School shootings seem to be more prevalent now than they ever have been, but they’ve been around forever.  The only difference is that we didn’t have around the clock coverage and live video feeds.  People were also far less inclined to speak opening to the media about their first hand accounts of something they were in some way involved in that was so brutal.  Nowadays we can watch interviews with parents of victims and even the very kids who witnessed first-hand, and somehow survived, the senseless melee of a school shooting.

It wasn’t always so.  There was a time that these were the kinds of things that no one wanted to give attention to, good, bad or indifferent.  It was the kind of thing safer to sweep under the rug than give it the kind of attention that could expose other kids to an idea they hadn’t had before.

Then, however, there are some situations that could be, for the right kind of money and influence, be tucked away from public view, to avoid any further damage, and embarrassment.  To be honest I just started reading about this particular incident in Texas history, so I don’t know why it was handled the way it was.  I wasn’t there so knowing why it was handled the way it was isn’t something as simple as reading a few articles and making a judgment based on what was in the news.

 

Tawny the Rock Chick here, your resident true crime aficionado.  As interesting as I find true crime from all over to be, it’s the local stuff that I can really dig into.  You could say I’m a bit obsessed with researching stories of murder and missing persons from this area.  I’ve spent countless hours reading old newspapers articles, requesting files on cases and sifting through data cases online regarding homicide cases that you probably didn’t even know existed.  This area holds more sordid secrets than you may know and I’m going to tell you about all of them, one day at a time.  It’s 365 Days of Texas True Crime and todays story goes like this…..

 

Screenshot of John Daniel Christian’s Murchison Middle school yearbook picture

Who knows what was going through John Daniel Christian’s head on this day, May 17th, 1978.  It was a Thursday, the day before the end of the week, and somewhere in  Austin a 13 year-old boy spent one last day of normalcy before he would make a decision that would change everything for his and so many other peoples lives.  John was an exceptionally bright student, not just in the way of grades, but beyond his age kind of bright.  He was said to be more mature, and as one of his closest friends at Murchison Middle school, Logan Bazar, would say “smarter and worldier”.  He was said to have the most potential out of all the kids he went to school with and he happen to be somewhat of a favorite of Mr. Grayson.

Screenshot of Rod Grayson’s Murchison Middle school picture

John Daniel Christian came from a prominent family.  His dad was George Christian, who served as President Johnson’s press secretary and then later became a top adviser to Governor Dolph Briscoe.  His mom, Jo Anne, was a highly regarded lawyer and patron on Austin’s arts scene.  John was the third of four sons and he also had two adult step sisters, whom George had from a previous marriage.  They lived in a beautiful home on Rockledge Cove, not far from the Murchison campus, with a great big Magnolia tree in the front yard that was given to them as a sapling by Lady Bird Johnson…yeah name dropping all day kids.  It isn’t that the family was rich, it’s just that they had a prestigious reputation and connections

School shootings seem to be more prevalent now than they ever have been, but they’ve been around forever.  The only difference is that we didn’t have around the clock coverage and live video feeds.  People were also far less inclined to speak opening to the media about their first hand accounts of something they were in some way involved in that was so brutal.  Nowadays we can watch interviews with parents of victims and even the very kids who witnessed first-hand, and somehow survived, the senseless melee of a school shooting.

It wasn’t always so.  There was a time that these were the kinds of things that no one wanted to give attention to, good, bad or indifferent.  It was the kind of thing safer to sweep under the rug than give it the kind of attention that could expose other kids to an idea they hadn’t had before.

Then, however, there are some situations that could be, for the right kind of money and influence, be tucked away from public view, to avoid any further damage, and embarrassment.  To be honest I just started reading about this particular incident in Texas history, so I don’t know why it was handled the way it was.  I wasn’t there so knowing why it was handled the way it was isn’t something as simple as reading a few articles and making a judgment based on what was in the news.

 

Tawny the Rock Chick here, your resident true crime aficionado.  As interesting as I find true crime from all over to be, it’s the local stuff that I can really dig into.  You could say I’m a bit obsessed with researching stories of murder and missing persons from this area.  I’ve spent countless hours reading old newspapers articles, requesting files on cases and sifting through data cases online regarding homicide cases that you probably didn’t even know existed.  This area holds more sordid secrets than you may know and I’m going to tell you about all of them, one day at a time.  It’s 365 Days of Texas True Crime and todays story goes like this…..

