The Hit List This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     I never thought I would be a victim of terrorism. Despite Columbine and September 11, I still felt safe in my school and community. I never imagined I would be offered a bulletproof vest or have police officers escort me from class to class. I also never dreamed that the terrorists would be my friends and teammates.

It began as a normal Wednesday morning. The sun was shining, the air smelled sweet, and I had a feeling it was going to be a great day. The first three classes went by unusually fast and not one teacher assigned homework. Before I even sat down in my fourth-period class, though, the office paged me. I walked through the halls, nerves eating at my stomach as I tried to think why I was being summoned to the principal's office.

I opened the heavy wooden door and saw my principal and guidance counselor waiting with looks of concern. Something was terribly wrong.

For the next 20 minutes, I sat in stunned silence as I was informed that a hit list had been found in school. I and several others were on the list, along with hateful descriptions of what this person thought of each of us. According to the list, my life would be taken by the end of the week.

Interviews with the assistant principal, counselors, nurses and police followed. The principal called my parents to tell them. I sat with the other "hit-listers," as we were quickly labeled, as we looked at each other. What did we have in common? Each was well-known in his or her own way: an athlete, popular kid, student leader, class clown, even the outspoken gay guy was included. As I assessed my place within this microcosm of high school, I assumed that I was the token cheerleader.

We were described as "b---h, Jew, f----t, n----r, stuck-up, obnoxious" and for one well-rounded young man, "the adopted n----r Jew boy."

Well, if we were well-known before, now we were superstars. By the end of the day, everyone knew about the hit list, and the attention overwhelmed me.

The next day brought more interviews, more counseling, more consoling. Again and again, I was pulled from classes, summoned to the office, to the nurse, or to see a police officer. More calls to my parents. Leave me alone, I wanted to scream. Instead I asked, "What did I do to make someone hate me so much? Who did I unknowingly hurt so much that they want me dead?"

That evening brought more threats, escalating from the list to personal emails. According to the message, someone would be hurt the next day at the Holiday Assembly. Every precaution was taken to protect me, the principal assured my parents, but the hit-listers would be given excused absences if parents wanted to keep them home.

"No way," I told my parents. "I will not be intimidated."

My close friends and teammates had differing reactions. All were intensely curious, and some tried to protect me. "Huddle around her," their parents advised. "Keep her safe." In contrast, others were advised by parents to avoid me. "Don't sit near her," they told their children. "Protect yourself first." In some ways, this reaction was more upsetting than the anonymous threats. The worst part, however, continued to be my own self-doubts. What did I do to make someone hate me?

Investigators quickly traced the email to its source and the suspects, three tenth-grade girls, were arrested. Never in my life had I been so confused and hurt. I thought that waking up each day in fear for my life and attending school knowing that someone there wanted me dead, combined with the embarrassment of having my teachers and friends know the horrible things written about me, were bad enough. Now, however, I was faced with the fact that two of the girls behind the hit list were my friends and teammates.

Why was this happening? I was a diligent student, hard-working teammate, loyal friend. I had always gone out of my way to be nice and tried hard to make the best of every situation. My fear of being threatened faded, and it was replaced by a deep hurt.

Soon we learned the motive: the girls thought the list would make the school close and they would get a few extra days off before December break. How could they use us like that? The police told us we were chosen for the list because the girls thought we were obvious targets. In fact, two of them put their own names on the list, along with one of their brother's and a boyfriend.

It's over, I thought. Now things will go back to normal. But it was only just beginning. What followed was an outpouring of sympathy and attention for the girls being punished for their crimes. Our daily cheerleading practices became intense dramas with my teammates crying over the horrible treatment the girls were receiving: They had to spend three nights in Juvenile Hall, couldn't come back to our school, and couldn't compete with our team. My teammates called them, visited them and wrote the judge letters of support. The threats they had made and the disruption they had caused were forgotten. I didn't know what to feel.

I realized they had never meant to harm me and understood that it was just an immature attempt to close school, but I couldn't pretend it had never happened. My life was changed dramatically. I spent three days in fear, questioning my self-worth, suspicious of everyone and everything around me. Our cheerleading team was seriously impacted, too. Not only were we emotional wrecks, but only weeks before the National Competition we had to change our routine. Every muscle in my body ached, I couldn't sleep, I hardly ate, I worried incessantly about letting my team down, and I developed an ulcer. When the girls showed up at competitions (despite a restraining order preventing them from coming near any of the hit-listers), I watched the team hug, kiss and cry over my tormentors. They never apologized to me, and I couldn't forgive them.

Cheerleading ended, my ulcer is under control, and for most people, the hit list is long forgotten. I, however, will never forget, though perhaps in time I will forgive. But the experience cannot be erased, and while I did not lose my life, I did lose my innocence. c

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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