Life was anything but easy for Rachel, growing up in the poverty-ridden projects of New Bedford, Massachusetts. When she was just nine years old, her father left the family, leaving her, her twin brother, her two sisters, and their mom with not much more than the clothes on their backs. The pressures of raising her children on her own took its toll on Rachel's mom, distancing her from her children emotionally. "She just didn't make much time for us after that," says Rachel. "Listening to her children's problems just really wasn't high on her list. I never felt like she was there for me when I needed to talk to her."
Young Rachel decided that when she grew up and had children of her own, she would make sure she was always available when they needed her attention and when they just needed someone to listen.
After raising her family, Rachel went back to school to earn her Master's degree in teaching. In 2000, she applied for a job in her hometown of New Bedford, teaching kids who were growing up in the same tough conditions she had. From the moment she entered the classroom, Rachel knew she had her work cut out for her as a teacher, disciplinarian, surrogate mom, and sometimes even referee. Says Rachel, "There were some troubled kids in there, and they needed a lot more than just a good education." What they needed most was someone to care, to discipline them, and to listen to what they were going through.
That's how she came to know Amy, a senior in her writing for college class. Most students thought Amy was just an average teenager with the gift of gab. But underneath her happy-go-lucky exterior was a firestorm of pain and confusion.
"Amy started coming in after school just to shoot the breeze about life at school and the class," says Rachel. But it wasn't long before Amy was sticking like glue to Rachel's side, bending her ear whenever she could and sharing some deeply personal problems. At times, Amy was so disturbed by her life at home that she'd ask Rachel if she could come home with her instead. So from time to time, Rachel invited her over for dinner. "She didn't have much guidance in her life at all," says Rachel. "But most important, there was nobody who cared about anything she had to say. I really knew how she felt, so I figured the best thing I could do was just to let her know I was really interested in listening to whatever she had to say."
Soon after that, the devoted teacher gave Amy a present. It was a guardian angel pin. Rachel didn't know everything that was going on in Amy's life, but she thought the young girl could use all the help she could get. "I told her it should remind her that angels are always watching over us," says Rachel.
What Rachel couldn't know is that the gift came at a time when Amy was wrestling with a big decision that would change her life and the fate of many others for years to come. "It was obvious that she was dying to get something out, and I could tell it was something important," says Rachel, "but it was as if she didn't know how to say it, and it was killing her. I just had to pay really close attention."
Then, just days before Thanksgiving, Amy finally got up the nerve to divulge the unthinkable-that she and several classmates were planning a Columbine-style massacre to murder as many of the school's 3,250 students as they could. She was telling Rachel, she said, because she didn't want anything to happen to her. "It was the most horrifying thing I ever heard," recalls Rachel. "Of all the things I could have expected her to say, this wasn't one of them."
With Rachel's support, Amy told police of the plan to sneak into school armed with an arsenal of guns hidden under black trench coats, running through the halls and slaughtering everyone they saw. Then, police say, she told them they planned to shoot each other on the roof of the school after getting drunk and high on marijuana and acid. Amy reportedly had originally agreed to get them guns, but now she wanted out-not because she was afraid for her own life, but because she didn't want anything to happen to Rachel.
It was something straight out of tomorrow's horrible headlines, but it hadn't happened yet. And they could still stop it.