 

 

Who knows what was going through John Daniel Christian’s head on this day, May 17th, 1978.  It was a Thursday, the day before the end of the week, and somewhere in  Austin a 13 year-old boy spent one last day of normalcy before he would make a decision that would change everything for his and so many other peoples lives.  John was an exceptionally bright student, not just in the way of grades, but beyond his age kind of bright.  He was said to be more mature, and as one of his closest friends at Murchison Middle school, Logan Bazar, would say “smarter and worldier”.  He was said to have the most potential out of all the kids he went to school with and he happen to be somewhat of a favorite of Mr. Grayson.

John Daniel Christian came from a prominent family.  His dad was George Christian, who served as President Johnson’s press secretary and then later became a top adviser to Governor Dolph Briscoe.  His mom, Jo Anne, was a highly regarded lawyer and patron on Austin’s arts scene.  John was the third of four sons and he also had two adult step sisters, whom George had from a previous marriage.  They lived in a beautiful home on Rockledge Cove, not far from the Murchison campus, with a great big Magnolia tree in the front yard that was given to them as a sapling by Lady Bird Johnson…

Screenshot of the Christian home

yeah name dropping all day kids.  It isn’t that the family was rich, it’s just that they had a prestigious reputation and connections, social and professional, that were extensive to say the least.

Can you imagine the kind of pressure that would put on a child, and that’s just the internal pressure that would be felt organically just because of proximity but add in a father constantly putting unrealistic expectations that by his standards are never met…could really do a number on a 13 year-old boy.  Boys that age are already going through so much physically, emotionally and mentally, it would seem like adding in any more would be too much, and it can be said in this case that it, in fact, was.  As he confided to his friend, Logan Bazar, it was apparent John was under constant scrutiny and pressure from his father and that year it was even more clear the bitterness John was harboring.  However, to hear the way at least one of his brothers told it, their father was too busy with everything else he and his wife had going on to pay that kind of attention to one of their four younger children.  John was showing signs of some sort of issue in the years before May of 1978, that something was going on inside.  Two years before John had sketched the scene of a mass shooting, with red flames coming out of a gun. He played an odd game in the eighth grade with a female classmate where he told her to pretend she was on the phone with a man who wanted to jump from the top of a skyscraper.  He told her the man’s name was “J.C.”, she played along and said some kind, reassuring words to the pretend jumper and John told her thank you and that the man was comforted by what she said.  Weeks before the incident his teacher Mr. Grayson read a paper John turned in that made him worry out-loud to his wife about John and what he might be going through as far as the expectation he assumed his parents put on him.  The story was about robots that ran around castrating men and the language he used made Mr. Grayson’s wife, whom he asked to read it, pause in disgust and disbelief at the savagery of the story.  He and his wife, as many of us do, took turns staying home with the baby whenever there was cause to do so, and on May 17th, 1978 there was cause.  The baby, Ian, was running a fever and it was Rodney’s turn to stay home with him.  Mr. Grayson, being the good teacher he was, had his agenda for the day set so that even though they would have a substitute, they could still carry on with the plan for the day, which was oral presentations on a chapter of the novel they were reading, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  John Ray and John Christian were set to give their oral presentations that day.

Screenshot of John Ray's Murchison Middle school yearbook picture
Screenshot: John Ray back at Murchison Middle school

Although normally a quite kid, when John began making his presentation he shocked the class with his absolute absence of reserve.  He was yelling, profanely, flinging his arms around, jumping up and down in the air, talked at one point about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, yes his presentation was taking place somewhere far outside the realm of what was in the book they were reading. He drew a couple in bed on the chalkboard and told the classroom “Whoever can make the ssssssssssssssss sound the longest can win this piece of chalk!” which was met with nervous but robust laughter.

The other John who was on the assignment just stood to the side and worried about the reprocutions of what had just happened.  He told Christian “John, when Mr. Grayson hears about this, he’s gonna kick our butts.”  John just said “Don’t worry, I’m going to bring a gun tomorrow.”  The teacher of his next class said their time John spent in the classroom was just like any other day.  Only two other happenings of note were reported in regards to John that day, he tore up a map he had designed for a school assignment and was told by his math teacher to study hard for an upcoming test because “If you don’t pass it, you’ll fail the class”.

On May 18th, 1979, John hid in a bathroom while the rest of his family went about their daily routine of waking, getting ready for and heading into their days.  He got the .22 caliber hunting rifle that was given to him by his parents for Christmas, reportedly thought about killing himself with it, but then headed out, with gun in hand, down the street and toward his school.

