The shootings at the rural Red Lake Indian Reservation senior high school have brought a spotlight once again to school violence. This report examines how the community is coping, and identifies some warning signs of teen violence.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A remote, reclusive community in northern Minnesota, the Red Lake Reservation has cut itself off even more since the shootings. The anguish of the 5,000 or so Ojibwa Indians who live here has been mostly kept from the public.
The media has been denied free access. We were offered one glimpse of a community’s distress with the extended Lussier family, mourning both a victim and the perpetrator.
TOM LUSSIER: I was really flabbergasted.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tom Lussier’s brother, Darryl, longtime reservation cop, was victim number one in the rampage of Darryl’s grandson, 17-year-old Jeffrey Weise. And between these two was nothing by a warm grandfatherly relationship?
TOM LUSSIER: Yeah. They got along good. He was a good role model for all the kids on the reservation, not just ours. He had good rapport with my grandsons, yeah.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: All day visitors came in a steady stream to console the stunned family.
SHAUNA LUSSIER, Aunt of Shooter: The whole reservation and our families are going to ask why, and to me that’s going to be the hardest because we’re never going to know.
We’re not making up any excuses or trying to sugarcoat anything. You know, it’s just a very tragic thing that happened, and it couldn’t have been prevented.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Shauna and Tammy Lussier lost their nephew in an incident Tammy says they could never have anticipated.
TAMMY LUSSIER, Aunt of Shooter: He never showed us the violent side of him. That’s why it’s so hard for us to understand this. He never acted out, never got in a fistfight with anybody.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They described a kid who liked listening to Johnny Cash and the Beatles, but they also say his father’s suicide, his mother’s car accident that left her brain-damaged, amid other turmoil, may have accounted for bouts of depression. Once they caught him cutting himself.
SHAUNA LUSSIER: We went to the emergency room with all the right people to try to get him some help. And the doctor there told us that that was a fad. He’s seeing a lot of that, and sent him home.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite the tribe’s isolation, his aunts insist he got the same care he’d have received anywhere in the U.S.
SHAUNA LUSSIER: We’ve gone through all of the channels, you know, all the right people to see, all the right medication, so we thought.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What kinds of medications was he on? Do you happen to know the names?
SHAUNA LUSSIER: Prozac, for depression. Prozac.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And he was taking this all the way until…
SHAUNA LUSSIER: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Until the other day?
SHAUNA LUSSIER: Yep. Actually, they had just recently upped his dosage.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They did know he was interested in Nazi material. Reports have said Weise had posted messages and drawings on Web sites, including one for the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party. His family simply wrote it off to a bright eccentric child.
TAMMY LUSSIER: He would make little comments about the Nazis in general.
SHAUNA LUSSIER: He knew a lot about ’em, you know. He was very informative if something came up on TV, you know. He was very intellectual.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: About Nazi history?
TAMMY LUSSIER: Just in general.
SHAUNA LUSSIER: Just in general. In talking he had a way with words. Most of his vocabulary is above college.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As families grieve here, Red Lake has seen an outpouring of sympathy and offers of help from outside the reservation, from grief counselors to prayer services. This one at the state capital in St. Paul was attended by leading Indian and state politicians, like Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY: Whether you are Native American or of some other ethnic or cultural background, everybody hurts the same. And we all hurt the same. And you have a loss like this, a tragedy like this, it is just painful. It is difficult. It is sad.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In other words, this could have happened anywhere, but the fact that it happened here has shone a light on a long-isolated Indian reservation. Gambling has brought billions of dollars to some Indian reservations, those near urban centers.
But here in the rural North, there’s been little benefit. Red Lake remains one of the poorest places in North America. Unemployment here on the reservation hovers around 40 percent. Lee Cook grew up near the shores of the walleye-rich Red Lake.
LEE COOK: It was sort of our meal ticket, you know, for centuries.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Cook now heads the Indian Resource Center at the nearby Bemidji State University. He remembers a real sense of community.
LEE COOK: Being a kid on the reservation was almost like a romantic thing, like a Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer thing. We had fun; it was fun being a kid; summertime we were out all day long, you know, shooting birds with our slingshots and swimming.
And the wintertime, we were, you know, poor as a church mouse, but we played basketball outside and kind of always made up things, you know.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He thinks that sense of community and confidence has disappeared, and that access to TV and the Internet may have made it harder for kids like Jeffrey Weise to be comfortable as Indians.
LEE COOK: We make it hard to be Indians. So it’s much easier to be a gangster when you’ve got to dress in a funny, weird way and have a couple hand signals and that kind of puts you in the in crowd.
I mean, to be Indian and growing up Indian is one thing, but to have to sort of pick it up by happenstance is not very easy for young people. It’s real frustrating for them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Cook thinks that redeveloping a sense of community is the only way this reservation can get past the tragedy.
