MINNEAPOLIS — Tribal leaders Thursday defended a $5,000 victims-aid grant given to the family of a teenager who killed nine people before taking his own life, saying his relatives had "a double burden."
Red Lake Tribal Secretary Judy Roy said the tribal council had decided unanimously that shooter Jeffrey Weise should be considered a victim of the March 21 violence centered on a high school, and that his family should get help paying for his funeral and burial.
"It's not for him, it's for the family.... They have a double burden," she said.
Some relatives of others who were killed had denounced the council's decision to award the check. It was one of 15 $5,000 grants given out Wednesday in the first distribution from a memorial fund that has received more than $200,000 in donations.
Donna Lewis, mother of 15-year-old victim Dewayne Lewis, stormed out of the meeting where the donation was being discussed.
"He ain't no victim in this.... He was a murderer," Lewis said in remarks first reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. She said Weise's family "knew he was having problems" and should have helped him.
"Why are they considering him to be a victim when he killed everybody?" asked Victoria Brun, sister of slain guard Derrick Brun, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported. "The people who donated the money have a right to know and question how the money is divided."
However, the mother of wounded student Jeffrey May was more sympathetic toward Weise.
"The way I think of it, you know, he was a victim before this all happened. Nobody reached out to help him. That's all I have to say," Jodi May said.
Weise's family has also received money from a small memorial fund run by tribe member and distant Weise relative Wanda Parkhurst. She said the fund gave 16 families about $1,500, or about $95 per family.
Parkhurst said Weise was a victim who hurt people because he was under the influence of the neo-Nazi websites he visited and because he was picked on by others.
"Those families have a right to hate, but they also have to look at what caused it," she said.
Weise's family is not eligible for assistance from the state victims fund, said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.
"By law, if you commit the crime, you are not eligible for reparations," Smith said.