Special Report: Bullying to the Brink

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side is looking back at the 1988 shooting at Atlantic Shores Christian School in Virginia Beach and how bullying led a student to the brink.

Former student Nicholas Elliott has been in prison 29 years — since he was 16-years-old — for killing beloved teacher Karen Farley. He claims constant bullying by a classmate led him to bring a gun, ammunition and homemade bombs to school.

Never before and never since has a student killed on a school campus in Hampton Roads. Elliot, now 44, told WAVY’s Andy Fox in an exclusive interview he saw “no light at the end of the tunnel.”

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“Bullying to the brink, it does occur,” says Bobby Kipper, the founder and executive director of the National Center for the Prevention of Community Violence, which tackles the serious issue of bullying.

Kipper says it is a sad and true fact that bullying to the brink happened at Atlantic Shores Christian School on December 16, 1988.

“In 1988, we were still calling it child’s play and we thought teasing was part of going to school and teasing was part of our society,” Kipper said.

On that dark day in 1988, Elliot went looking to shoot the bully who tormented him. He ended up shooting teacher Karen Farley, wounding Assistant Principal Sam Marino and chasing another teacher. He would have shot the bully he eventually found laying down in a portable classroom, had his gun not jammed.

Andy Fox called Elliot, who is incarcerated at the Nottoway Correctional Center, and asked him: “You said the constant torment of bullying wore you down. What did you mean by that?”

He answered, “It breaks down your resolve… Your sense of peace and well-being… It takes away all your hope. It is disheartening.”

Kipper calls Atlantic Shores ground zero for bullying, putting it on the map for how we need to deal with bullying before it escalates to tragedy.

“The climate in 1988 for bullying was everybody is going to get teased… A person who is victimized by bullying, they tend to take it into their own hands. Whether that is right or wrong, that is behavior and sooner or later, people will strike back,” Kipper said.

The bully didn’t only go after Nicholas, he went after Karen Farley’s daughter, Lora Farley Graham, and her brother Will — even after their mother had been killed. Many years later on Facebook, the bully reached out to Lora and apologized.

Lora Farley Graham told Andy Fox, “He said, ‘I’m so sorry for your mom being killed. If I hadn’t been ugly to Nicholas, he wouldn’t have done it.’ He then apologized for being ugly to me, and then contacted my brother and said the same thing.”

10 On Your Side told Kipper that story from Lora.

“Can you imagine the feeling — not only of this individual, but other individuals in our society that realize how bad they have treated people along the way… How many people they terrorized? And this continues because no one really puts a stop to it,” Kipper added.

In hindsight, Kipper doesn’t blame the teachers because it was a different time.

“Back in 1988, we didn’t have the available services, and counseling for teens in the community or the school… Now it is a state law in Virginia school districts that you must have an adopted school policy to deal with bullying.”

Kipper says because of the Atlantic Shores case, we see what happens when good people say nothing.

“If you are going to tolerate your friends or people you know being abused or bullied, then you are actually part of the bullying.”

Elliot added his thought on this, remembering back to 1988: “Adults need to stand up when they see that stuff going on, and they need to be more proactive and interject in situations like that… People shouldn’t feel alone when they are going through certain things like that… You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”

Nicholas blames only himself.

“It was all my fault… I don’t blame this on anybody but me. Even the person who was bullying me or whatever, it is my fault. I don’t put no blame on the bully, because it was my fault in how I reacted.”

Bobby Kipper says it should be noted that perhaps the tremendous attention paid to bullying today might be the reason that in Hampton Roads, there hasn’t been another tragedy like the one at Atlantic Shores Christian School.

One final note from Nicholas Elliot: “I say this, violence solves nothing. It only makes matters worse. The hard stuff you think you are going through out there is nothing compared to what you go through in here.”