Inside an 8th Grader's Murder of an Austin Teacher

'Texas Monthly' delves into the 1978 killing of Rod Grayson
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2020 9:16 AM CDT
Updated Mar 29, 2020 10:50 AM CDT
He Shot Their Teacher in 1978. Their Lives Were Never the Same
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / Evgen_Prozhyrko)

A wrong number led, 20 years later, to Robert Draper's extensive Texas Monthly piece on "the school shooting that Austin forgot." It was 1999 when John Ray was trying to find an old classmate named Rob Draper and instead got in touch with Robert Draper, an Austin journalist. During the course of the conversation, Ray explained why he was trying to get in touch with his old friend—they had been students at Murchison Junior High School on May 18, 1978, when their classmate, 13-year-old John Christian, walked into class and fatally shot their young teacher, Rod Grayson. It was the first Draper had heard of the shooting, which surprised him considering he had spent much of the decade writing for Texas Monthly. He considered writing a piece on the tragedy, which had shaped the lives of the 21 eighth-graders who witnessed it, but dropped it when Christian's prominent Austin family (Christian's father was LBJ's press secretary) refused to cooperate.

Draper picked it back up after being contacted on the 40th anniversary of the shooting by another former Murchison student who had seen Christian exit the classroom carrying his gun. That man echoed what Draper would eventually hear from everyone he interviewed for the piece: The shooting had profoundly impacted them for the rest of their lives, their memories of it resurged with every school shooting as they sadly became more common, and many had unanswered questions about why Christian did what he did and how he was so swiftly provided with a "soft landing." (He was sent to a psychiatric hospital instead of juvenile detention, and ultimately went back to high school, graduated on time, and reportedly currently practices tax law.) And yet despite those questions, most of which remain unanswered, Draper found that none of Christian's former friends seem to bear him "any ill will." Even Grayson's widow, who was left to parent their 11-month-old son alone, recalls that despite her pain, "I felt sorry for that kid." The full piece is worth a read. (Read more Longform stories.)

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