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Shooter Described As Deeply Disturbed

By Ceci Connolly and Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page A12

RED LAKE, Minn., March 23 -- Two days after a shooting rampage on the Indian reservation here left 10 dead, friends, relatives and neighbors of the teenage assailant began to sketch a portrait of a deeply disturbed youth who had been treated for depression in a psychiatric ward, lost several close family members, sketched gruesome scenes of armed warriors and was removed from the school where he gunned down most of his victims Monday.

Still, even the few people close to him were at a loss to pinpoint precisely what triggered Jeff Weise's deadly outburst and officials provided little information about the 16-year-old gunman.

Jeff Weise, 16, who killed himself and nine other people Monday, had been treated for depression and lost several close family members. (Image Photography Via AP)

On the Red Lake Indian Reservation, officials held a private prayer service Wednesday night and met to discuss when students might be able to return to school. Superintendent Stuart Desjarlait said it may take months for the high school to reopen because of the "extensive damage" from Monday's rampage. Five students, a teacher and a security guard were killed at the school. Seven students were wounded, and two remained in critical condition Wednesday at a hospital in Fargo, N.D.

Federal authorities said they were conducting autopsies on the gunman and his nine victims, but FBI spokesman Paul McCabe said he did not expect to release any information in the near future. Tribal leaders were even less forthcoming, strictly limiting reporters' movements. The Associated Press reported that two news photographers were briefly held at gunpoint by tribal police.

Tensions rose throughout Wednesday, with some residents whispering fears that if they spoke to outsiders they would suffer retribution. Residents of neighboring communities offered cautionary tales about violence on the reservation and the Justice Department created a task force to deal with gangs when Red Lake suffered five homicides in seven months in 2002. Because Red Lake is a "closed" reservation, it operates as a sovereign nation, running its own police force and dictating who may set foot on the property.

Those willing to be interviewed described Weise as a young man who drifted among various homes on the reservation, listening to heavy-metal music, proclaiming his affinity for Adolf Hitler and periodically showing up at the high school, even though Desjarlait said that six months ago he had ordered Weise to stay at home for tutoring.

He was taking the antidepressant Prozac and at least once was hospitalized for suicidal tendencies, said Gayle Downwind, a cultural coordinator at Red Lake Middle School who taught Weise. It was not uncommon for Weise to spend at least one night a week at her home. "He considered my house a safe place to be," she said in an interview.

In his 16 years, Weise lost many relatives. He was estranged from other family members and had a strained relationship with Daryl Lussier, the grandfather he killed at the start of Monday's rampage.

Family and friends said that Weise's father, Daryl Lussier Jr., committed suicide in 1997. Two years later, a serious automobile accident killed a cousin and left Weise's mother with partial paralysis and brain damage.

Then, about two years ago, his maternal grandfather died, an aunt, Kim Desjarlait, told NBC's "Today" show. "You are dealing with three deaths within eight years. I think for a kid starting at 10 years old, that's a lot to take." At the time, Desjarlait wanted to help raise Weise in Minneapolis, but he was sent to the reservation about 260 miles to the north.

In the sixth grade, Weise met Downwind's son, Sky Grant, and the two became close friends, often playing video games together. Grant recalled that Weise "hated his mother" and had a tendency to skip ahead to violent parts in movies they rented.

When Weise flunked eighth grade, he joined Downwind's special "Learning Center" program at the school. "He didn't function academically. He just sat there and drew pictures of army people with guns," she said in an interview. "He was a talented artist, but he drew terrible, terrible scenes."

Last June, Weise was suicidal. John Dudley, a bus driver for the Red Lake health center, was called to transport Weise to the hospital in Thief River Falls, 60 miles from the reservation. Describing the boy as quiet, Dudley said Weise was going voluntarily to a psychiatric ward, which he called "the unit."

To some in the school, Weise was long a frightening figure, towering over many of the youngsters in all-black clothing. Because of recent bomb threats and other safety concerns, Red Lake High School insisted students secured a pass to go to the restroom, a requirement that agitated Weise, said Lee Ann Grant, Downwind's daughter, who had worked as a security guard there since August.

On Monday, she was one of the first to spot Weise as he arrived at the red brick building in his grandfather's police cruiser. He was wearing Lussier's ammunition belt and bulletproof vest, waving the grandfather's police-issued shotgun in the air. When he got out of the car, he "marched, not walked" and fired at least twice into the air, she said.

Grant screamed at fellow guard Derrick Brun: "Run, he's got a gun." But it was too late. Brun became victim number three.

Special correspondents Patrick Marx and Dalton Walker in Red Lake and research editor Lucy Shackelford in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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