Code Red

For those left behind after the brutal murder of fourteen-year-old Jaime Gough, the emotional lockdown lingers

She did, however, recall two incidents that, in the aftermath of the murder, were disturbing. She learned later, from students, that Michael had once brought a knife into her classroom, and was also told Michael had once punched a student and then hadn't remembered having done so.

A friend of both Jaime and Michael who was at school early the day of the murder told detectives he had seen the two together on the second floor, laughing and joking, around 8:30 a.m. (Police estimate the murder occurred about ten minutes later.) He too told detectives that he had never detected anything abnormal about Michael, that he seemed normal. He described Jaime as "a pacifist." When a detective asked him if Michael had ever confided in him about any problems he was having, the student answered, "No. If he were going to confide in someone it would have been Jaime."

The detective asked why.

Kyle Freeman, a seventh grade drama student at Southwood Middle School, portraying a student in Defining Code Red. The play is based on the 2004 murder of Southwood eighth grader Jaime Gough
Kyle Freeman, a seventh grade drama student at Southwood Middle School, portraying a student in Defining Code Red. The play is based on the 2004 murder of Southwood eighth grader Jaime Gough
Another scene from Defining Code Red
Another scene from Defining Code Red

Details

Click the following links to view Michael Hernandez's journal entries: Excerpt one and Excerpt two

"Because they were the best of friends they were always together."

After stabbing Jaime, Michael went to his computer class. A classmate interviewed by detectives remembered him arriving late, around 9:15 a.m., with blood on his shirt, on his leg, and around his nose. Michael sat down at his desk and then was escorted to the bathroom to clean up. (By that time the school was on lockdown). According to the student, he told his teacher he had run into a door. The student described Michael as generally talkative, but unusually quiet that morning. Because someone in the class had a radio, the children learned early that a child had died an "unnatural death" at Southwood. When the police came, the student said Michael turned to him and whispered, "Oh, shit."

The classmate also said that Michael would occasionally visit porn Websites in class, or worse, sites depicting dead and dismembered corpses. The student who witnessed Michael and Jaime together the morning of February 3 said that for a while, around November 2003, the background screen on Michael's computer at school was a photo of severed heads.

At home, Kathy says he exhibited signs of mental illness that at the time she wrote off as typical teenager behavior. He had become removed from the family a little bit as he aged, she said. He no longer allowed his parents in his room.

Always a structured person, Michael became increasingly fixated on routine.

"He was very into exercising," remembers Kathy. So much so that she worried he would miss out on age-appropriate behavior, such as going to the movies with friends.

"It began to build on that type of thing," she continues. "He would have a list of things he was going to do every day by his bed in the morning."

He showed repetitive behavior typical of obsessive-compulsive disorder, symptoms his mother says worsened in the three months before the murder.

He began to open and close the door between the house and the garage a fixed number of times before going through it. When he finished dinner he would take his silverware and turn his fork so that it would face the opposite direction away from him. He would stand in front of the refrigerator and open both sides, then close them.

"We thought, 'Well, he's just doing this to aggravate us' — which was working," says Kathy. "He had become more withdrawn from us, but teenagers do that."

His journal, released by prosecutors, reveals a fascination with serial killers and violence. On one page, a written list of goals reads:

— Go to other countries

— You will be a serial killer and mass murderer

— Stay alone

— Never forget God EVER

— Have a cult and plan a mass kidnapping for new world

— Be an expert thief, etc.

— Have many weapons

— Own many vehicles

In another list, Michael described a plan to kill Jaime, his older sister, and another boy. In Jaime's case, the murder was executed almost exactly as written. The eighth item on his list read, "Thank God for success first, then Minnie and Pearly and Stopper" — a reference to family pets. (The other friend failed to come to the bathroom that morning as scheduled, but the plan was enough to warrant Michael's second felony charge of premeditated murder.)

But Kathy says her son was skilled at hiding his troubled mind.

"If he walked into the room right now and had a conversation with you, you would never know he was mentally ill," she contends, explaining that her son is very careful about acting normal around strangers. "He was always very happy. He talked from the time he got up to the time he went to bed. He had a great sense of humor. You look at a profile of a serial killer and a profile of Michael and it doesn't match at all."

No one knows why Michael Hernandez would have attacked his best friend. His mother pores over the months that preceded the incident, trying to find something that could have served as a trigger to set off a psychotic episode that made Michael lose touch with reality. A brain scan commissioned by his legal defense team showed no sign of a tumor or other lesion on his brain.

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