washingtonpost.com  > Nation > Search the States > Minnesota
Correction to This Article
A March 27 article about the killings in Red Lake, Minn., incorrectly stated that Peggy Flanagan, 25, lives on the White Earth Chippewa reservation. She does not. She is a member of the tribe and lives in Minneapolis.

Tribe Responds to Killings With Grief Rather Than Anger

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page A03

RED LAKE, Minn., March 26 -- Similarities between Monday's school shooting spree that left 10 people dead on this Indian reservation, and the 1999 massacre of 15 people at Columbine High School near Denver, have been widely noted. In both cases, teenage boys who dressed in black and claimed to admire Hitler suddenly acted out their long-held violent fantasies. The two boys at Columbine and the lone shooter here ended the outbursts by killing themselves.

But if the young shooters had much in common, the reactions of their victims' families are quite different. On the reservation of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, there has been little talk of anger toward the shooter, Jeff Weise, 16, or revenge -- at least publicly. Unlike Columbine, where many parents were quick to point blame, there is no apparent talk of filing lawsuits against the shooter's family, the police or the school district for failing to prevent the tragedy.

"That's not our way. We're all one community. It's an Indian thing," said Brenda Child, a historian at the University of Minnesota who grew up on the Red Lake reservation.

One reason there is not the same finger-pointing, say some tribal members and academics who study Native American behavior, is that an Indian tribe's culture is to think about the entire community rather than individuals. "It's different than a suburb of Denver," Child said. "We have a long history together in this particular place. Since it's your own extended family suffering in the aftermath of this, people are feeling a lot of sympathy. . . . It makes our relationships deeper and more complicated."

Two wounded teenagers -- Lance Crowe, 15, and Ryan Auginash, 14 -- were released Saturday from North Country Regional Hospital in Bemidji. Jeffrey May, 15, remained in serious condition, and Steven Cobenais, 15, was in critical condition in a Fargo hospital.

Meanwhile Saturday, the first funerals for Monday's victims were held, for Daryl Lussier, Weise's grandfather, and Lussier's female companion, Michelle Sigana. More than 100 police officers, tribal members and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty attended the standing- room-only ceremony in the reservation's Humanities Building. Funeral services were also held for another victim, Chase Lussier, 15, at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Red Lake.

President Bush made his first public comments on the shooting Saturday in his weekly radio address. He praised a security guard at the school who was credited with saving some students by confronting Weise, who shot and killed him.

An electronic red sign for the tribe's Seven Clans Casino flashed a message: "Red Lake Nation sends heartfelt condolences to all family members of tragic event. We are one in our sorrow and in our love."

The tribe's insular nature may ultimately make it more difficult for people here to deal with the shooting, according to some tribal members and leaders, as well as counselors. Adding to the community's shock was the onslaught of media attention. Some reporters were evicted this week for trying to talk to residents after the tribe's chairman, Floyd Jourdain Jr., said no one should talk to the media. Jourdain later invited journalists to stay but asked them to respect people's privacy and grieving.

"That's how we grieve, in private, with community," said Peggy Flanagan, 25, who lives on the nearby White Earth Chippewa reservation.

Another reason there have been no outcries of blame for the massacre is that many tribal members are related to each other, residents said. Even unrelated friends sometimes call each other cousin. "Everybody's close to each other even though they're not blood relatives," said Truman Schoenborn, 58, who works for the tribe's housing department.

While the deaths of the five students were particularly shocking, residents here also deeply mourned Daryl Lussier, a tribal elder and 58-year-old tribal police officer. "Elders are respected because they have the cultural and spiritual knowledge," said Frank Dickenson, 75, who teaches cultural classes at Red Lake schools.

Lussier's slaying by Weise is "something more horrendous than killing a stranger or even another student," Joe Conner, a clinical psychologist in Oklahoma and Osage tribe member, said. "It goes so much against the grain," said Conner, who has done drug and alcohol consulting with the Chippewa tribe. "It's probably not understandable."

Weise's relatives have said they are dumbfounded as to why the troubled teenager went on the rampage, and some said they worry that he was put on too high a dose of the anti-depressant Prozac after a suicide attempt last summer. "Jeff loved his grandpa," said Shelda Lussier, Weise's grandmother. "His grandpa was the only one who [Jeff] would let cut his hair."

Dozens of Red Lakers who live in the Twin Cities came back to the reservation this week to participate in healing ceremonies and attend services for the victims.

"When shootings happen in other communities, it is isolated to that small community," said Flanagan, who is from White Earth. "With the Indian community, so many of our family members are everywhere." But, she and other tribal members said, even those who do not still live on the reservation often still call the reservation home.

"Our whole community is based on kinship," Flanagan said.

Staff writer Ceci Connolly and special correspondent Dalton Walker contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company