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Red Lake Reservation Readies Burial Rituals

The Nation

Community mourns the loss of 10 of its own as concern for survivors, victims' families grows.

March 24, 2005|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

PONEMAH, Minn. — On a sliver of a peninsula, where little is growing on land covered with thick layers of snow and ice, the people have started gathering supplies they will need for their grief.

Native American residents in this and the other tribal villages of the Red Lake Indian Reservation have collected bundles of sage, to be given as gifts and burned during funeral ceremonies. They are assembling blankets and clothing and favorite toys, to be tucked into the caskets of the 10 people who were killed Monday.

"People are still in shock," said Father William Mehrkens, who has lived or worked among the reservation's estimated 5,000 Chippewa since 1991. "People need a chance to talk, and what they're talking about is concern over family and the survivors."

Jeffrey Weise, 16, killed his grandfather and his grandfather's companion before heading to Red Lake High School, where he fatally shot five students, a teacher and a security guard before killing himself. Seven others were wounded.

What sparked the troubled 16-year-old's killing spree is still under investigation, and as of Wednesday afternoon, federal officials said autopsies were still being done on the victims.

Five students remain hospitalized in Bemidji, but doctors said two of the boys wounded in the shooting have recovered enough to leave the hospital by this weekend. Two others are listed in critical condition at medical facilities in Fargo, N.D.

"We all want to heal. We are just waiting for the bodies to come home," said Audrey Thayer, a friend of several of the victims' families, who also works with the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union office in Bemidji.

Early Wednesday evening, officials on the reservation held a private memorial service for the victims and talked about when the high school might reopen. Stuart Desjarlait, the school's superintendent, estimated that it might take months for classes to be held there again.

Teachers from the school met privately to try to figure out ways to help support the students who survived the deadliest school shooting since the carnage six years ago at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Some details of the horrifying day have begun to emerge. LeeAnn Grant, a security guard who survived the shooting at Red Lake High, told Associated Press that the scene at the school was frenzied.

Grant said she warned Derrick Brun, another security guard, to flee when Weise walked toward the school. But Brun, 28, who was killed, refused to run -- which bought Grant and students attracted by the commotion enough time to get away.

The two guards were on duty near the school's metal detector. Grant said she recognized Weise when he stepped out of his grandfather's stolen police vehicle, pulled out a shotgun and fired two blasts into the air.

Neither Brun nor Grant, a mother of two, was armed.

"He looked right at me. I made eye contact with him," Grant told Associated Press. "He walked in and fired another shot, and I was telling Derrick, 'Come on, let's go. Let's go, Derrick. Run. We need to save these kids. We need to do something.' And I radioed in ... 'There's a guy coming in the school and he's shooting and he has a gun.'

Brun "just sat there at his desk.... He didn't look scared. He didn't look surprised.... He just kept staring at Jeff. I kept hollering for him to come with me. He wouldn't come. He just stayed there."

Karen Allen, a nurse at the Red Lake Indian Health Services Hospital, still shakes when remembering how the injured and dead began to arrive. There was chaos as the bodies rolled in on gurneys, she said.

"There were parents running everywhere," Allen said.

Lorene Gurneau, a relative of Weise's, and family friends said the teen never seemed to recover from the death of his father, Daryl Lussier Jr. He committed suicide on the reservation in the summer of 1997, after an altercation with police. Weise's mother is cared for at a nursing home because of an automobile accident that left her comatose.

And an official with the Red Lake medical center said that last summer, it transported Weise to a psychiatric facility after the young man attempted to commit suicide.

As the community struggled to cope with its grief, officials with the Red Lake reservation called for privacy and put restrictions on the many non-Chippewa who have descended upon this remote area.

Journalists were cordoned into a parking lot near the police facilities at Red Lake, and several were escorted off the closed reservation for leaving the restricted area.

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