What led a boy of 16 to join the ranks of US student killers?

The residents of Red Lake, a Native American reservation in Minnesota, were yesterday struggling to understand what drove Jeff Weise to murder nine people, including five students, before killing himself. Andrew Buncome reports
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The Independent US

By the time Jeff Weise arrived at his school on Monday afternoon, laden with guns, he had already killed the two people who probably knew him better than anyone. Before the hour was out he had killed another seven who had no idea he was capable of such a crime.

By the time Jeff Weise arrived at his school on Monday afternoon, laden with guns, he had already killed the two people who probably knew him better than anyone. Before the hour was out he had killed another seven who had no idea he was capable of such a crime.

Who knows what dark forces gripped the teenager when he woke at his grandparents' house on Monday morning? Anger, hatred, fear, confusion?

Whatever motivation was driving the 16-year-old native American, before the afternoon was over, something led him to kill both his grandparents before setting off on a shooting rampage at the high school from which he had been recently suspended. He then turned one of his guns on himself.

As bewildered residents and community leaders in Red Lake, a Native American reservation in the far north of Minnesota, were trying to fathom what lay behind the rampage, others were quickly adding Weise's name to a long and dark list of school shooters - that distinct sub-set of killers that seems to plague the US.

Indeed, the reports that have emerged contain the same almost cliched "clues" associated with previous school shootings - the loner who was teased by other pupils, the dark trench coat, the love of the music of Marilyn Manson, the apparent fascination with Nazism and Adolf Hitler, the sense of utter disconnection.

The most obvious and immediate parallel was with the 1999 school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, in which two other loners shot dead 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves. Monday's shootings have the distinction of being the worst of their kind since then.

In many other ways, the shootings at Red Lake were very different to those in suburban Colorado six years ago. Red Lake is one of the poorest reservations in the region, if not the entire nation - unemployment runs perhaps as high as 65 per cent, while more than half of its population lives below the poverty line.

And Weise was clearly a young man who found himself confronted by difficulties and challenges well outside of his control. Weise's father killed himself four years ago, his mother has been long confined to a nursing home having apparently suffered brain damage in a car accident.

The teenager was living with his grandfather and the man's girlfriend - the boy's "grandmother" - on the reservation 60 miles south of the Canadian border. He had recently been suspended from school and apparently believed police were investigating him over threats that had been received by the school authorities - threats he denied having made.

What is certain is that whatever factors lay behind the shootings at Red Lake, just as with Columbine, the senseless killings have left local people nothing less than stunned.

"There's not a soul that will go untouched by the tragic loss that we've experienced here," said Floyd Jourdain, chairman of the Red Lake Chippewa Tribe of which Weise was a member. "The events that took place involving the shootings at the Red Lake High School make this one of the darkest and most painful occurrences in the history of our tribe."

Police said the killings began early on Monday afternoon when Weise shot dead his grandfather, Daryl "Dash" Lussier, 58, and Mr Lussier's girlfriend at their home in the town of Red Lake, home to the tribal headquarters that administers about 10,000 tribal members. Mr Lussier was a longtime veteran of the Red Lake police force. Weise took his grandfather's police weapons, including two handguns and a shotgun, and then set off for school in his grandfather's police car.

A student at the school told reporters that Weise, a tall youth, parked the squad car near the front door of the school where he confronted two unarmed security guards standing next to a metal detector - a security measure through which all pupils were required to pass before entering the school. At that point, Weise fired two shots and one of the guards, a woman, ran down the school hall gathering up pupils as she went and trying to shepherd them to safety.

The other guard, stood his ground. "He didn't do anything. He just stared at him. And then Weise shot him," the unnamed student told the St Paul Pioneer Press newspaper.

Weise then set off towards the classrooms where students were having their afternoon classes. One student, Ashley Morrison, took refuge in a classroom.

With the shooter banging on the door, Ms Morrison dialled her mother on her mobile phone. Her mother, Wendy Morrison, said she could hear gunshots on the line. "Mum, he's trying to get in here, and I'm scared," Ashley told her mother.

Later, Ms Morrison said: "I can't even count how many gunshots you heard, there was over 20. There were people screaming, and they made us get behind the desk."

It appears that Weise killed most of his victims in one classroom, grinning as he fired and asking people whether they believed in God. Many of his classmates appealed to him to stop. One student, Sondra Hegstrom, told the Pioneer: "You could hear a girl saying, 'No, Jeff, quit, quit. Leave me alone. What are you doing?'." She said Weise smiled and waved at one student before swivelling around and aiming at someone else. "I looked him in the eye and ran in the room, and that's when I hid," added Ms Hegstrom.

Officials said, by that stage, local police officers had arrived at the school and became involved in a gunfight with Weise in one of the hallways. The teenage gunman then retreated to the classroom where he had killed his victims. It was there that he was later found dead. An FBI spokesman, Paul McCabe, said a preliminary investigation showed that Weise had killed himself.

Officials said yesterday it was too early to determine what motivated the teenager to embark on such a spree, but in the absence of an official pronouncement there was no shortage of clues.

Weise had recently been suspended from the school and placed in its Homebound programme in which students are required to stay at home and are taught by a visiting tutor. A school board member, Kathryn Beaulieu, said Weise had been placed on the programme for a violation of school policy though she did not specify what he had allegedly done.

One student who shared a class with Weise said he was considered "weird" by other students. "He's antisocial," the student said. She said she never heard him talk about Nazis, but "in pictures he draws, his people have little hats with Nazi signs on them". Weise's interest in Nazism appears clear. On messages posted on a chat forum at the neo-Nazi website www.nazi.org, Weise sometimes used the names Native Nazi or Todsengel - German for "angel of death" - to talk to other posters.

Sometimes he used his own name and described himself as a "Native American from Red Lake Indian Reservation". Many of his postings on the site, operated by a group called the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party, contained typographical errors.

"I guess I've always carried a natural admiration for Hitler and his ideals, and his courage to take on larger nations. I also have a natural dislike for Communism," said one note written last March. "When I was growing up, I was taught (like others) that Nazi's were (are) evil and that Hitler was a very evil man etc. Of course, not for a second did I believe this. Upon reading up on his actions, the ideals and issues the German Third Reich addressed, I began to see how much of a lie had been painted about them. They truly were doing it for the better."

Weise also wrote about his reservation. On another occasion, using the name Todsengel, he wrote: "As a result of cultural dominance and interracial mixing, there is barely any full-blooded Natives left.

"Where I live, less than 1 per cent of all the people on the reservation can speak their own language and among the youth wanting to be black has run ramped [sic]. We have kids my age killing each other over things as simple as a fight and it's because of rap influence.

"Wannabe gangsters everywhere, I cant go five feet without hearing someone blasting some rap song over their speakers." He said that when he talked in school about maintaining the tribe's ethnic purity by not marrying outside the bloodline, "I get the same old argument which seems to be so common around here: 'We need to mix all the races, to combine all the strengths'." Weise added: "They [teachers] don't openly say that racial purity is wrong, yet when you speak your mind on the subject you get 'silenced' real quick by the teachers and like-minded school officials."

The teenager also revealed that he had been blamed for a threat made to his school. "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?" In a later posting, he said he had been cleared on any involvement.

Few believed that Weise's interest in Nazism was more than a fad. Ashley Morrison, the student who hid and telephoned her mother when Weise opened fire, said: "His friends were saying that he was talking about doing something and joking around about it, and they didn't take him seriously."