By William Plummer Jane Sanderson Nina Burleigh
October 09, 1989 12:00 PM

Brian Bond knew his friend Dustin Pierce was lonely. Dustin was quiet shy—the kind of boy that, if you wanted to be friends with him, you had to make the first move. Like Brian, Dustin was 17 and a senior honors student at Jackson County High School in rural southeast Kentucky. Dustin’s parents were divorced, and he lived with his mother’s parents, Hiram and Marie Parks, who had decidedly old-fashioned ideas about how a boy should be raised. Dustin was never allowed to go on dates or to parties or even to drive a car. The other part of Dustin’s trouble was his father—specifically, his absence. Several times a year, Dustin saw his mother, Carol, a bookkeeper at a Florida nursery. But he hadn’t seen Donald Pierce, a courier for a private investigation firm, in 13 years—ever since his parents broke up. Dustin was obsessed with his father. “He was angry at his dad,” says Brian. “Lately, he’d been mentioning how he’d like to meet him.”

On Sept 17, Brian, whose mother, Betty, is principal of Jackson County High, climbed into his father’s red pickup truck and drove over to the house trailer Dustin shared with his grandparents. Dustin greeted him with a smile. “He told me to get a Pink Floyd tape out of his duffel bag” says Brian. “So I bent over to get it and he pulled [his] .44 Magnum. He grabbed a shotgun [that was leaning against the wall] and said we were going for a little ride.”

Brian says he wasn’t afraid, because Dustin kept saying he wasn’t going to hurt him. “I asked him why he was doing this,” says Brian, “and he said he wanted to see his dad and he thought this was the only way he could get the attention he needed.” The Pierces’ divorce had been ugly, and Dustin was upset that he didn’t have any memories of his father, or even a photograph. Only once, says Brian, did Dustin recount having heard from his father. “A white car passed by the house, and a business card was dropped off, and the card had his father’s name and phone number on it But Dustin was scared to call because he was afraid it would make his mom mad”

After leaving the trailer, Brian and Dustin spent Sunday night in the truck, in the woods. Dustin kept his friend up all night talking about his favorite things—the movie The Wild Bunch and the .44 Magnum for which he’d paid nearly $1,000, his savings from a summer job at a garden store. He told Brian he planned to take his classmates hostage until his dad flew in from Florida. “I tried to talk him out of it and into going to Florida right then and finding his dad,” says Brian. “He said we’d have to rob stores to pay for gas. I told him I’d rather do that than do the school thing.”

When the boys weren’t talking, Dustin played with a .357 Magnum that Brian’s father kept in the pickup. “One time,” says Brian, “he took some bullets out of the chamber and pointed it at my head and said, ‘Do you trust me?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I trust you.’ And he said did I want him to pull the trigger, and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he did. Then he held the gun up and there wasn’t any shells in it. He’d totally emptied it. I knew then he wasn’t going to kill me.”

Nobody else was as confident when Dustin and Brian burst into a Jackson County High world history class the next morning at 9:40. Teacher Brenda Clark was conducting a map test, when, says Craig Eversole, 16, “Dustin shot the ceiling and told the teacher and two rows of students to leave.” Thirteen hostages were left behind. Dustin ordered two boys to barricade the door with filing cabinets and a bookcase. Carlos Cameron, 17, remembers thinking that Dustin “was going to open up and shoot all of us. He had enough ammunition to kill everybody in that room and then some. I accepted the fact that I was dead.” A short time later, Dustin blew out one of the classroom windows with another shotgun blast. “It scared us all half to death,” says Kathy Hayes, 16, whose father, Ted, is a Jackson County High special-education teacher. “No one was screaming at all, though. We were all just real quiet.”

Dustin kept up a nervous patter. “He sat up at the teacher’s desk and talked to us,” says Kathy. “He said things like, ‘Well, they can’t throw tear gas in here because you all can’t get out.’ ” At one point he flipped through the teacher’s grade book. “Look how smart I am,” he said, referring to his good grades. “Why am I doing this?” Garry Peters, whose father raises cattle and owns a gun shop, went up and sat next to Dustin. “I thought at first he would probably kill us all,” says Garry. “But the longer I talked to him, the more I realized he wasn’t going to hurt anybody.” Peters said there were moments when Dustin left two guns unattended on the desk. “I thought maybe I could get them and probably bluff him out,” he says. “But I figured if that didn’t work, he might actually kill someone. I didn’t try nothing, and nobody else did, either.”

Meanwhile, outside the building, police converged from several counties and a SWAT team was flown in on a National Guard helicopter from Frankfort, the state capital. Keeping an uneasy vigil were dozens of anxious teachers, students and parents. No one needed to be reminded of a gunman’s rampage on a playground in Stockton, Calif., last January, which left five kids dead and more than two dozen injured, or of a young woman’s terror spree in a Winnetka, Ill., elementary school in 1988, during which one child died and five others were shot. Authorities worked frantically to contact Donald Pierce at his home near Delray Beach, Fla., while police hostage negotiator Bob Stephens tried everything he could think of to get the kids out. “Dustin,” he asked through a loudspeaker, “what do you want from us?”

What Dustin wanted was help. That became evident as, one by one, he began letting his classmates go. When Dustin got hungry, Stephens ordered pizzas. “I told Dustin we’d send them in,” says Stephens, “but if I had something for him, he had to give me something in exchange.” In went the two large pizzas and out came the three girl hostages. Later a phone was installed in exchange for a boy who was near hysterics. Then Carlos Cameron had to go to the bathroom and Dustin just let him walk away.

By late afternoon there were only three hostages left, then two, then none. But as the danger to the other kids ended, Stephens grew increasingly concerned that Dustin might commit suicide. “I told Dustin he didn’t have any reason to kill himself,” says Stephens. “I promised him he would see his dad. He said, ‘Are you sure?’ And I said, ‘I promise you that. I’ll meet you halfway. You throw your guns out and I’ll meet you in your room.’ There was dead silence. My mind kept saying, ‘I’m going to hear a gunshot.’ And then across the air I hear [another cop’s voice]: ‘The guns are out, and he is out.’ ”

The following day, Dustin Pierce pleaded guilty in juvenile court to 13 counts each of kidnapping and wanton endangerment. He was ordered to enter a Louisville psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Hours later, Dustin finally met with his father. “We talked,” Donald Pierce said afterward through his tears. “There’s a lot that has been resolved. There’s also a lot that needs resolving. We’ve got 13 years to get caught up on.” (Carol Pierce flew to Kentucky as well.)

As Donald told it, he used to fly to Kentucky in the days when he had his own detective agency. He said he would drive 50 miles out of his way to leave business cards at Dustin’s grandparents’ home. Then he would sit on top of a hill that overlooked the trailer, hoping to catch a glimpse of his son. But he was never able to get up enough courage to come down and knock on his door. He says he was always afraid of seeing rejection in his son’s face. Donald said he had “just a lot of stupid fears. I thought the whole family was angry with me.”

Last week, people in Jackson County could have been angry with his son Dustin, as well, and some of them were. But Brian Bond, for one, was eager to see his friend as soon as he could. “He didn’t drink and he didn’t drug and he didn’t back talk his elders,” says Brian. “He never showed any emotions as far as sadness and stuff. He was just a good kid to be around. I think mostly Dustin had too many grown-up problems and too many grown-up emotions for just a young kid.”

—William Plummer, Jane Sanderson and Nina Burleigh in Kentucky

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