This story first appeared in Bridge Magazine on April 11, 2013.
CARSON CITY — Stephen Leith avoids newspapers, television and anything else that might tell him what’s going on outside these prison walls, anything that might remind him of why he’s here.
Sometimes he can’t avoid it, as when his cellmate has a TV on. That’s how he heard about the mass shootings of 20 little kids one day this past December somewhere out East. “I remember weeping when I saw those children,” he says. The names “Newtown” and “Sandy Hook” didn’t stick in his memory. What did was another shooting in another school on another December day 19 years earlier.
“My thoughts, of course, went back to 1993 and reminded me of the fact that I did that,” he says. “I caused that grief. I took a life.”
Grievance meeting leads to tragedy
Leith, who will turn 59 in May, was a science teacher at Chelsea High School near Ann Arbor when he fatally shot Superintendent Joseph Piasecki and wounded Principal Ron Mead and teacher Phil Jones. He had been reprimanded for making inappropriate remarks about a female student, and responded by filing a grievance.
At a Dec. 16, 1993, meeting in Piasecki’s office to discuss the grievance, Leith became angry and stormed out, carrying a copy of his personnel file.
“My goal was to go home and cool off,” he says.
He did go home; he didn’t cool off.
At his home, a haven he had built on 10 acres near Chelsea, he kept firearms he had begun collecting in 1986. The more guns he amassed, the more he wanted. By the day of his grievance meeting, his collection had grown to four handguns and seven long guns, including an AK-47 assault rifle he had bought because “I figured at one time they would not be allowed to be sold, and I wanted one in my collection.”
In his kitchen, he glanced at his personnel file, and his anger grew.
“I went into this rage,” Leith says. “All I remember doing is just screaming at the top of my lungs.”
He grabbed his newest gun — a 9-mm Browning, semi-automatic handgun he kept under his bed for protection — and sped back to the school.
“It was like I was in a trance,” Leith says. He recalls repeating three phrases: “He has no right to do this to me. Gotta stop the pain. Gotta keep going.”
Read the rest of this story at Bridge Magazine, providing news and analysis from The Center for Michigan.