Innocence Lost: The Atlantic Shores School Shooting

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) -- Before there was Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, or any fatal school shooting, there was the shooting at the Atlantic Shores Christian School.

In December 1988, a student shot two teachers, killing one of them. The school looks much different now, but is still located on Kempsville Road in Virginia Beach.

It is the only student-involved fatal school shooting in Hampton Roads history.

"I really can't hear a gunshot without thinking about that moment," says Cory Caplan, who was 12-years-old and an eighth grader at the school when he heard the shots fired. Caplan is also a commercial producer and director at WAVY-TV.

That moment was December 16, 1988 and it haunts Caplan to this day.

"And then we heard ‘Pop, pop, pop’ ... Moments later, the teacher was like 'Get down under your desks.'"

That December day, all hell broke loose at Atlantic Shores.

Nicholas Elliot, who was was 16-years-old at the time, had just shot and killed beloved Atlantic Shores teacher Karen Farley.

"We heard the sounds as Nicholas came from Ms. Farley's trailer."

Her daughter, Lora Farley Graham, who was also a student, remembers when she first heard her mother was dead.

"They told us that and we broke down,” she said.

After killing Lora's mother, Elliot's rage took him hunting for more victims.

"He then shot Mr. Marino over here," Caplan said while pointing to a desk.

Assistant Principal Sam Marino was shot twice, but survived.

"He then chased the algebra teacher down this way. She turned the corner, hit a shed and he thought he had shot her," Caplan continues.

Luckily, that teacher was not shot.

"And then Nicholas ran back this way and then came up into this trailer to confront the bully."

Elliot's rage stemmed from an insufferable school bully, who 10 On Your Side is not identifying. As Nicholas aimed the gun to shoot the bully, the gun jammed. Elliot was then tackled and disarmed.

Elliot, who is now 44, remembers some of the details.

"I think I got to the classroom and the door was locked,” he said. “I don't know if I shot the door, or the door handle.  Somehow I ended up getting in there... Someone tackled me or something."

WAVY’s Andy Fox asked Elliot if he remembered seeing the bully.

"Yes... He was laying down at the opposite end of the classroom with other people,” Elliot said. “After I was tackled, someone said, 'You should not have tried to shoot us.'

“I remember the bullying and the torment,” Elliot continued. “It was unrelenting... I had tunnel vision rage, where you don't see anything... It was all consuming."

In his only media interview, Elliot agreed to talk to 10 On Your Side by phone from the Nottoway Correctional Center, where he is serving a life sentence.

"I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. No end to it,” Elliot said. “I had to resort to something more powerful he couldn't combat."

Elliot explained that the shooting was something he thought the bully couldn't combat or counter.

Caplan, who had been friends with Elliot, went to Nottoway to ask some tough questions.

"He told me he would have killed me,” Caplan said. “What I found out, he was in a blind rage, and he probably would have killed everyone."

Andy Fox asked Elliot about that. He replied, "I was young and angry... I made the biggest mistake of my life... I was frustrated and angry about some stuff that was going on... I handled it in a wrong way."

During Caplan's visit with Elliot, he made a stunning discovery. It may have been Cory who gave Nicholas the idea to get an adult to buy the gun he would use in the shooting. Nicholas was only 16 at the time and could not legally buy the gun himself. So, he got an adult to buy the gun.

Caplan added, "I taught him this deception. When we went to the movie ‘Die Hard,’ I had him buy the tickets because he looked older. I was 12 and it gave him the idea to have his uncle buy the gun."

WAVY News asked Elliot about that and he confirmed he did get the idea from Caplan to get adults to help.

"It taught me something I didn't know,” Elliot said. “Adults can do things for you. I was young and naive... I succeeded in getting adults to get movie tickets for a movie we couldn't attend or get into."

Andy Fox followed up, asking Elliot if he thought an adult could get him a gun that he couldn't otherwise get. Elliot answered, "Yes." He also added, "I wouldn't say that was anyone else's fault [including Cory], or anything like that. It was all my fault."

Back at the school, with her mother dead, Lora Farley Graham waited for her father.

"My dad showed up a few minutes later, and we sat there and just cried."

During our interview, 10 On Your Side asked Elliot why he shot Ms. Farley. He responded, "I can't answer that. It doesn't make any sense when you are just filled with rage. You do things that just don't make any sense... It was built up frustration... misdirected anger."

In 1988, Lora was 14 and in ninth grade. Her younger brother Will was 13 and in eighth grade. The brother and sister wanted answers, too, and went to Nottoway to visit with Elliot, like Caplan did.

"He honestly thought we were going to bring in a weapon of some sort and we were going to hurt him," Lora said, laughing.

During the four-hour meeting on April 13, 2014, nearly 26 years after Elliot had killed their mother, they did something magnificent. They said to him, "We forgive you. That was the first thing we said to him... He and my brother were crying," Lora remembers.

The siblings gave him forgiveness. They did ask Elliot to fill in the gaps on what happened that dark day.

"He was even loading a gun in a school van and a kid saw him loading the gun and didn't say anything."

Elliot did not remember many of the important moments during the attack, and he didn't have those details for us which include the exact details leading up to  Karen Farley's shooting.

Elliot kept telling Lora and her brother how sorry he was.

"It was extreme. She was totally innocent, and I had no right doing what I did... I constantly think how I messed my life up and messed other peoples’."

Elliot has been up for parole many times over the years, and all have been denied.

Lora hopes he is paroled. Amazingly, the one who lost the most, is the one forgiving the most.

10 On Your Side asked if Elliot gets paroled and freed, and comes to this home, would he be welcomed in your home? Giving an answer before the question had been fully asked, Lora said, "Yes. Why not? If I don't show him the love of Christ, then who is going to show it to him?"

Elliot responded to that: "It was shocking and surprising when we had our meeting, and she let me know that. It is hard to get your mind around something like that when someone like me does something so terrible like what I did. There is no reason for what I did to her and her family... I take full responsibility... There is no one responsible for all this, but me."

Lora Farley Graham shares her story

Read Lora's account of her story.

Full interview with Nicholas Elliot

Cory Caplan Blog

Read Cory Caplan's blog, "Questions for Nicholas."

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