LEE COOK: We all got to get our heads together and figure out what it is we do differently.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: First funeral services are expected to be held this weekend.
JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez builds on the Red Lake event, with a look at how to prevent such tragedies.
RAY SUAREZ: What causes a teenage boy to resort to such devastating and drastic measures? What should schools be doing to prevent violence on campuses? How can troubled children be identified and helped before violence erupts?
One of the survivors of Monday’s shootings talked to the press today. Fifteen-year-old Cody Thunder described his impressions of the shooter, 17-year-old Jeff Weise.
REPORTER: What did you think of him going up until Monday?
CODY THUNDER: I don’t know. He was just, he didn’t have any buddies, that’s why I went to talk to him ’cause he seemed, like, alone, and I just felt like it would be good to go talk to him.
REPORTER: When you say he was different, earlier you said you wanted to speak to him because he was alone– did he dress differently, did he act differently, was he isolated?
CODY THUNDER: Yeah, he’d come to school every day with a different hairstyle and he came to school with horns, like devil horns or something. Right there he looked like he was trying to be evil.
REPORTER: What was he like to be in class with you?
CODY THUNDER: I don’t know, he looked like a cool guy. And I went to talk to him a few times and he talked about nothing but guns and shooting people. He’d be talking about guns and different kinds.
REPORTER: When he talked about the guns, what did you think? Did you think it was odd? Were you worried? Did you think he might bring it to school? What did you think?
CODY THUNDER: I never thought he would do this. I never thought that he would come up and try to shoot up the school.
REPORTER: What did he say about the guns?
CODY THUNDER: He just talked about them, talked about shooting people and stuff and I never knew that he would come up here.
REPORTER: Did he talk about shooting specific people?
CODY THUNDER: No. He just, like, messed around and stuff.
RAY SUAREZ: With us to discuss child violence are James Garbarino, a professor of human development at Cornell University. He’s the author of “Lost Boys: Why our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them.”
And Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, an independent consulting firm. Kenneth Trump, are America’s schools safer than they were six years ago at the time of the Columbine shootings?
KENNETH TRUMP: Well, the good news is we actually made some improvements in the months and year or two after Columbine. We paid more attention to early warning signs. We tightened up some security measures. We developed emergency plans in our schools to prepare for emergency situations that couldn’t be prevented.
But the bad news is that progress has stalled a great deal, and we’re actually slipping backwards in the last couple years. We’ve had school safety budget cuts. We have an enormous amount of competition for time, limited scarce time in our schools, especially with the increased focus on improving test scores, prevention programs, security planning and staff training have been cut back.
Of course, we face the battle with our own complacency. The farther we are from a high-profile incident, the higher risk we are for denial and fall back into complacency.
RAY SUAREZ: You just heard young Cody Thunder talking about his discussions with Jeff Weise and how every time he talked to him, he talked about guns and about shooting people. What should have happened at Red Lake High in Minnesota?
KENNETH TRUMP: The school administrators across the nation post-Columbine have really worked hard on improving a school climate where kids feel comfortable in reporting incidents to adults.
And I think we’ve done a good job with that across the nation. There have been a number of foiled plots. The bad news is we’re dealing with a situation where we’re dealing with human behavior, both on the adult side and on the child side. So it’s easy to miss some of those warning signs and have one incident fall through the cracks.
In an ideal situation, most of the schools are working with children to tell them that a switch from snitch, as I call it, that if you have a concern, you hear a threat, report it to a responsible adult so that somebody can take some action. You’re not snitching; you’re possibly saving somebody’s life.
RAY SUAREZ: James Garbarino, how do you institute that kind of atmosphere on, let’s say, a high school campus without turning ninth through 12th grade into one big dime-dropping exercise, where people are telling everything they hear from everybody?
JAMES GARBARINO: Well, certainly there is a lot of contradiction in this whole situation. You know, I think it was a year-and-a-half after Columbine a survey found that about more than half the teenagers when asked if someone talked about killing someone, would you tell an adult, and more than half said “no.”
I think that, you know, part of the problem is that kids are so immersed in the violent imagery that it doesn’t strike a kid as unusual that another boy would be talking about guns, he’d be talking about killing, and that’s part of the problem.
There are hundreds of thousands of boys who are playing around on the Internet, who have these images, who have these fantasies, and it has become normalized in a sense so that it becomes harder to pick out the really depressed kid who is going to translate that fantasy imagery into real violence.
I don’t think it’s a matter of, as your other guest is saying, it’s not matter of snitching. It’s a sense of, you know, good friends don’t let friends get in trouble, but it really hinges on the school taking a mental health response to those messages, not a punitive one.
If kids know that other kids are going to be suspended or expelled, then they’re not going to talk. If they know that it’s going to be a helpful outreach, they’re more likely to share the information. But it does require constant effort to get them to see that even these idle threats have to be taken seriously. Our culture makes it very hard because we’re just awash in this all the time.
