The shooting at Heritage High came one month exactly after the massacre at Columbine High School. After Columbine, the officials wrote to the parents of students at Heritage reassuring them that such an attack was unlikely at their school. Little did they know that Thomas Solomon Jr. (who was called T.J. by his friends) had other plans for the school.
T.J. was a 15 year old sophomore at the time of the shooting. He was described as a quiet kid with a few close friends. His family moved to Conyers two years prior to the shooting and he lived with his mother, stepfather and 13 year old sister. T.J. was taking Ritalin, which is usually prescribed for hyperactivity. A friend of the family said that his grades had been falling during the past year and that he had been medically treated for depression. He was also a Boy Scout and attended Catholic church. On the night before the shooting, T.J. attended a youth service at the Catholic church.
T.J took the guns that he used, a 22 caliber sawed-off rifle and a .375 caliber handgun, from his stepfather's gun cabinet. He had access to higher powered guns but for some reason these were the guns that he chose to use to kill. He stuck the rifle down his baggy jeans pants leg and put the handgun in his bookbag and went to school. On May 20, 1999 Heritage High School entered the rash of school shootings. T.J. came to the school on Thursday morning bearing the weight of a breakup with his girlfriend. The incident started at 8:03 a.m. in the school's Commons area which is a break area for students. The students thought the first shots were firecrackers done as a prank like the senior prank the year before but then it became all too real. T.J. began to randomly fire into the school's indoor commons area. Reports say that he wasn't aiming but instead just holding the rifle down by his waist and pulling the trigger. The rifle that he used could hold about a dozen rounds without reloading and students say that he fired about that many times. On his way backing out the door he had just came in, he dropped the rifle and brought out the handgun. Once outside he put the barrel in his mouth. Before he was able to pull the trigger that would end his own life he heard a voice coming from the assistant principal Cecil Brinkley. "It's going to be all right, put it down," Brinkley said. T.J collapsed, shaking in to Brinkley's arms saying "Oh, my God, I'm so scared." No one died during the school shooting and only six students were injured. The most seriously injured student, Stephanie Laster, 15, underwent surgery for a bullet that hit her in the buttocks and passed through to her intestines. The five others, four boys and a girl, were less seriously injured. After T.J. was arrested he was put under suicide watch at a juvenile jail. Authorities said he threatened to kill himself using metal from the braces on his teeth. When the police searched T.J's room they found out that he had planned out the shooting along with printouts of bomb recipes, notes on where to plant explosives, and writings about his despair and depression. A note found under his bed made a reference to Columbine and the Trench Coat Mafia along with three pages of bomb recipes. “One big question I leave behind for you to find is why,” said the note, read by Nicholson during a juvenile court hearing for T.J. Solomon. “But for the sake of my brothers and sisters related to the Trench Coat Mafia, those answers will have to remain out of the public eye.” On the back of the note, Nicholson said, Solomon wrote: “I am laughing at the victims who are getting down on their knees screaming, ‘Please, dear God, please don’t let this crooked ... [obscenity deleted] murder me.’” Teeunia Stroud, who ate lunch with T.J. everyday testified that he had brought bomb-making instructions to school after Columbine. “He said that the kids at Columbine were aiming at certain people, and that slowed them down,” Stroud said. “He said that if he ever shot up Heritage High, he would shoot everybody and not aim. He said he would even shoot me, but I didn’t pay any attention to him.”
After the shooting new things were learned about T.J. Dr. Eddy Regnier, a teacher of psychiatry at Harvard University and who was hired by defense attorneys to examine T.J. said that T.J. had suicidal thoughts and believed to hear voices giving him commands. “He heard voices telling him to do strange things, but they were robotic voices, not human voices,” said Dr. Regnier. “On the one side is this really nice guy, but on the other side is a kid harboring angry feelings, who had made two suicide attempts, who spent his time thinking of death. He’s bringing guns to school. He’s talking to friends, and what are they talking about? ‘I’m going to shoot you.’” T.J. talked about shooting people at school and showed off the guns his stepfather kept in the basement.
One possible motive for the shooting was the breakup between him and his girlfriend. Another motive might've been revenge. Some of T.J.'s friends spoke of his resentment of Jason Cheek, a popular boy two years older who had lettered in three sports. Cheek had teased Solomon, they said, but it was unclear if the linebacker was a primary target. Cheek, who was shot twice in the leg denied taunting Solomon "He really picked on T.J. just because T.J. was so quiet," says another friend of Solomon's. "You know, like being quiet made him weird in the eyes of that little clique of theirs." Solomon took the teasing hard, and even though he had friends, he seemed to become convinced that he was destined to be the campus pariah, "and that idea kept building inside him until he picked up a gun," says Stacey Singleton. To make matters much worse, the kids say, Solomon believed his girlfriend had recently turned her charms on Jason, of all people. T.J. and the girl had bickered recently, and he, at least, thought the relationship had ended. Her friends say she denies they had broken up. Solomon had become increasingly disinterested in school, and the day before the shootings, he got in a fiery argument with two classmates during fourth-period study hall; it ended when Solomon said he would "blow up this classroom." That same day, T.J. told a buddy he had no reason to live.
T.J. Solomon had 21 charges against him. Twelve counts were of aggravated assault, four counts of cruelty to children, two counts of possession of a firearm on school property, two counts of possession of a firearm during a crime, and one count of possession of a firearm by a minor. On Aug. 11 the judged ruled that T.J. was to be tried as an adult. On October 2, 2000, T.J. Solomon, who is now 17 years old, entered two pleas to the judge which were guilty and guilty but mentally ill. If the judge accepts the guilty plea, T.J. could be sentenced to 211 years in prison and if the judge accepts the guilty but mentally ill plea T.J. would still go to prison but would also receive psychiatric treatment. On November 9, 2000 T.J. Solomon was sentenced to 40 years in prison and 65 years of probation. T.J.'s attorney, Ed Garland said "I'm very sad, I'm very disappointed T.J. will not be provided treatment for his mental illness," after the sentenced was given out.
Suicide Attempt: On 1/30/01 T.J Solomon, 17, was found unconscious in his jail cell at Arrendal State Prison. He had passed out after taking an antidepressant called Elavil, which was not prescribed to him. Drug experts say Elavil is sometimes taken recreationally by people who hope it will enhance their mood. Randall Tackett, a pharmacy professor at the University of Georgia, said the drug may have reacted with another medication Solomon may have been taking. The police are treating it as an attempted suicide. He has now been listed in stable condition. Sentence Reduced: On August 17, 2001, T.J. Solomon's sentence was reduced from 40 years to 20 years. Now instead of 36 years before the possibility of parole, parole is possible after 18 years. T.J. is still remaining on suicide watch at Arrendale State Prison in Alto after trying to kill himself in the beginning of the year.
SUSPECT LIKED TALKING ABOUT GUNS QUIET HERITAGE HIGH BOY HAD MORE TO SAY WHEN TOPIC WAS FIREARMS, FRIENDS CLAIM.(News/ National/ International)
May 21, 1999; Byline: Joshua B. Good Cox News Service ATLANTA -- The Heritage High School shooting suspect was quiet, friends said, unless he...