They called a special assembly. We trooped in idly, wondering what was up. As we stood there, the wooden hall filled with the sound of clattering feet, then jostling and joking and the odd fart noise (both real and faked), then silence as we realised from the teachers' faces that it was something serious.
"There was an incident", said the headmaster, and he paused, reluctant to continue.
Rohit Duggal, a couple of years above me. One of the cool kids, a bit mouthy, but generally well-liked (being a bod, I was intimidated by him).
He'd gone with a mate to the chippy on Well Hall Road in Eltham; there'd been some kind of fracas with some other boys and they'd chased and attacked him. And now he was dead.
Some of the pupils burst into tears; all of us were shocked. People our age didn't get killed in fights. Hell, up till then, the worst injury I'd come across was a dislocated shoulder from an over-enthusiastic rugby tackle.
We filed out slowly and the whispers began.
"I heard it was a bunch of white lads - blatantly a racist attack".... "I heard it was a gang thing".... "What, Rohit wasn't in a gang!"... "Reckon it was the same lads that'd been hassling him before"... "Racists, I f*cking tell you"... "Bastards, I hope they get nicked"... "I bet the police will cover it up"...
The internet didn't really exist in those days - I think there was a report in the Newsshopper, but then I never knew what happened afterwards, and I was a feckless teenager with other things on my mind.
So life went on for the rest of us, but Eltham became one of those places you didn't want to dawdle, least not if you possessed a brown face. Whether it deserved this reputation or not, it was cemented eight months later when Stephen Lawrence was killed (on my birthday, as it happens).
In the sixth form, I moved to a new school, and my bus home went right through Eltham. At first, I'd stare at each stop suspiciously, wondering if that was the bus stop and I'd feel a frisson of fear. But then I forgot, because I had A-Levels and boys and acne to think about.
It's a long time since I left school, and I hadn't thought about Rohit in ages, but when I heard about the verdict in the Stephen Lawrence case today, I googled Rohit's name.
I didn't expect to find anything, but there was a raft of mentions.
They mainly said the same thing:
"Gang attack. Not recorded as racially motivated by police but CPS made some reference to racial motivation during trial. Peter Thompson given life sentence for murder" (The Guardian)
After a bit more trawling, I also found this:
Message 40 - An Extract from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, February 1999
I'm glad that there has been some justice for Stephen Lawrence, and I am sad it has come 18 years after the event. I am sad that he, and others like him, were taken before their time. And I am sad that I forgot.
RIP Stephen and Rohit.
See also: BBC News - Stephen Lawrence murder: How Eltham was affected bbc.in/wS9ZoB