Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good old days? Or kids these days

Brings back memories. Updated with nerf guns too. Ok I'm in...... who's shoe is a dirty shoe...

Humans vs. Zombies is all the rage on college campuses

DARTMOUTH - Six Nerf toy guns with names like "Maverkick" and "MagStrike" hang from Tyler Clark's shoulders and waist. He fires them to fight off an army of zombies here at the University of Massachusetts. Right now, though, he's holed up inside the campus center as the zombies await his exit.

Humans vs. Zombies (Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe) UMass-Dartmouth Jordan Keefe and Tracy Menton got ready to play.

Clark is playing Humans vs. Zombies - or HvZ - an elaborate adult version of tag that has invaded 50 college campuses in New England and beyond. Similar in spirit to the movie "28 Days Later," HvZ starts with one person playing a zombie who converts humans (other students) by simply tagging them with their hands.

"Basically, we get to act like kids again," said Clark, 19.

The game provides students with a distraction from studies as they chase one another from classroom buildings to dorms. Students say HvZ is a healthy way to keep them on campus on the weekends and away from drinking. But the game has come under scrutiny. Reports of large groups of students wearing bandannas and shouldering 2-foot toy guns have alarmed passersby on some campuses. The game has been banned at some schools, including Butler University and Washington State University.

"In a post-Virginia Tech world, people very rightly take that kind of stuff seriously," said David Tillinghast, chief of campus police at Bridgewater State College. "We have received calls that some people thought the weapons they were wearing looked real. Sometimes they are out there in camouflage fatigues."

The calls have subsided as faculty and students became more aware of the game. "As long as we're not causing trouble, the cops don't care," said Ian Marson, 20, who helps organize the games at Bridgewater State.

At UMass-Dartmouth, students said that police officers have asked them not to wear red bandannas so people don't mistake them for gang members.

The game was born in 2005 at Goucher College, just north of Baltimore. What began as a fun activity among a group of friends mushroomed to 70 players. Recent games have involved hundreds of players.

"It's like a big psych experiment," said Max Temkin, a Goucher senior and a HvZ national organizer. Temkin has played since he was a freshman. He and others at Goucher created a website,, with instructional tools so that other schools can customize their own versions of the game. "It really caught on to a degree that no one expected," Temkin said.

Players find one another through websites and online social groups where game administrators keep count of who is zombie and human. Another appeal for players is that they can't really lose. If someone is tagged and converted to a zombie, he or she continues to play the game in that role. The match ends when all the humans have been transformed into zombies.

"You have video game-type scenarios that you are completing through the game, sort of like a fantasy world," said Keith Rood, a junior at UMass-Amherst, where a new round began this month. "You also have the exercise and adrenaline rush. It's a big release."

To help spread the word about the game, Rood produced a two-hour video titled "Sixteen Days," which chronicled a recent match that lasted more than two weeks. Another attracted 1,500 players.

On a recent weekday as the game unfolded at UMass-Dartmouth, Dan Rutledge sprinted across a field and dashed between academic buildings as he fended off dozens of zombies wearing bright green bandannas on their heads. Rutledge, who is on the school's cross country team, easily outran the zombies. Whenever a zombie approached, he tossed rolled-up socks to temporarily stun them. Humans can fight back with Nerf guns, pool noodles, or socks to neutralize a predator for a few minutes.

"Humans are 75 to 100 yards away. Get them!" one zombie shouted.

One of those zombies was Enzo Demello, who said the game has opened some social doors and helped him forge new friendships. "I meet new people who I would have never talked to in the first place," said Demello, 19, as he and a crew of zombies stormed the campus. "I get to meet real people on campus."

Or at least fake zombies.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009


Possibly the coolest transformers costumes I have seen on the web...... or the latest movie really sucks

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Columbine Report

They weren't goths or loners.

The two teenagers who killed 13 people and themselves at suburban Denver's Columbine High School 10 years ago next week weren't in the "Trenchcoat Mafia," disaffected videogamers who wore cowboy dusters. The killings ignited a national debate over bullying, but the record now shows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hadn't been bullied — in fact, they had bragged in diaries about picking on freshmen and "fags."

Their rampage put schools on alert for "enemies lists" made by troubled students, but the enemies on their list had graduated from Columbine a year earlier. Contrary to early reports, Harris and Klebold weren't on antidepressant medication and didn't target jocks, blacks or Christians, police now say, citing the killers' journals and witness accounts. That story about a student being shot in the head after she said she believed in God? Never happened, the FBI says now.

A decade after Harris and Klebold made Columbine a synonym for rage, new information — including several books that analyze the tragedy through diaries, e-mails, appointment books, videotape, police affidavits and interviews with witnesses, friends and survivors — indicate that much of what the public has been told about the shootin

In fact, the pair's suicidal attack was planned as a grand — if badly implemented — terrorist bombing that quickly devolved into a 49-minute shooting rampage when the bombs Harris built fizzled.

"He was so bad at wiring those bombs, apparently they weren't even close to working," says Dave Cullen, author ofColumbine, a new account of the attack.

So whom did they hope to kill?

Everyone — including friends.

What's left, after peeling away a decade of myths, is perhaps more comforting than the "good kids harassed into retaliation" narrative — or perhaps not.

It's a portrait of Harris and Klebold as a sort of In Cold Bloodcriminal duo — a deeply disturbed, suicidal pair who over more than a year psyched each other up for an Oklahoma City-style terrorist bombing, an apolitical, over-the-top revenge fantasy against years of snubs, slights and cruelties, real and imagined.

Along the way, they saved money from after-school jobs, took Advanced Placement classes, assembled a small arsenal and fooled everyone — friends, parents, teachers, psychologists, cops and judges.

