On the neo-Nazi Web sites where the teenage loner aired his admiration for Adolf Hitler’s notions of ethnic purity, he was known as Todesengel — German for Angel of Death. Late on Monday, at a secluded Indian reservation in northern Minnesota, he played out those dark fantasies. Jeff Weise, 16, shot dead his grandfather, five teenagers, a teacher and two other adults before turning the gun on himself. A dozen others were wounded, with two in a critical condition.
It was the deadliest school shooting since April 20, 1999, when two students at Colorado’s Columbine High School killed 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves. The scale of the violence overwhelmed the emergency services in the remote community, forcing the evacuation of some of the more seriously wounded. “We’ve never dealt with anything like this before,” Sherri Binkeland, spokeswoman for North County Regional Hospital, told reporters.
Even among Indian reservations, Red Lake is a particularly close community, one of only two reservations in America where all lands are held in common. The tribal government has sole jurisdiction over the community’s 850,000 acres, and there are very few non-Indians living among the reserve’s 5,100 members. Located in a secluded area of northern Minnesota, the reservation sits remote and desolate amid vast plains of farmland, on the snow-covered banks of the frozen Lower Red Lake. But Tuesday the isolation was abandoned as police officers, federal investigators, counselors and journalists descended on the reservation in its time of grief.
“There will not be one soul who isn’t touched by this tragedy here in Red Lake,” Floyd Jourdain, chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, told a press conference. “It still hasn’t sunk in.”
At Red Lake High School where the killings took place, Weise was known as a misfit and a loner, the product of a deeply troubled family. His father committed suicide four years ago, and his mother was in a nursing home in Minneapolis more than 200 miles away after suffering brain injuries in a car crash. Classmates described him Tuesday as “weird” and “antisocial.” Relatives said he was regularly teased. But it was unclear what knowledge his classmates or the authorities in Red Lake had about Weise’s inner life, which he pursued on a number of neo-Nazi Web sites, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
In his postings, Weise showed strong identification with Hitler and ideas of racial supremacy, calling himself Native Nazi as well as Todesengel. “I guess I’ve always carried a natural admiration for Hitler and his ideals, and his courage to take on larger nations,” said one of his postings last year. He vented his impatience with those who did not share his fascination with Hitler, singling out his teachers for rebuke. “The only ones who oppose my views are the teachers at the high school, and a large portion of the student body who think a Nazi is a klansman, or a white supremacist thug.”
On Monday, that frustration with his teachers and classmates came pouring out in a murderous rampage. But he apparently had another score to settle first — with his grandfather, Darryl Lussier, a known figure on the reservation where he had served as a police officer for three decades. After shooting dead his grandfather and the grandfather’s companion, Weise stole his grandfather’s police-issue bulletproof vest and official car, as well as two handguns and a shotgun, and drove toward the red-brick schoolhouse, arriving at about 3 p.m., FBI officials told a press conference Tuesday.
Witnesses said that Weise had a grin on his face and waved to fellow students as he walked along the school corridor, emptying his guns. He was challenged by Derrick Brun, a 28-year-old unarmed security guard, and shot him dead before resuming his rampage. “Mr. Weise continued to roam through the school, firing randomly,” the FBI spokesman, Michael Pabman, told the press conference.
Reggie Graves, 14, told the Associated Press that teachers herded students from one room to another, trying to move away from the sound of the shooting. Some students crouched under desks. Another student, Ashley Morrison, said she heard shots, then saw the gunman peering though a door window of a classroom where she was hiding with several others. “I can’t even count how many gunshots you heard; there [were] over 20 … There were people screaming, and they made us get behind the desk,” she said.
Armed tribal police soon arrived to confront the teenager, forcing his retreat into a classroom, where he shot dead five students and a 52-year-old teacher, Neva Rogers, before turning his gun on himself.
According to the Associated Press, three of the students were shot in the head at close range. “You could hear a girl saying, ‘No, Jeff, quit, quit. Leave me alone. What are you doing?’” one student, Sondra Hegstrom, said.
That remained unclear Tuesday, with the FBI struggling to piece together a motive for what they believed was a premeditated attack. Some of those clues may eventually be provided by Weise himself, from his involvement with neo-Nazi Web sites. In a posting last year, he admitted that he was questioned by police after a threat against the school, in what could have been a possible warning sign.
“By the way, I’m being blamed for a threat on the school I attend, because someone said they were going to shoot up the school on 4/20, Hitler’s birthday, and just because I claim being a National Socialist, guess whom they’ve pinned,” he wrote in comments posted at 11:41 p.m. on April 19, 2004.
The newspaper added that Weise was subsequently cleared, and quoted him as saying: “I’m glad for that. I don’t much care for jail; I’ve never been there and I don’t plan on it.”
For the people on the Red Lake reserve, the killing spree was “the darkest hour in the history of our tribe,” said Jourdain. “Our community is devastated by this. We have never seen anything like this in the history of our tribe.”