicians were Marilyn Manson, Korn, and Nine Inch Nails–all heavy metal bands. Marilyn Manson’s music was, by many, considered to incite violence in young people. Wurst also had heroes that most would find disturbing; he professed to people that Adolph Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte were his idols. As a result of his darker interests, his new group of friends, a much rougher crowd, nicknamed him “Satan.”
This change in friends marked a change in Wurst as well. He became quieter and withdrawn, which is not how he was described by his previous acquaintances. By the last part of eighth grade, he was becoming more aggressive and narcissistic. His new friends seemedtohave a significant impact on Wurst. One friend in particular seemed to spur murderous thoughts in him. The pair were often heard talking about murdering people or directly telling people that they would kill them. Wurst began bullying his classmates. One day he decided to alternately flirt with and demean a girl in his class. Justin Fletcher stood up for the girl and confronted Wurst. Fletcher’s demand that Wurst leave the girl alone proved effective; this single act further emasculated Wurst. He had also begun drinking and using marijuana by this point.
Wurst did have a girlfriend for a short period of time, but his obsessive and odd behavior caused her to end the relationship. Wurst asked her to the eighth-grade graduation dance but she refused. After this rejection, he decided to ask another girl to the dance, but she laughed at him. This rejection was a massive blow to the young boy’s ego. Wurst spoke to many people about the dance. He stated that he would not be around afterward and talked about plans to kill people at the dance.
Wurst was the youngest child in his family and had a close, loving relationship with his mother. As a child, he wet the bed until the age of nine. He was terrified of monsters, and his mother would have to check under the bed and in the closet before he would go to sleep. At night she would lay on the bed with Wurst, making sure he was given the affection that she felt he did not get from his father. She knew that Wurst was more immature than his brothers but attributed this status to his being the baby of the family.
The relationship between Andrew and his father was more complicated. Jerome Wurst was disappointed in his son, who had no interest in the family landscaping business. The business took up most of Jerome’s time, so that there was little left for his wife and children. He was a strict disciplinarian who showed little emotion. Shortly before the shooting, Andrew and his father had a fight because of a missing report card. Andrew’s grades had dropped continuously, until in the eighth grade he was receiving mostly D’s and F’s. Neither Catherine nor Jerome Wurst was aware of the psychological turmoil that their son was experiencing.
Many precipitating factors contributed to Wurst’s crimes. He was having a difficult time transitioning from childhood into adolescence, indicated by the type of items he utilized to express himself. The fascination he had with horror novels and heavy metal music perpetuated his own violent thoughts and self-loathing. He found inspiration in previous school shootings such as those committed in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Fellow classmates heard Wurst joke about the killings there, yet no one took him seriously. Rejection can have an adverse affect on most people, but Wurst appears to have been especially vulnerable. Refusal by the two girls he asked to the dance not only damaged his ego, but likely spurred the already fueled rage within him. His perceived failures as a son merely added to his feelings of self-loathing. Given that Wurst had an already vulnerable state of mind, the use of drugs and alcohol could only serve to perpetuate his violent, suicidal thoughts.
The eighth-grade dance was held at Nick’s Place on April 24, 1998. Wurst took his father’s .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol with him to the dance. During the dance, door prizes were handed out and announced by John Gillette. Wurst won one of the prizes, but gave it to a friend. At one point in the evening, shortly before he began shooting, Wurst indicated to one of his friends that he had the gun with him. His friend recalled Wurst talking about suicide and was worried. This friend was so concerned that he alerted other friends and gathered them on the back patio to keep an eye on Wurst. Gillette, a science teacher at the middle school, asked everyone to come inside. When he turned to go inside, Wurst shot him twice, killing him. Wurst then went inside, calling for Eric Wozniak, a student he perceived as an energy. As the students and teachers panicked, he fired two more rounds and wounded Edrye May Boraten, who also taught at the middle school. The other shot wounded Jacob Tury, a student. Justin Fletcher, who had a previous confrontation with Wurst, attempted to stand up to him again. Wurst fired at him but hit Robert Zemcik, another student, instead. Wurst then went outside where James Strand, the owner of Nick’s Place, confronted him with his shotgun, demanding that Wurst drop his weapon. Strand and two teachers took Wurst to the back of the building until police arrived. Wurst had been saying that “I died four years ago” and “None of this is real.” Shortly after this time, Wurst’s mother, along with many other parents, arrived to pick up her son, but instead found her son had been arrested. Wurst was arraigned on April 25, 1998, on a charge of criminal homicide.
Wurst underwent psychiatric evaluations by Robert L. Sadoff for the defense and John S. O’Brien for the prosecution, who came different conclusions. Sadoff examined Wurst in a total of four sessions and met with his parents as well. He came to the conclusion that Wurst suffered from “a major mental illness, with psychotic thinking and delusions of persecution and grandeur.” Wurst confessed to Sadoff that he had been having suicidal thoughts since he was 10 years old. He also told him that he had not planned on killing anyone other than himself at the dance and was unsure as to why he shot Gillette. At the time of the shooting, Wurst had stated, “None of this is real”; Sadoff used this statement as a staring point to inquire about Wurst’s belief system. According to Sadoff, Wurst did not consider killing Gillette to be wrong because he was not a real person. O’Brien, the other psychiatrist, felt that this was not evidence of a fixed belief system, but rather just thoughts that Wurst had. He felt that Wurst did not suffer from delusions and was capable of standing trial.
Wurst was tried as an adult. He faced charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, possessing instruments of crime, carrying a firearm without a license, and possession of a controlled substance. He eventually pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. Judge Michael M. Palmisano sentenced Wurst on September 9, 1999, to serve 30 to 60 years. He will be eligible for parole when he is 45 years old. Wurst is currently serving his sentence at the State Correctional Institute Pine Grove in Pennsylvania.
Wurst appears to have been suffering from suicidal tendencies in tandem with violent thought processes. He was unable to deal with minor incidents that occurred in his daily life and had a great deal of difficulty relating to girls. Unable to live up to what his father expected of him, he felt like a disappointment. Many teenagers have a difficult time dealing with frustrations. Concerned students need to report threats of violence; they should not assume that the individual is just joking. A hotline has been set up for anyone who needs to speak to someone about such issues (1-866-STAND UP).
- DeJong, W., Epstein, J., & Thomas, E. (2003). Bad things happen in good communities: The rampage shooting in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, and Its aftermath. In M. Moore, C. Petries, A. Braga, & B. McLaughlin (Eds.), Deadly lessons: Understanding lethal school violence (pp. 70-100). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
- Palattella, Ed. (1999, March 7). A portrait of conflict. Erie Times-News. www.goerie.com.