"These are not ordinary kids who were bullied into retaliation," psychologist Peter Langman writes in his new book, Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters. "These are not ordinary kids who played too many video games. These are not ordinary kids who just wanted to be famous. These are simplynot ordinary kids. These are kids with serious psychological problems."

Deceiving the adults

Harris, who conceived the attacks, was more than just troubled. He was, psychologists now say, a cold-blooded, predatory psychopath — a smart, charming liar with "a preposterously grand superiority complex, a revulsion for authority and an excruciating need for control," Cullen writes.

Harris, a senior, read voraciously and got good grades when he tried, pleasing his teachers with dazzling prose — then writing in his journal about killing thousands.

"I referred to him — and I'm dating myself — as the Eddie Haskel of Columbine High School," says Principal Frank DeAngelis, referring to the deceptively polite teen on the 1950s and '60s sitcom Leave it to Beaver. "He was the type of kid who, when he was in front of adults, he'd tell you what you wanted to hear."

When he wasn't, he mixed napalm in the kitchen .

According to Cullen, one of Harris' last journal entries read: "I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. And no don't … say, 'Well that's your fault,' because it isn't, you people had my phone #, and I asked and all, but no. No no no don't let the weird-looking Eric KID come along."

As he walked into the school the morning of April 20, Harris' T-shirt read: Natural Selection.

Klebold, on the other hand, was anxious and lovelorn, summing up his life at one point in his journal as "the most miserable existence in the history of time," Langman notes.

Harris drew swastikas in his journal; Klebold drew hearts.

As laid out in their writings, the contrast between the two was stark.

Harris seemed to feel superior to everyone — he once wrote, "I feel like God and I wish I was, having everyone being OFFICIALLY lower than me" — while Klebold was suicidally depressed and getting angrier all the time. "Me is a god, a god of sadness," he wrote in September 1997, around his 16th birthday.

Klebold also was paranoid. "I have always been hated, by everyone and everything," he wrote.

On the day of the attacks, his T-shirt read: Wrath.

Shooter profiles emerge

Columbine wasn't the first K-12 school shooting. But at the time it was by far the worst, and the first to play out largely on live television.

The U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Education Department soon began studying school shooters. In 2002, researchers presented their first findings: School shooters, they said, followed no set profile, but most were depressed and felt persecuted.

Princeton sociologist Katherine Newman, co-author of the 2004 book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, says young people such as Harris and Klebold are not loners — they're just not accepted by the kids who count. "Getting attention by becoming notorious is better than being a failure."

The Secret Service found that school shooters usually tell other kids about their plans.

"Other students often even egg them on," says Newman, who led a congressionally mandated study on school shootings. "Then they end up with this escalating commitment. It's not a sudden snapping."

Langman, whose book profiles 10 shooters, including Harris and Klebold, found that nine suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, a "potentially dangerous" combination, he says. "It is hard to prevent murder when killers do not care if they live or die. It is like trying to stop a suicide bomber."

At the time, Columbine became a kind of giant national Rorschach test. Observers saw its genesis in just about everything: lax parenting, lax gun laws, progressive schooling, repressive school culture, violent video games, antidepressant drugs and rock 'n' roll, for starters.

Many of the Columbine myths emerged before the shooting stopped, as rumors, misunderstandings and wishful thinking swirled in an echo chamber among witnesses, survivors, officials and the news media.

Police contributed to the mess by talking to reporters before they knew facts — a hastily called news conference by the Jefferson County sheriff that afternoon produced the first headline: "Twenty-five dead in Colorado."

A few inaccuracies took hours to clear up, but others took weeks or months — sometimes years — as authorities reluctantly set the record straight.

Former Rocky Mountain News reporter Jeff Kass, author of a new book, Columbine: A True Crime Story, says police played a game of "Open Records charades."

In one case, county officials took five years just to acknowledge that they had met in secret after the attacks to discuss a 1998 affidavit for a search warrant on Harris' home — it was the result of a complaint against him by the mother of a former friend. Harris had threatened her son on his website and bragged that he had been building bombs.

Police already had found a small bomb matching Harris' description near his home — but investigators never presented the affidavit to a judge.

They also apparently didn't know that Harris and Klebold were on probation after having been arrested in January 1998 for breaking into a van and stealing electronics.

The search finally took place, but only after the shootings.

Meticulous planning

What's now beyond dispute — largely from the killers' journals, which have been released over the past few years, is this: Harris and Klebold killed 13 and wounded 24, but they had hoped to kill thousands.

The pair planned the attacks for more than a year, building 100 bombs and persuading friends to buy them guns. Just after 11 a.m. on April 20, they lugged a pair of duffel bags containing propane-tank bombs into Columbine's crowded cafeteria and another into the kitchen, then stepped outside and waited.

Had the bombs exploded, they'd have killed virtually everyone eating lunch and brought the school's second-story library down atop the cafeteria, police say. Armed with a pistol, a rifle and two sawed-off shotguns, the pair planned to pick off survivors fleeing the carnage.

As a last terrorist act, a pair of gasoline bombs planted in Harris' Honda and Klebold's BMW had been rigged apparently to kill police, rescue teams, journalists and parents who rushed to the school — long after the pair expected they would be dead.

The pair had parked the cars about 100 yards apart in the student lot. The bombs didn't go off.

Looking for answers at home

Since 1999, many people have looked to the boys' parents for answers, but a transcript of their 2003 court-ordered deposition to the victims' parents remains sealed until 2027.

The Klebolds spoke to New York Times columnist David Brooks in 2004 and impressed Brooks as "a well-educated, reflective, highly intelligent couple" who spent plenty of time with their son. They said they had no clues about Dylan's mental state and regretted not seeing that he was suicidal.

