A neo-Nazi teenager who called himself the Angel of Death went on a shooting rampage on a remote US Indian reservation yesterday, killing his grandparents and then seven people at his school, grinning and waving as he fired.
Jeff Weise, 17, who openly admired Adolf Hitler and had been questioned before about threats at his Minnesota school, killed himself after exchanging gunfire with police.
It was the worst school shooting in the US since the Columbine massacre in 1999 that killed 13 people.
One student said her classmates pleaded with Weise to stop shooting.
“You could hear a girl saying, ‘No, Jeff, quit, quit. Leave me alone. What are you doing?”’ said student Sondra Hegstrom.
He asked one of his victims whether he believed in God, witnesses said.
Reggie Graves, a student at Red Lake High School, said he was watching a film about Shakespeare in class when he heard the gunman blast his way past the metal detector at the school’s entrance, killing a guard.
Then, in a nearby classroom, he heard the gunman say something to his friend Ryan: “He asked Ryan if he believed in God,” Graves said. “And then he shot him.”
The victims included the gunman’s grandfather; the grandfather’s wife; a school security guard; a teacher; and five other students. At least 14 others were wounded, officials said.
“There’s not a soul that will go untouched by the tragic loss that we’ve experienced here,” said Floyd Jourdain, chairman of the Red Lake Chippewa Tribe,.
Police said the Weise killed himself after exchanging fire with officers. Red Lake Fire Chief Roman Stately said the gunman had two handguns and a shotgun.
“We ask Minnesotans to help comfort the families and friends of the victims who are suffering unimaginable pain by extending prayers and expressions of support,” state Governor Tim Pawlenty said.
Weise had been placed in the school’s Homebound programme for some violation of policy, said school board member Kathryn Beaulieu.
Students in that programme stay at home and are taught by a travelling teacher.
During the rampage, teachers herded students from one room to another, trying to move away from the sound of the shooting, said Graves, 14. He said some students crouched under desks.
Student Ashley Morrison said she heard shots, then saw the gunman’s face peering though a door window of a classroom where she was hiding with several other students. After banging at the door, the gunman walked away and she heard more shots, she said.
“I can’t even count how many gunshots you heard, there was over 20. ... There were people screaming, and they made us get behind the desk,” she said.
FBI spokesman Paul McCabe said the gunman exchanged gunfire with Red Lake police in a hallway, then retreated to a classroom, where he was believed to have shot himself.
All of the dead students, including the killer, were found in one room
Relatives said Weise was a loner who usually wore black and was teased by other kids.
They said his father committed suicide four years ago, and his mother was nursing home after suffering brain injuries in a car accident.
Weise admired German dictator Adolf Hitler and was a suspect following threats made at his school last year, he revealed in an internet forum frequented by neo-Nazis.
“I guess I’ve always carried a natural admiration for Hitler and his ideals, and his courage to take on larger nations,” Weise wrote on the website.
He said he was interested in finding like-minded Indians, a goal other messages on the website encouraged. He also admitted he was a suspect in a threat at school.
“Once I commit myself to something, I stay until the end,” he wrote.
In a message on a website last year that foreshadowed yesterday’s events, Weise said he had been questioned by police in connection with an alleged threat at the school.
“By the way, I’m being blamed for a threat on the school I attend because someone said they were going to shoot up the school on 4/20, Hitlers birthday, and just because I claim being a National Socialist, guess whom they’ve pinned,” he wrote in comments posted at 11:41 p.m. on April 19, 2004.
Five weeks later, he wrote that “the school threat passed and I was cleared as a suspect, I’m glad for that. I don’t much care for jail, I’ve never been there and I don’t plan on it.”
Alternately using the online pen names Todesengel -German for Angel of Death - and NativeNazi, Weise wrote several messages in which he said he believed Hitler and the Nazi movement that embroiled the world in war and caused millions of deaths got a bad rap.
“When I was growing up, I was taught (like others) that Nazi’s were evil and that Hitler was a very evil man ect,” he wrote in one posting replete with misspellings.
“Of course, not for a second did I believe this. Upon reading up on his actions, the ideals and issues the German Third Reich addressed, I began to see how much of a like had been painted about them. They truly were doing it for the better.”
In other messages, he wrote that he believed a National Socialist movement could work on his reservation and planned on trying to recruit some members at school when it started up last fall.
“The only ones who oppose my views are the teachers at the high school, and a large portion of the student body who think a Nazi is a Klansman, or a White Supremacist thug. Most of the Natives I know have been poisoned by what they were taught in school.”
The public school system, he wrote, “has done more harm than good, and as a result it has left many on this reservation misled and misinformed.”
He wrote that when he talked in school about maintaining the tribe’s ethnic purity by not marrying outside the bloodline, “I get the same old argument which seems to be so common around here. ‘We need to mix all the races, to combine all the strengths.’
“They (teachers) don’t openly say that racial purity is wrong, yet when you speak your mind on the subject you get ‘silenced’ real quick by the teachers and likeminded school officials,” he wrote.
It 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 has about 300 students, according to its Web site.
The reservation is about 240 miles north of Minneapolis. 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.