I’ve been receiving a few e-mails from Reseda High School students asking me about Mary Ann Henderson. She was the 15-year-old classmate of ours who was raped and murdered after a football game in 1976. These current Reseda students tell me stories of a ghost haunting the campus, and they think it is her.
I’m not going into beliefs about the afterlife and the supernatural. I’m curious why high school students today would be interested in a murder that took place 34 years ago. Perhaps it says more about the times they’re growing up in than about the era when we grew up.
Since Columbine and Virginia Tech, we almost accept school violence as a possibility. Last week, someone planted acid bombs at my son’s elementary school, but they were safely disposed. Students at all levels keep their eyes out for the “loner” who can be the next shooter.
This was not the case in 1976. Schools were a safe haven. This was especially true in Reseda, which was still a predominately middle class community then. You could go walk with your friends to the bowling alley, hang out at Reseda Park, go to football games at night, and not have to worry. The idea that someone could be killed at a school like Reseda High seemed an impossibility.
This is why her death was so shocking to us then, and why it affects us to this day. It shattered our innocence and forced us to face our mortality.
We don’t enjoy that sense of innocence today. Not just Columbine, but 9/11 shattered our sense of invincibility and security. As Americans, we now live under the same conditions as Israel and Europe have since the 1970s. We go about our business, but all the while keeping constantly vigilant for any dangers lurking around. At times we ignore the fear and gripe about the inconveniences and intrusions security places on us. Sometimes we joke about it. But we can never feel we’re completely safe.
Perhaps Mary Ann Henderson haunts kids today because she represents a time that is long gone. A time when your only worry at school is your geometry test. But even in a time of relative innocence, death still lurked in the shadows. And if people couldn’t feel safe then, how much more frightened should we be today? Mary Ann haunts all of us.