Could the parents have prevented the massacre? The FBI special agent in charge of the investigation has gone on record as having "the utmost sympathy" for the Harris and Klebold families.

"They have been vilified without information," retired supervisory special agent Dwayne Fuselier tells Cullen.

Cullen, who has spent most of the past decade poring over the record, comes away with a bit of sympathy.

For one thing, he notes, Harris' parents "knew they had a problem — they thought they were dealing with it. What kind of parent is going to think, 'Well, maybe Eric's a mass murderer.' You just don't go there."

He got a good look at the boys' writings only in the past couple of years. Among the revelations: Eric Harris was financing what could well have been the biggest domestic terrorist attack on U.S. soil on wages from a part-time job at a pizza parlor.

"One of the scary things is that money was one of the limiting factors here," Cullen says.

Had Harris, then 18, put off the attacks for a few years and landed a well-paying job, he says, "he could be much more like Tim McVeigh," mixing fertilizer bombs like those used in Oklahoma City in 1995. As it was, he says, the fact that Harris carried out the attack when he did probably saved hundreds of lives.

"His limited salary probably limited the number of people who died."


The Depressive and the PsychopathAt last we know why the Columbine killers did it.

still from Columbine videoFive years ago today, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered their classmates and teachers at Columbine High School. Most Americans have reached one of two wrong conclusions about why they did it. The first conclusion is that the pair of supposed "Trench Coat Mafia outcasts" were taking revenge against the bullies who had made school miserable for them. The second conclusion is that the massacre was inexplicable: We can never understand what drove them to such horrific violence.

But the FBI and its team of psychiatrists and psychologists have reached an entirely different conclusion. They believe they know why Harris and Klebold killed, and their explanation is both more reassuring and more troubling than our misguided conclusions. Three months after the massacre, the FBI convened a summit in Leesburg, Va., that included world-renowned mental health experts, including Michigan State University psychiatrist Dr. Frank Ochberg, as well as Supervisory Special Agent Dwayne Fuselier, the FBI's lead Columbine investigator and a clinical psychologist. Fuselier and Ochberg share their conclusions publicly here for the first time.

The first steps to understanding Columbine, they say, are to forget the popular narrative about the jocks, Goths, and Trenchcoat Mafia—click here to read more about Columbine's myths—and to abandon the core idea that Columbine was simply a school shooting. We can't understand why they did it until we understand what they were doing.

School shooters tend to act impulsively and attack the targets of their rage: students and faculty. But Harris and Klebold planned for a year and dreamed much bigger. The school served as means to a grander end, to terrorize the entire nation by attacking a symbol of American life. Their slaughter was aimed at students and teachers, but it was not motivated by resentment of them in particular. Students and teachers were just convenient quarry, what Timothy McVeigh described as "collateral damage."

The killers, in fact, laughed at petty school shooters. They bragged about dwarfing the carnage of the Oklahoma City bombing and originally scheduled their bloody performance for its anniversary. Klebold boasted on video about inflicting "the most deaths in U.S. history." Columbine was intended not primarily as a shooting at all, but as a bombing on a massive scale. If they hadn't been so bad at wiring the timers, the propane bombs they set in the cafeteria would have wiped out 600 people. After those bombs went off, they planned to gun down fleeing survivors. An explosive third act would follow, when their cars, packed with still more bombs, would rip through still more crowds, presumably of survivors, rescue workers, and reporters. The climax would be captured on live television. It wasn't just "fame" they were after—Agent Fuselier bristles at that trivializing term—they were gunning for devastating infamy on the historical scale of an Attila the Hun. Their vision was to create a nightmare so devastating and apocalyptic that the entire world would shudder at their power.

Harris and Klebold would have been dismayed that Columbine was dubbed the "worstschool shooting in American history." They set their sights on eclipsing the world's greatest mass murderers, but the media never saw past the choice of venue. The school setting drove analysis in precisely the wrong direction.

Fuselier and Ochberg say that if you want to understand "the killers," quit asking what drove them. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were radically different individuals, with vastly different motives and opposite mental conditions. Klebold is easier to comprehend, a more familiar type. He was hotheaded, but depressive and suicidal. He blamed himself for his problems.

Harris is the challenge. He was sweet-faced and well-spoken. Adults, and even some other kids, described him as "nice." But Harris was cold, calculating, and homicidal. "Klebold was hurting inside while Harris wanted to hurt people," Fuselier says. Harris was not merely a troubled kid, the psychiatrists say, he was a psychopath.

In popular usage, almost any crazy killer is a "psychopath." But in psychiatry, it's a very specific mental condition that rarely involves killing, or even psychosis. "Psychopaths are not disoriented or out of touch with reality, nor do they experience the delusions, hallucinations, or intense subjective distress that characterize most other mental disorders," writes Dr. Robert Hare, in Without Conscience, the seminal book on the condition. (Hare is also one of the psychologists consulted by the FBI about Columbine and by Slate for this story*.) "Unlike psychotic individuals, psychopaths are rational and aware of what they are doing and why. Their behavior is the result of choice, freely exercised." Diagnosing Harris as a psychopath represents neither a legal defense, nor a moral excuse. But it illuminates a great deal about the thought process that drove him to mass murder.

Diagnosing him as a psychopath was not a simple matter. Harris opened his private journal with the sentence, "I hate the f---ing world." And when the media studied Harris, they focused on his hatred—hatred that supposedly led him to revenge. It's easy to get lost in the hate, which screamed out relentlessly from Harris' Web site:

"YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE!!!? Cuuuuuuuuhntryyyyyyyyyy music!!! . . .

"YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE!!!? People who say that wrestling is real!! . . .

"YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE!!!? People who use the same word over and over again! . . . Read a f---in book or two, increase your vo-cab-u-lary f*ck*ng idiots."

"YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE!!!? STUPID PEOPLE!!! Why must so many people be so stupid!!? . . . YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE!!!? When people mispronounce words! and they dont even know it to, like acrosT, or eXspreso, pacific (specific), or 2 pAck. learn to speak correctly you morons.


It rages on for page after page and is repeated in his journal and in the videos he and Klebold made. But Fuselier recognized a far more revealing emotion bursting through, both fueling and overshadowing the hate. What the boy was really expressing was contempt.

He is disgusted with the morons around him. These are not the rantings of an angry young man, picked on by jocks until he's not going to take it anymore. These are the rantings of someone with a messianic-grade superiority complex, out to punish the entire human race for its appalling inferiority. It may look like hate, but "It's more about demeaning other people," says Hare.

A second confirmation of the diagnosis was Harris' perpetual deceitfulness. "I lie a lot," Eric wrote to his journal. "Almost constantly, and to everybody, just to keep my own ass out of the water. Let's see, what are some of the big lies I told? Yeah I stopped smoking. For doing it, not for getting caught. No I haven't been making more bombs. No I wouldn't do that. And countless other ones."

Harris claimed to lie to protect himself, but that appears to be something of a lie as well. He lied for pleasure, Fuselier says. "Duping delight"—psychologist Paul Ekman's term—represents a key characteristic of the psychopathic profile.

Harris married his deceitfulness with a total lack of remorse or empathy—another distinctive quality of the psychopath. Fuselier was finally convinced of his diagnosis when he read Harris' response to being punished after being caught breaking into a van. Klebold and Harris had avoided prosecution for the robbery by participating in a "diversion program" that involved counseling and community service. Both killers feigned regret to obtain an early release, but Harris had relished the opportunity to perform. He wrote an ingratiating letter to his victim offering empathy, rather than just apologies. Fuselier remembers that it was packed with statements like Jeez, I understand now how you feel and I understand what this did to you.

"But he wrote that strictly for effect," Fuselier said. "That was complete manipulation. At almost the exact same time, he wrote down his real feelings in his journal: 'Isn't America supposed to be the land of the free? How come, if I'm free, I can't deprive a stupid f---ing dumbshit from his possessions if he leaves them sitting in the front seat of his f---ing van out in plain sight and in the middle of f---ing nowhere on a Frif---ingday night. NATURAL SELECTION. F---er should be shot.' "

Harris' pattern of grandiosity, glibness, contempt, lack of empathy, and superiority read like the bullet points on Hare's Psychopathy Checklist and convinced Fuselier and the other leading psychiatrists close to the case that Harris was a psychopath.

It begins to explain Harris' unbelievably callous behavior: his ability to shoot his classmates, then stop to taunt them while they writhed in pain, then finish them off. Because psychopaths are guided by such a different thought process than non-psychopathic humans, we tend to find their behavior inexplicable. But they're actually much easier to predict than the rest of us once you understand them. Psychopaths follow much stricter behavior patterns than the rest of us because they are unfettered by conscience, living solely for their own aggrandizement. (The difference is so striking that Fuselier trains hostage negotiators to identify psychopaths during a standoff, and immediately reverse tactics if they think they're facing one. It's like flipping a switch between two alternate brain-mechanisms.)

None of his victims means anything to the psychopath. He recognizes other people only as means to obtain what he desires. Not only does he feel no guilt for destroying their lives, he doesn't grasp what they feel. The truly hard-core psychopath doesn't quite comprehend emotions like love or hate or fear, because he has never experienced them directly.

"Because of their inability to appreciate the feelings of others, some psychopaths are capable of behavior that normal people find not only horrific but baffling," Hare writes. "For example, they can torture and mutilate their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner."

The diagnosis transformed their understanding of the partnership. Despite earlier reports about Harris and Klebold being equal partners, the psychiatrists now believe firmly that Harris was the mastermind and driving force. The partnership did enable Harris to stray from typical psychopathic behavior in one way. He restrained himself. Usually psychopathic killers crave the stimulation of violence. That is why they are often serial killers—murdering regularly to feed their addiction. But Harris managed to stay (mostly) out of trouble for the year that he and Klebold planned the attack. Ochberg theorizes that the two killers complemented each other. Cool, calculating Harris calmed down Klebold when he got hot-tempered. At the same time, Klebold's fits of rage served as the stimulation Harris needed.

The psychiatrists can't help speculating what might have happened if Columbine had never happened. Klebold, they agree, would never have pulled off Columbine without Harris. He might have gotten caught for some petty crime, gotten help in the process, and conceivably could have gone on to live a normal life.

Their view of Harris is more reassuring, in a certain way. Harris was not a wayward boy who could have been rescued. Harris, they believe, was irretrievable. He was a brilliant killer without a conscience, searching for the most diabolical scheme imaginable. If he had lived to adulthood and developed his murderous skills for many more years, there is no telling what he could have done. His death at Columbine may have stopped him from doing something even worse.

Correction, April 20, 2004: The article originally identified Dr. Robert Hare as a psychiatrist. He is a psychologist. Return to the corrected sentence.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tyler Ziegel and Renee: one year on


Their story touched millions: the brave young marine who fought for his country and was left horribly disfigured. The high-school sweetheart who stood by his side. When we met them last year, their marriage was blossoming. But was the pressure to live happily ever after too much to bear?

by Ariel Leve
May 11, 2008

The fairy tale goes like this: they are high-school sweethearts from a small town, Metamora, Illinois, in the American Midwest. He graduates from high school, becomes a US marine and is sent to Iraq. When he returns, they get engaged. He proposes before he leaves for his second tour. She is 18; he is 21. She can’t wait for him to come home.