RAY SUAREZ: Are there any profiles, any screens that would help someone understand whether it’s just idle talk of a moody kid or something that really is a warning of future violence?
JAMES GARBARINO: Well, I think one key is it should be standard mental health practice anywhere that there shouldn’t be guns within reach of depressed people, whether they’re adults or kids. That’s pretty well known, and it’s something that in our gun culture is often neglected.
Depressed people, whether they’re police officers or men or women or kids, are at great risk for doing harm to themselves and others. And the more access they have to weapons, the more likely they are to translate that depression and sadness, and in this boy’s case rage because don’t forget that most boys are taught it’s better to be mad than to be sad.
And so when they wrestle with sadness, they often convert it into anger, and of course the whole Internet scene that he was part of nurtures that anger, that rage, as does so much of the adversarial nature of American culture. It’s not surprising it would take this outlet for an American boy who is trying wrestle with his sadness.
RAY SUAREZ: Kenneth Trump, keeping guns away from depressed people, can you do that?
KENNETH TRUMP: It certainly is in an ideal situation. And one gun is one too many in a school. I think in this situation, it was even more complicated by the fact that the gun was something that was part of the grandfather’s profession as a law enforcement officer.
And what we know from our experience with school security is that most of the guns that come into schools actually come from the home. A child steals it from the home, from the parents, from a guardian, from a relative.
And we also know that while one gun is one too many, the most common weapons in schools are bladed weapons, knives, box cutters and razor blades, assuming that you discount the weapons of fists and feet.
So I think that we have to recognize there are all types of weapons, one gun being one too many, but when guns come into school, they come from the home. And a lot of people are questioning the issue of metal detectors in school today.
Any type of equipment that we have in school for security purposes is a supplement to but not a substitute for the human element. A surveillance camera is only going to deter those who are deterrable. Metal detectors are a necessary tool, particularly in some large urban districts that have chronic histories of weapons-specific offenses.
But we have to strike that balance between metal detectors and mental detectors and people who are equipped to recognize some early warning signs and attuned not necessarily to major dramatic changes in children, but those incremental deteriorations that occur over a period of time that often culminate in a tragedy like we saw in Red Lake.
RAY SUAREZ: So, Mr. Trump to, just to check that I understand you, you’re saying even if you do spend the money to put up physical barriers to weapons coming to school, there is only so much you can do?
KENNETH TRUMP: There is no perfect security from the White House to the schoolhouse. What we have to do is have a balance. What concerns me is these debates often get into more prevention or better security.
It should be a discussion of more prevention efforts and better security. The two should go hand in hand. It’s not an either/or debate. But you have to have a secure environment in which to deliver the education prevention/intervention counseling mental health services, so the two go hand in hand.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Garbarino, if you’re trying to do everything right, and it sounds like this family made an effort — they got professional counseling; they got medication for their nephew — what should schools be doing in concert with parents to not reduce the risk to zero, but at least better the odds that nothing terrible is going to happen?
JAMES GARBARINO: Well, I think they probably need to be more active in coordinating the mental health care of these troubled boys and really be more active with the social networks of peer groups of kids in school so that the human intelligence that they need they’re going to get.
I mean, we’ve heard several reports from other kids in that school who knew how troubled this boy was, and it doesn’t seem that anybody was putting that all together and taking it seriously. And that alone could have resulted in a higher level of vigilance.
I agree that you have to make schools secure, but it’s like the post-9/11 world for the country as a whole. Human intelligence, knowing what people are doing and putting that all together in one place, is certainly a part of it.
Another part of it is changing the climate for kids who are a bit troubled. I mean, this boy had such terrible losses in his life. He should have been a high priority from the time his father committed suicide. There should have been an involvement with him.
It sounds like a lot of that was well intentioned, but I don’t think it was coordinated well with sophisticated mental health intervention.
RAY SUAREZ: Does it mean on occasion, Professor, being quicker to remove children from schools?
JAMES GARBARINO: Well, this boy had been removed from school, as I understand it. I think it’s more a matter of changing the quality of their experience in school and, you know, people at the doors of the school who know what’s going on.
You know, people often ask, “does having a police officer on campus make the school safer?” I think the answer is: it depends. What is that officer doing? Is he tapping into the human intelligence of the school, or is he simply standing monitoring a metal detector?
Those may be extreme positions, but it’s the officer who is really in touch with what’s going on who becomes a conduit for information who can really make the school safer.
So that he can be a person or she can be a person that leads to changing the environment around that boy, make sure that the mental health services are being offered, that somebody is monitoring the administration of psychotropic drugs. It’s a very sophisticated set of issues when you get a boy this troubled.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Garbarino, Mr. Trump, gentlemen, thank you both.
KENNETH TRUMP: Thank you, Ray.
JAMES GARBARINO: Thank you.