The tribal chairman of Minnesota's Red Lake Indian Reservation acknowledged yesterday that federal authorities have charged his teenage son in connection with the shooting rampage that left 10 dead last week, but said the youth is innocent of any crime.
Tribal chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain Jr. said in a statement that his 16-year-old son, Louis, was "a good boy with a good heart, who never harmed anyone in his entire life."
Louis Jourdain (in hood) is escorted out of federal court in Duluth, Minn., by officials after a hearing in connection with the Red Lake school shootings.
(Amanda Odeski -- Duluth News Tribune Via AP)
"I know my son and he is incapable of committing such an act," the statement said. "As events unfold, it will be proven that the individual who committed this horrible crime did so of his own choice and that he acted alone. I strongly believe that my son will be cleared."
Based on e-mails and other evidence, FBI agents and prosecutors suspect that Louis Jourdain played a role in planning the shooting spree carried out March 21 by a classmate, Jeff Weise, who killed nine people before killing himself at Red Lake High School, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the case. Investigators also have evidence that Jourdain sought to be part of the assault on the school and was disappointed that he was not involved, the officials said.
Jourdain was arrested by FBI agents on Sunday and, according to family members and law enforcement officials, was charged Monday with conspiracy during a closed hearing in federal court in Duluth, Minn. Local media reported that Jourdain and his father attended a second closed hearing in Duluth yesterday.
The proceedings have been sealed because they involve a juvenile, although federal prosecutors continue to debate whether to charge Jourdain as an adult, officials said. The Washington Post did not identify Jourdain previously because he has not been charged publicly and the arrest had not been acknowledged by family members until yesterday.
The arrest of Jourdain marks a dramatic turn in the Red Lake shootings, which authorities had characterized as solely the work of Weise, 16, a student beset by depression, who had violent fantasies and neo-Nazi sympathies. The lead FBI agent on the case, Michael Tabman, told reporters on March 22 that Weise was believed to have acted alone.
But the arrest of an alleged accomplice suggests that Weise had friends on the reservation and that one or more of them may have been aware of his plans. FBI agents in recent days have interviewed a group of Weise's classmates, and authorities say they have not ruled out charging others in the case.
"It's tough enough with the grieving process, but with all this, it creates questions," said Tony Fairbanks, a former football coach and principal at several schools in Red Lake. "Everyone was under the assumption it was a lone gunman, and now there's an additional investigation with other people possibly being involved. That's heartbreaking. I would just never want anything like this to happen at Red Lake."
The Minneapolis offices of the FBI and U.S. Attorney Thomas B. Heffelfinger have declined to say what changed in the case. But two law enforcement officials familiar with the probe, who declined to be identified because it is continuing, said that investigators, along with profilers at FBI headquarters in Washington, became increasingly convinced that some of Weise's friends either knew about or helped plan the attack.
Juvenile cases are relatively rare in the federal courts, and minors who are tried there tend to be prosecuted as adults, according to juvenile law experts. Of the few cases that are handled exclusively as juvenile proceedings, which are closed, many involve minors from Native American reservations, experts said.
The shooting at Red Lake is the deadliest school-related massacre since 15 died at the hands of two teenage gunman at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999.
Authorities and witnesses have said Weise first killed his grandfather, who was a tribal police officer, and his grandfather's companion at a home on the Chippewa reservation. Weise then armed himself with some of his grandfather's weapons and drove to the reservation's high school, where he killed a security guard, a teacher and five students before killing himself.
Holly Cook, who is a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and is helping the tribe field media calls, said Floyd Jourdain was not available for interviews. Jourdain had worked as a counselor at the high school before being elected as tribal chairman last year. He has three sons and is distantly related to Weise, according to tribal members.
Shirley Lussier, 58, who is Louis Jourdain's grandmother and lives in Red Lake, said her grandson is being portrayed unfairly. She said Louis is about five feet tall, is husky and likes to play guitar, and was one of a group of kids who was picked on because he dresses in black.
"He's a scared kid," Lussier said. "I have no idea if he knew anything about this. All I know is that my grandson is scared, and he's hurting. . . . He's a gentle, well-mannered, respectful boy. Louie wouldn't hurt a soul."
Victoria Brun, the sister of the school security guard who was killed by Weise, said that a housemate of her brother alerted federal authorities on Friday that she had discovered electronic communications from a female Red Lake student.
"She said it was planned and that it was more than one individual involved," Brun said, referring to the communication from the female student.
Staff writer Sylvia Moreno contributed to this report.