The tour is cut short. A suicide bomber blows up near his truck and he suffers horrific, life-changing injuries.

A day later he is in San Antonio, Texas, at the Brooke Army Medical Center. She leaves her home town for the first time to fly there with his mother so they can be by his side. She is there for him. His injuries are severe. He will have numerous operations and she will stand by him throughout. It will be a year and a half before they all go home. In the meantime, she will move in with his mother. The homecoming is a triumph. He is a hero and she is his heroine. Their commitment to each other is inspiring and rock-solid. They get married. She is now 21 and he is 24. The wedding takes place on October 7, 2006, and that date is declared a state holiday. Renee and Tyler Ziegel Day. Their romance is covered by The Sunday Times Magazine. They plan to have a family. Love conquers all.

When I tell people that I am going to Illinois to do a follow-up story on Ty and Renee, they are curious. How are they doing?

A little over a year had passed. In January, they got divorced, I tell them. They react with shock and disbelief. What happened? There is more than curiosity in their voice, there is disappointment too. As though it’s personal.

As though they had been promised a happy ending and they were ripped off. It turns out love doesn’t conquer all. It’s a myth.

) ) ) ) )

Metamora, Illinois, is a two-hour drive from Chicago. The kind of small town people don’t leave. Ty’s mum, Becky, was working as a waitress at the Family Fountain, the local diner on the square, when in 1979 she met Ty’s father, Jeff, who works in construction, and raised two sons – Tyler and Zach.

The late-afternoon sunlight is fading. It is a frigid winter’s day. Ty, now 25, is standing in his kitchen, eight miles outside Metamora, in the house he used to share with Renee before she moved out.

That was six months ago; they’d been married for less than a year. They are still good friends. In January, soon after signing the divorce papers, she was over for his Super Bowl party and they still socialise – even though Ty believes that she’s in a new relationship now and living with “some guy”. He doesn’t know much about it, he says.

There is no animosity when he speaks of her. There are still several framed photographs of the two of them laughing and being affectionate, taken before the bombing. There are also wedding photos, and although it’s clearly the home of a single 25-year-old male who isn’t inclined to doing dishes, Renee’s presence has not been extinguished.

The white fridge is covered with colourful snapshots. Friends, babies of friends, and several group shots of Ty with his platoon before he was injured. There is one in particular that stands out. It is striking – Ty on his own, relaxing in the desert between deployments. His boyish face is handsome and innocent, his body is strong, lean and rugged, his blond hair is cropped short and he is lying down on the sand, hands clasped behind his neck, smiling as he looks into the camera. Confident and self-assured.

There is no sentiment in his voice as he stares at what he used to look like and explains that Renee put that photo up because she liked it.

The face in that photo no longer exists. He was in a vehicle with six other marines, patrolling near al-Qaim, northwestern Iraq, when a suicide bomber drove into them.

His left arm is now a stump, having been amputated below the elbow. On his right hand his fingers were blown off – leaving only two remaining – and a big toe was grafted on in place of a thumb. He is blind in one eye and his ears were burnt off. Part of his skull is implanted in the fatty tissue in his torso, to keep it viable and moist for future use, and a plastic plate was fitted to cover where the bone on his skull used to be. He has shrapnel in his head, and above his brow there is a hole in his skull. His injuries are so serious that even a recent sinus infection, which meant a trip to hospital, is a huge medical ordeal.

It doesn’t upset him to look at photos of the past, although sometimes he feels nostalgic.

Ty’s younger brother, Zach, 22, is also a marine. He was in Iraq too, until March this year. He had been in the same unit as Ty, and Ty explains that Pete Carey, the marine who pulled him out of the truck when he was aflame, had been Zach’s squad leader. Ty is proud of his brother and doesn’t draw parallels. He feels that his brother’s decision to go over there should not have been influenced by what happened to him.

We go outside to the garage so he can show me his Harley-Davidson trike. It was a present built specially for him and it’s impressive. Last summer they rode as a group – his mum, dad and uncle Phil. They took a two-day trip.

Just then, he tilts his head to the left and shakes a single tear out of his eye. “I didn’t have a tear duct that drained, so I had an operation where they put a glass one in, but it irritated me, so I pulled it out.” Whenever he fills up, as he does now, in the cold weather, he has to tilt his head to dump out the salty fluid. He laughs mischievously. “I can use it to my advantage.” It is the same laugh, the same voice, and most likely the same sense of devilish adolescent humour that distinguish Ty as the person he has always been. Over the next few days, one thing I will hear over and over again is:

“Ty is still Ty.” It’s more than a glib line. People who knew him from before recognise that though the outside has been transformed, who he is remains unchanged.

Once we are back inside, he playfully instructs me to poke the side of his torso, near his waist, to feel where part of his skull is lodged. His laid-back personality defies his appearance. It’s easy to forget the extent of his injuries.

His mother, Becky, has taken over the medical care – dressings still need to be changed – but Ty isn’t keen to let her do domestic chores. He takes his laundry over to his parents’ house once a week and every so often he’ll let her vacuum.

We move into the sitting room. Despite the cold weather, Ty is wearing baggy jeans, open- toed sandals and an oversized T-shirt. He has some new tattoos and one, which snakes up his entire forearm, reads: “Yesterday was history.

Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift”. There is another one that says:

“You could hold my hand but you would pull me down.” An average day is hard to pin down. There is stuff he needs to do round the house – home improvements, going through dressers, putting things away. But he’s not in any rush. “I wake up whenever.” He owns a plot of land, 24 acres, and plans to build a house. It’s out in the woods and will look like a log cabin. He has the floor plans already. Ty bought the land before he got married – they had planned to build a house on it together.

) ) ) ) )

When Ty went to Iraq the first time, Renee was still in high school. She cried when he left and their only communication was through “snail mail” since they weren’t able to e-mail their families at the time. Once a week they were allowed a five-minute call, but Ty gave up his minutes – he didn’t like phoning home. “There was too much overstimulation. It wasn’t upsetting – just too much to think about.” He returned home in the summer of 2003, and three weeks later, Renee’s father died in a quad-bike accident. She clung to Ty for support and had no way of knowing then the impact that losing her father would have, the emotional void it would create, or that it might lead her into a marriage she wasn’t really prepared for.

Sitting down on the sofa, Ty says he and Renee were never “touchy-feely”, even before the wedding. When he says this he conveys an aversion to tactile displays of affection. What he also seems to want to get across is that his tapered emotional range is unrelated to his injuries.

But when it comes to

his dog, it’s another matter.

These days Dobbs, a bouncy one-year-old boxer whom he showers with unrestricted warmth and attention, has become his constant companion. When he jumps up on the sofa, Ty strokes him lovingly as the dog licks his face.

“Nothing happened,” he says, turning his focus back to me. He is speaking about the breakdown of the marriage, explaining that it was not triggered by a single event.

“Nothing was ever really wrong. It just wasn’t right. Going into the marriage? I’d never been married before. I think we were okay. The wedding – it was so planned. There was this thing... ” He breaks off and gets up to retrieve the framed certificate. It’s from the state of Illinois declaring his wedding a state holiday. “To call something like that off...” He sits back down.

Afterwards, there was no honeymoon. They began married life immediately, and since neither of them had to work, it meant that they could exist without a specific routine.

“It’s a different life. Whoever I marry doesn’t have to work – I get paid in VA [Veterans Affairs] benefits. We never have to worry about money.” He seems resigned – that their break-up would have occurred no matter what:

it just would have taken longer. “There were plenty of things I did wrong.

Everyday-life stuff. Stuff boys do and girls hate. We’re both in agreement – the lifestyle had its challenges.” He talks about not having to work and how this contributed to the downfall.

More so than anything else. After they separated they got along better than ever, he says. They would each go about their day and see each other out and about. “It’s not as strange as I thought it would be.” And his emotional state? “Oh, honey, my emotional state is off the charts anyway.” There is a plethora of orange prescription bottles on the coffee table in front of us. Seven in all. “Take a look at what we’ve got,” Ty says, making a sweeping gesture over the pills. There is one is for pain, one is an antacid, there is a bottle of morphine for “the head thing”. I hold up a bottle. “What’s this?” I ask. “Those are the don’t-kill-your-wife pills.”

He says he’s been off them before and it wasn’t good. “Not to the point of eating a bullet or anything like that… They call it post-traumatic stress disorder.”

He will most likely stay on them for the rest of his life. But he emphasises he is not in a zombie-like state and still capable of feeling his feelings. “They are to get me out of the house. I don’t sit here drooling or anything.”

It’s hard to tell where the mood stabilisers end and Ty’s naturally low-key nature begins. Returning to the subject of Renee seeing someone, his reaction doesn’t vary.

“I figured she’d find someone. I’m pretty chilled about most things.”

Jealous? Sad? “I don’t know. Probably a bit of both at first. But you know… I had a date last night!” This is exciting news. He downplays it and sounds sheepish. He went out with a friend – and her cousin and the cousin’s friend. They went to eat and then to a movie, where he dozed off.

Does he like her? “Yeah, she’s cool.” Attracted to her? “Uh, yeah.” When asked if he thinks the feeling is mutual, he pauses. “It’s hard to tell – am I getting the pity feedback or the real thing? Sometimes I worry. Like, I don’t know. But then it’s like, well, whatever. It’s like when you see that idiot who’s staring, and I give them their minute to look. I don’t blame people for looking – you don’t see people like me very often. But when it becomes blatant… I’ve gone up to grown men and said, ‘What is it you want to ask me?’ And by the time we’re done talking, they end up buying me a beer.

“It’s no different with dating. I just hold the attitude that if you’re not grown-up enough to deal with it, then you’re wasting my time.”

Ty is not immune to the reality – it will be difficult for some women to see past how he looks. He empathises and says he can’t imagine how hard it is for them. But his attitude betrays a steady confidence, and whether it’s real or manufactured, he is intuitive enough to realise that it’s what makes him attractive.

“You can’t be like this and not be confident. If I looked the way I was and I wasn’t confident? What would I do?”

There are people who don’t dwell on the negative. Ty is one of them. But with dating, rejection can come swiftly – sometimes before there is even a chance for someone to prove they are worth getting to know. He knows this.

“I have to have good icebreakers.” He pauses. “Like, ‘Hey, you wanna see the hole in my head?’”

At times, he admits, he feels lonely, but then he felt that way when he was married too. Towards the end he slept on the sofa.

) ) ) ) )

Ty’s mother, Becky, is driving us into the darkness. We are headed into “the middle of nowhere”. It’s a 20-minute journey to where we’re going for dinner. There are no buildings, just farmland, and we can only see as far as the headlights in front of us. “You got the butt warmer on?” she asks. The leather seats in her truck heat up.

When Ty went to Iraq the first time, she was scared. It was before the war really started and they were being trained for chemical warfare.

