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Slain Guard Called a Hero For Actions at Minn. School

By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page A01

RED LAKE, Minn., March 23 -- Derrick Brun wrote poetry, played trumpet and guitar, and more than anything else, wanted a career as a cop. Like the tribal police officer he longed to be, he faced down a killer this week and paid for his courage with his life.

Brun was the first person killed Monday afternoon at Red Lake High School by 16-year-old Jeff Weise, who went to the campus armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and two other guns. Brun, working a temporary job as an unarmed security guard, rose from his desk at the school entrance and approached Weise, who had already fired several shots outside and two more inside. Weise marched in, a witness said, cradling the shotgun in his left arm, the butt of the weapon wedged against his hip.

Lee Ann Grant, with boyfriend Dustan Harris, was on guard duty at Red Lake High School with Derrick Brun. "I believe Derrick was the kind of person that was going to try to talk him down," she said of her colleague's confrontation with the gunman. ". . . He held him back -- even if it was only five seconds." (Morry Gash -- AP)

"I screamed to Derrick, 'There's a guy with a gun -- we need to run!' " said Lee Ann Grant, 20, another security guard, also working at the front door. "I yelled. I screamed: 'Come on. Let's go.' " Grant left. She said she saw a group of students rushing toward the front door, apparently attracted by the sound of the shots, and she ran toward them, yelling at them to turn around and flee.

"I could see Derrick start to get out of his seat and walk towards Jeff," Grant said Wednesday as she sat in her mother's home in the nearby community of Redby, also on the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

"I turned the corner, and I heard the two shots. But they weren't as loud as the others that had echoed. They were quieter. I know that's when he shot Derrick."

What Brun, 28, was going to try to do with the armed teenager will never be known. But Grant said she is convinced that he was going to try to talk Weise into giving up his weapon.

"I believe Derrick was the kind of person that was going to try to talk him down," she said. "I know he was going to try to protect us. I knew he was going to hold him back.

"He saved my life. He held him back -- even if it was only five seconds -- but it allowed me and the other kids to get out," Grant said, calling him a hero.

Within 10 minutes of Brun's slaying, five students and a teacher would be dead and Weise would take his own life in the nation's worst school shooting since the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, where 15 died. Here, the nine killed include Weise's grandfather and the man's female companion, who were fatally shot by the teenager in their home before Weise arrived at the school, the FBI said.

The traumatized residents of this remote reservation of Chippewa Indians began arranging wakes and funerals on Wednesday. Although some families shied away from the media horde that has descended on the community of 5,000, others felt that talking about their loved ones would help them deal with the tragedy.

"Talking about it helps. It seems to get a little bit better every day," said Brun's older sister, Victoria, 43, at their parents' home, a couple of blocks from the high school. "But the question is why? Why did this happen to him? Why did he give his life so that others could live?"

Derrick Brun was the baby among Barbara and Francis "Chunky" Brun's five children. The Brun family has long been active in tribal politics. Francis Brun, now 70 and considered one of the tribe's elders, is a former Red Lake tribal treasurer. Derrick's second cousin Butch Brun is a former Red Lake tribal chairman.

Derrick Brun was the salutatorian of the Red Lake High School Class of 1995 and worked odd jobs in nearby Bemidji and on the reservation for several years after high school until he landed the job he truly desired with the Red Lake Police Department.

He worked there for six years, but a back injury prevented him from completing Bureau of Indian Affairs police academy training and he had to leave the force.

His daughter, Courtney, had cerebral palsy and hydrocephaly and died shortly after her fourth birthday in 2003.

Despondent, Brun was unemployed for several months last year. But last summer, he went to the Red Lake school superintendent, a longtime family friend, and asked about a job as a security guard. He began the school year working for slightly more than $7 an hour with no benefits. But the job was a steppingstone, the family said.

Brun talked about going to college, possibly Bemidji State University, his father said. And Brun was enrolled in the local hospital's emergency medical technician course, which met twice a week and which he would have completed the day after he was killed. He planned to change jobs, doubling his salary and working in a more challenging field.

Brun also was planning to meet a North Dakota woman, also a member of the Chippewa, whom he had been messaging for three or four months in an Internet chat room dedicated to Native Americans. He had tentatively set that meeting for this weekend, because of the Easter holiday he would have had from his school job.

Now, his family is planning his wake for Saturday and Sunday and his burial for Monday.

At midday Wednesday, Victoria Brun took a plate of food to the field behind her parents' home -- her brother lived in a trailer next door -- sprinkled it with ceremonial tobacco and offered it to the spirits "that are protecting us," she said.

"I pray that Derrick be taken to where he is supposed to go: to be with his daughter," she said. "We love him and miss him."

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