Red Lake School Shooting Anniversary Draws Different Reactions

Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of the school shooting at Red Lake Indian Reservation. Teenager Jeff Weise gunned down nine people before killing himself. It was the deadliest school shooting in the United States since the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in Colorado. The people of Red Lake are reacting to the anniversary in different ways. Tom Robertson of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It was one year ago today that 16-year-old Jeff Weise killed nine people and wounded seven others on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota. Some Red Lake tribal members are gathering quietly today to remember the tragedy and those who died. Others are still trying to forget what happened that day.

Tom Robertson of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

TOM ROBERTSON reporting:

There are no classes at Red Lake High School today. Tribal government offices on the remote reservation are also shutdown. There's no big public gathering plan to remember the tragedy. Survivors of many of the shooting victims will host private memorial dinners for family and friends. Tribal member Darrell Auginash says he and many others are still reeling from the horror what happened last year.

Pastor DARRELL AUGINASH (Red Lake Tribal Member): Some are really hurting and don't even want this day to come. This is scary day for a lot of people. It's a day that hearts are going to be re-broken for some people.

ROBERTSON: Darrell Auginash's nephew was one of the students injured in the gunfire. Auginash says the shootings shattered many lives. And like others here, he's especially worried about the children of Red Lake.

Pastor AUGINASH: I think there's a loss of innocence in our community; security, trust. It's going to take years to rebuild, generations.

(Soundbite of Native American song)

ROBERTSON: Many tribal members are seeking comfort in their native culture and traditions. At the Red Lake Humanity Center, friends and family of shooting victim Chase Lussier gather for a traditional ceremony. Spiritual leaders sing a song to honor the 15 year old, who tried to defend other students before he was killed.

Red Lake School Superintendent Stuart Desjarlait attended the ceremony. He says many students and teachers at Red Lake High School are still deeply affected by what happened last year. Desjarlait says the event still haunts him.

Mr. STUART DESJARLAIT (School Superintendent, Red Lake High School): some days I just wake up and say I'm not going to work today. You know? I'm not going to work. I don't feel good; I still get dreams at night, you know what happened. And like, March 21st, I won't be here. I'm going to be in the cities. It's just something that I have to do, as part of my own, my own continued wellness.

ROBERTSON: A few kids have dropped out of school since last March. Dozens transferred to other districts off the reservation. School attendance has been sporadic, especially in the weeks leading up to the anniversary. Most of the students at Red Lake High School did come back to school though. Since the shootings the district has added more security guards and installed surveillance cameras throughout the building. There are also more mental health counselors available to kids.

James King, Jr. is 16 years old. He's vice president of his 11th-grade class. He's managing editor of the school's newspaper, the Red Lake times. King says high school students and teachers have developed a unique bond over the past year. They've gotten through the tough times by supporting each other. But still, he says there's a lot of apprehension over the one-year anniversary.

Mr. James King, Jr. (11th-Grade Vice President, Red Lake High School): There's a lot of people nervous, you know. And just, you know, what's it going to be like, you know, one year? You know, it just seems so recent, you know, in a lot of people's minds. It's just going to be a very hard thing feeling, you know, to know what happened, you know, exactly one year ago.

ROBERTSON: King plans to spend today with his family and attend some of the memorial dinners for those who were killed.

Mr. KING: My personal feelings, you know, I'm, you know, nervous. Just a bit scared, you know. I don't know why I'm scared. It's kind of like an anxious feeling. I guess I'm anxious to hurry up and get this day behind us and keep moving up. You know?

ROBERTSON: The Red Lake Tribe has received federal and private money to establish more programs for kids. Last week, another Minnesota Indian tribe donated a million dollars to help build a Boys and Girls Club facility on the reservation. But nerves remain raw here. Over the past year, about a dozen teachers have taken time away from the job to address mental health issues. School district officials say in just the past few weeks, four more teachers have requested medical leave to deal with trauma, they say is related to the shooting one year ago.

For National Public Radio, I'm Tom Robertson in Bemidji, Minnesota.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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