“But I always felt he would be okay,” she says. “The second time he went, when I hugged him goodbye and he walked towards me and I looked at him, this little voice in the back of my head said, ‘He will never be the same, he will never be the same.’ It was in my gut. I just knew.”

She dismissed her intuition, but states firmly that she always knew. So much so that when the call came that he had been injured, her first reaction was, she says, relief. “I knew something bad would happen – I just didn’t know what.”

But she didn’t know the severity of it until she saw him for the first time in the hospital on Christmas Eve in Texas. She was there with Renee. Was she ever afraid Renee would change her mind about the engagement once she saw him? “No. There was no doubt in my mind that she loved him and would stick with him. But she was young.” When asked if she thought that their marriage would last, there is a long silence. She stares straight ahead at the road.

“Who ever really knows?” She sighs. “It wasn’t a surprise when they split up.”

After they made the decision, Ty went to her house and Renee went straight to her mother.

“I’m the mom of the boy,” Becky says. “You get way less information. He came and said they were going to take a break and they were keeping it friendly. That was it.”

She knew they’d been doing their own thing for a while. And that they had drifted apart. “I asked him, ‘Ty, are you all right?’” She laughs. “Ty is not a verbal, effusive person. He said, surprisingly enough, ‘It’s okay.’ So what does that tell you?”

Becky doesn’t worry about him meeting someone new. “He will,” she says definitively. But is she concerned someone might not see him for who he is? “If it’s somebody who’s going to fall in love with him – they’ll fall in love with him. Everybody loves Ty.”

She doesn’t believe Renee left because of Ty’s limitations, and without hesitation she addresses where she stands. “I will always love Renee, no matter what anyone says or thinks. I will always love her because she was there when he needed her most. When he needed to know it didn’t matter.”

We drive for a few moments in silence. “I’m sure he has concerns. You can’t think that face doesn’t look in the mirror and wonder if somebody would love you or not. But then, if you’re Ty, he probably wouldn’t be going for someone that would care about that anyway.”

Having her other son deployed to Iraq after what happened to Ty must have been difficult. Nobody wants their child to go to war. Zach came and talked to her before he volunteered, and she knew he’d go.

We pull into the driveway of the Midway Duck Inn – a favourite with duck-hunters. “Ty’s always been level-headed and easy-going,” she says, taking the keys out the ignition. “I raised two kids – Eeyore and Tigger. Ty’s Eeyore.”

) ) ) ) )

Ty enlisted with his best friend, Buddy Robison, when they were in high school. They went through boot camp together, and were deployed to Iraq at the same time, for two tours, in different platoons of the same company.

Buddy was in Falluja when he found out that Ty had been blown up. His captain told him Ty had minor burns and broken bones.

He didn’t know the full details. “My heart dropped when I heard the name Tyler Ziegel.” Buddy is tall, good-looking and extremely shy. He speaks softly. We are sitting in the dining room in Becky’s house, a cheerful room that is filled with the bright morning sun. Buddy has driven over from Peoria, where he lives, a few miles away. “It took a few days to find out what really happened. I talked to my mom. She knew it was more than minor burns. It hit me that it was more than ‘no big deal’. But I didn’t know the full severity until I went to San Antonio and saw him for the first time, after I got home from Iraq. I can’t describe what it was like. But when I talked to him – besides the physical appearance – he was exactly the same.”

Buddy has known Renee as long as Ty. He knew they were having trouble because when Ty would go out, Renee wouldn’t be with him.

“We don’t talk about our feelings. It’s a guy thing. I found out they were getting divorced when he told me. He said he still loved her, but it was the best thing. I trust him.”

He admits that there was a little bit of anger, but then adds: “If Ty was okay with it, why shouldn’t I be okay with it? I feel for him. I’ve never been through a divorce.”

Most of the time, he and Ty talk about music. And, like Becky, he isn’t worried about Ty moving on and falling in love again. “Someone will see through his skin and see his heart,” he says. And what of his own personal feelings about Renee? Buddy smiles. “That’s a hard question.” He takes his time before answering, choosing his words with care.

“I respect her a lot for sticking by Ty’s side. Moving to San Antonio… she helped him through the hardest time in his life.

“It’s not like I hate her. I think Renee has a good heart, too. I just think what happened to Ty might have been something too big. I don’t know if she doesn’t want to handle it any more. Maybe she’s tired of it and wants to move on.”

Since Ty doesn’t blame her or hold a grudge against her, Buddy feels it’s not his place to comment any more. We move on. He’s noticed that what has changed the most about his friend is that he is more outgoing than he used to be.

“Before he got blown up, we were both shy. We were exactly alike. Now he’s not afraid to go up to someone he doesn’t know and talk to them. He doesn’t hide. Obviously, people look, but he walks straight ahead.”

There has only been one incident where there’s been trouble. A little over a year ago they were leaving a bar and a bunch of local college kids made fun of Ty. There was a fight.

“They made fun of him, called him a freak. You can’t just brush that off. Someone’s got the audacity to do that to someone who served his country, protecting them?” He looks at me, still pained by this, and shakes his head.

They have been close since they were six years old. He sees his best friend suffer, and he has suffered with him. “The most difficult part for me? Initially it was just seeing him. When I went to the hospital I walked right by him because I didn’t know it was him. Now? Nothing is difficult. When someone says ‘Tyler Ziegel’, I think of how he is now. We get along the way we always did. It will always be the case.

“Ty doesn’t come out and tell me everything that bothers him. He doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him. But you know that he’s got to be hurting every day.”

) ) ) ) )

The Family Fountain is on the square, two minutes from Becky’s house. A few hours later, the four of us head over for lunch. The table in the centre of the room is occupied by half a dozen men in flannel shirts and baseball caps, and Becky singles them out one by one: “He’s a farmer, he works for the phone company, he’s in garbage disposal, he’s in construction…” These men are men. Not a metrosexual in sight.