Screenshot of map of Murchison Middle school the day of shooting

The class had already started without him and Mr. Grayson wanted to know what the hell had happened the day before.  The kids all responded that John was acting weird but the teacher told the students, “You just don’t understand him the way I do” and then asked “Where is John anyway?”  It was right about that time that John could be seen outside the classroom window heading down the grassy hill beside the football field, “There he is”, said one student and then another “he’s got a gun!”  Being the drama enthusiasts they both were, the students may have all be ready to watch a skit planned by a gifted student and his equally gifted teacher.  As I said before, when John got to the classroom doorway he held the gun at his hip as his teacher tired of the spectacle said “Okay, John.  Joke’s over.”  Before he shot his 29 year old teacher Mr. Rodney Grayson, the man who was so partial to the student he saw so much potential in, he was heard by a classmate saying “The joke’s on you.” Mr. Grayson was shot three times, in the arm, chest and forehead.

Screenshot of Austin Police in the classroom where Rod Grayson was shot holding the shotgun

He fell off his stool and slammed into the desk of Payton Smith before his body slid to the floor with a thud.  For a few moments after the classroom was still filled with thoughts of this being an amazingly well done performance but as he saw the blood pouring from one of Mr. Grayson’s and the look of fear on his frozen face, Smith knew this was not a skit.  John had already turned and left, now the room was full of screams as Smith ran to the principal’s office to beg for help. At first he wasn’t taken seriously but after the son of the pastor at Hyde Park Baptist Church yelled “Goddammit, he killed him”, they were pretty well convinced something was wrong.

John tossed the gun at a bike rack outside the football field and headed up the slope.  Some kids and Coach Larry Schirpik saw this and knew there was something going on.  So the coach, recovering from knee surgery, jumped in his truck, caught up with John and grabbed him.  He yelled at him “What did you do?” and john just said “I shot Mr. Grayson.”  He was driven back to school and as if he had thrown gum in the hair of a classmate, was led by the arm to the principal’s office.

Screenshot of John Christian hiding his face as he's led out of the school campus

John hid his face from the cameras as he was taken out of the school building by police.

Screenshot of sign in front of Gardner Betts juvenile detention facility

He was sent to be held at Gardner Betts juvenile detention facility, in South Austin. A facility that the Christian family would later say they were very thankful for because of how well the treated their son.  Logan Bazar visited his friend at the facility a few days after the shooting.  He recalled that his friend was a little miffed by a report that the media had reported that John said “The jokes on you” before shooting Grayson.  He told his friend with unaffected disregard “There were only two people close enough to hear what I said, and one of them isn’t talking.”

Screenshot of newspaper spread on Murchison Middle school shooting

The  Christian family hired Roy Minton, the city’s most prominent criminal defense attorney.  Minton hired two psychiatrists to evaluate John.  Both recognized as highly capable, prominent and experts in their area.

 

On June 2nd, 1978, just a few weeks after the shooting, the psychiatrists would testify in court that John was “acutely depressed” and suffered from “latent schizophrenia”.  He was remanded to the care of the Timberlawn Psychiatric Hospital, a private facility in Dallas.  The Christians would pay over $100 a day for Johns stay, which would be until his eighteenth birthday or until he had recovered.

 

John Daniel Christian shot Mr. Rodney Grayson, father of an 11 month old baby boy, husband, teacher of accelerated English (G.T. as it was called when I was in high school), after an over the top, off subject, spectacle of a presentation was given on a chapter of a book they were reading.  He shot his teacher three times, in the head, chest and arm.  He watched him slam into the desk of a fellow student and then onto the floor before turning around and walking away from what he had done.  He spent 20 months in an expensive psychiatric facility and then lived for a time with a Dallas eye doctor named John Eisenlohr, who was a member of the Texas Ophthalmological Association, who George Christian was a lobbyist for.  He lived with the doctor, who had become his adoptive father, for the next two and a half years.   He went to Highland Park High School where he would become the school newspapers editor and star in school plays, as he did at his old middle school Alma mater, join the choir and other organizations, and appear in the schools yearbook several times looking happy, normal and well adjusted.

Screenshot of Highland Park High School
Screenshot of Highland Park High School
Screenshot of John Christian in HS yearbook
Screenshot John Christian Highland Park High School
Screenshot John Christian Highland Park High School
Screenshot John Christian Highland Park High School
Screenshot Highland Park High School photos

 

He would then come back to Austin and enroll in and graduate from U.T.

He is now an attorney in Northwest Hills.