A “grinning and waving” high school pupil went on a shooting rampage on an Indian reservation, killing his grandparents at their home and then seven people at his Minnesota school.
The teenage suspect apparently killed himself after exchanging gunfire with police in the worst school shooting in the US since the Columbine massacre in 1999 that killed 13 people.
One student said her classmates pleaded with the gunman to stop shooting.
“You could hear a girl saying: ‘No, Jeff, quit, quit. Leave me alone. What are you doing?” student Sondra Hegstrom told The Pioneer of Bemidji, using the name of the suspected killer.
Before yesterday’s shootings at Red Lake High School, the suspect’s grandparents were shot in their home and died later. There was no immediate indication of the gunman’s motive.
In addition to the gunman, the death toll at the school included five pupils, a teacher and a security guard, FBI spokesman Paul McCabe said in Minneapolis. Among the dead was Neva Rogers, 62, a teacher at the school for five or six years, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Fourteen to 15 other students were injured, McCabe said. Some were being cared for in Bemidji, about 20 miles south of Red Lake. Authorities sealed off roads to the reservation in far northern Minnesota while they investigated the shootings.
McCabe said the gunman first killed a school security officer near the school entrance. At some point, the shooter exchanged gunfire with Red Lake police in a hallway, then retreated to a classroom, where he was believed to have shot himself, McCabe said.
Hegstrom described the boy grinning and waving at a pupil his gun was pointed at, then swivelling to shoot someone else.
“I looked him in the eye and ran in the room, and that’s when I hid,” she told The Pioneer.
McCabe declined to talk about a possible connection between the suspect and the couple killed at the home, but Red Lake Fire Director Roman Stately said they were the grandparents of the gunman. He identified the killer’s grandfather as Daryl Lussier, a long-time officer with the Red Lake Police Department, and said Lussier’s guns might have been used in the shootings.
Stately said the gunman had two handguns and a shotgun.
“After he shot a security guard, he walked down the hallway shooting and went into a classroom where he shot a teacher and more students,” Stately told Minneapolis television station KARE.
Students and a teacher, Diane Schwanz, said the gunman tried to break down a door to get into her classroom.
“I just got on the floor and called the cops,” Schwanz told the Pioneer. “I was still just half-believing it.”
Ashley Morrison, another student, had taken refuge in Schwanz’s classroom. With the attacker banging on the door, she dialled her mother on her mobile phone. Her mother, Wendy Morrison, said she could hear gunshots on the line.
“Mom, he’s trying to get in here and I’m scared,” Ashley Morrison told her mother, according to the newspaper.
All of the dead students were found in one room. One of them was a boy believed to be the killer, McCabe said. He said it was too early to speculate on a motive.
Martha Thunder’s 15-year-old son, Cody, was being treated for a gunshot wound to the hip.
“He heard gunshots and the teacher said: ‘No, that’s the janitor’s doing something’, and the next thing he knew, the kid walked in there and pointed the gun right at him,” Thunder said, outside the hospital in Bemidji.
The school was evacuated after the shootings and locked down for the investigation, McCabe said.
“It will probably take us throughout the night to really put the whole picture together,” he said.
Floyd Jourdain, chairman of the Red Lake Chippewa Tribe, called it “without a doubt the darkest hour” in the group’s history.
“There has been a considerable amount of lives lost, and we still don’t know the total of that,” he said.
It was the nation’s worst school shooting since two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killed 12 pupils and a teacher and wounded 23 before killing themselves on April 20, 1999.
The rampage in Red Lake was the second fatal school shooting in Minnesota in 18 months. Two students were killed at Rocori High School in Cold Spring in September 2003. Student John Jason McLaughlin, who was 15 at the time, awaits trial in the case.
Red Lake High School, on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, has about 300 students, according to its website.
The reservation is about 240 miles north of the Twin Cities. It is home to the Red Lake Chippewa Tribe, one of the poorest in the state. According to the 2000 census, 5,162 people lived on the reservation, and all but 91 were Indians.