This is the diner where Becky used to work, and we chat for a while with the waitress about her tan. It’s Fake Bake. Ty and Buddy order burgers and the discussion turns to the war. They were not thinking of oil or money, nor were they fighting for President Bush. They were doing their job, dealing only with the task at hand –fighting for friends and family. They don’t question it. The big picture isn’t the issue.

A bearded man approaches to say hello. “Hey, Shakey,” Ty says, taking a bite of his burger. He doesn’t wear the prosthetic limb and manoeuvres slowly, using his stump in place of a hand to secure the bun.

Shakey’s real name is Dennis McCullough, and he has known Ty all his life. They hang out, go drinking together and watch Nascar.

“Ty’s Ty,” he says, when asked for his thoughts. He confirms that Ty has always been laid-back and says that the only real change is that maybe now he drinks more. Everyone laughs when he says that.

Ty’s presence at the Family Fountain is a nonevent. People pay no more or less attention to him than they would any other local. He wouldn’t want it any other way.

) ) ) ) )

When Donna Kline first heard that Ty and Renee were separating, she was angry with both of them. Kline is Renee’s mother. She is wearing a bright orange Adidas sweatshirt and is seated behind her desk. We are in the back office at Kline’s Repair, an automobile repair service, and the room smells of motor oil and a patchouli-scented candle that is lit and flickering. It is the end of the day, and Donna is getting ready to close the shop.

Her demeanour is prickly. She’s agreed to talk on Renee’s behalf, but it’s clear she doesn’t trust how her daughter will be portrayed. Nevertheless, she is willing to share her opinions.

“I wasn’t sure that they had put their whole heart into it,” she says.

She, too, believes that they should have slowed down before they got married. “But there wasn’t time. It was so crazy. If they had both stepped back a minute, I’m not sure that the marriage would have happened. They didn’t take the time to step back.” She speculates that after those two years in Texas, they just wanted to get back to normal. They thought the wedding would be that. But nobody considered past the wedding.

“Renee has no regrets,” Donna states. “They had issues and mutually decided to separate. Sure, I was shocked. I was hurt.”

There was, she concedes, a lot of pressure on their marriage – all the health issues they went through, being in Texas. “If he hadn’t been blown up and things hadn’t happened the way they did… I don’t know. I can’t answer that.”

She has a hard time understanding how – after everything that they had been through – this is the way it ended up.

“Am I happy that they’re divorced? No. I’m not a big believer in divorce. They were both hurt. Renee did not get married thinking she would be divorced a year later. It’s not exactly what she wanted, either.”

When I ask if Renee was worried about what people might think of her – if she felt guilty – Donna cuts me off. “Okay, let’s go off the record here, because I’m starting to get upset.”

Suddenly she seems very uncomfortable.

“You might want to turn that off,” she says. With the tape recorder turned off she expresses concern about the way the article is going. I reassure her that I’m not looking to blame Renee and only want to know what she was feeling. She allows me to turn it back on.

“Renee doesn’t feel guilty for leaving Tyler, because she doesn’t see Ty the way other people see Ty. She sees him the way he was four years ago, not the way he is today.”

Ryan Rohman, 21, is Renee’s best friend. After Donna, he was the first person to know about the separation. “As soon as it happened she came straight to me. She called and said she wanted to talk.

“Ty likes to have his fun and Renee likes to have her fun. Renee was born and raised a hick – she’ll tell you that. Ty, he’s into bands and stuff like that. She’ll come up here and we’ll party and listen to country music, and he’ll go listen to rock music. That’s just how they are.”

Renee, he says, was scared. She didn’t want to be 22 years old and divorced. “She told me she was afraid people were going to think bad of her for leaving Ty. But she wasn’t leaving Ty – it was a mutual decision. She was worried that she would get a bad reputation because Ty is injured and people would blame her.”

Donna explains that even after the wedding they weren’t left alone. “I wish they’d had more time, without the media scrutiny.

“Renee feels that it’s done. Enough’s enough. She wants to move on. I believe if her dad hadn’t been killed, things would have been different. They jumped in too quick – and jumped out too quick. I know Renee loves Ty. Is she in love with him the way you need to love a husband for the next 50 years? Apparently not. But I don’t think he is, either. I think they both would have stayed in it, if one of them hadn’t initiated a talk about where things were going.”

) ) ) ) )

The fairy tale, as we know it, was not meant to be. They were too young to be married. Too young to process the possibility that what led them into a lifelong commitment was a desire for certainty in an uncertain world.

There is no mystery, no implosion, no tragic conclusion. There were factors that added up. Factors that at the time they could not have foreseen. That a marriage would not offset the consequences of Ty’s injuries. That it would not compensate for the loss and the grief felt by a young woman losing her father.

Everyone suspected it was too soon – that maybe it wasn’t right. But nobody spoke out. Others, strangers, projected onto them what they needed to believe.

They were larger than life. When we heard their story, we put ourselves in their shoes, imagining what we would do in the same situation. Renee personified the courage and strength we hoped we would have. But she was 18 years old. And neither is prone to introspection. They weren’t people who asked why. Between the two of them, they had so much life experience, but the emotional narrative of their lives never caught up.

What made us think it would? Why did we have such high hopes for them in the first place? Nobody really ever knew Ty and Renee. Not even Ty and Renee.

But this is not the end. They emerged from the marriage with warmth and affection for each other – not anger and recrimination.

She was there when he needed her most; she showed up and stood by him. That is more than many people will ever have in a marriage. It is something they will always share.

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