Listen: 20150318_Red Lake #1(Gunderson)

MPR’s Dan Gunderson & John Enger reports on the survivors of the 2005 mass shooting at Red Lake High School in northern Minnesota. The tragedy changed everyone involved. Survivors and others in community discuss how they now cope.

On March 21, 2005, 16-year-old Jeff Wiese shot his grandfather, his grandfather's partner, an unarmed security guard at the entrance of the school, a teacher, and five students, before shooting himself. Numerous students were left injured as well.

This is first of a two-part report.

Click links below for other report:


2015 Minnesota AP Award, first place in Writing - Radio Division, Class Three category


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SPEAKER 1: "I remember," it can be a defining phrase for those who survived the school shooting at Red Lake High School in Northern Minnesota. It was the state's second school shooting. Two students died at Rocori High School in Cold Spring back in 2003, but Red Lake is the state's deadliest school shooting. 10 years ago this week, a teenage student walked into the school on the Red Lake Nation with three guns and started shooting. The survivors and those who responded to the scene all have enduring memories.

SPEAKER 2: I was soaked in blood and don't know whose.

SPEAKER 3: They got most of the bullet out, other than the fragments.

SPEAKER 4: They were in combat, but they couldn't defend themselves.

SPEAKER 1: When the shooting was over, 10 people were dead. Reporters John Enger and Dan Gunderson found that the tragedy changed everyone who was there that day.

DAN GUNDERSON: Jeff May still has nightmares. His left arm hangs limp at his side. The word "Pain" is tattooed on his forearm. His speech is thick, and sometimes, slurred. 10 years ago, when gunman Jeff Weise walked into his Red Lake classroom shooting, Jeff May stood up and attacked him, armed only with a pencil. May was 15 years old when he was shot, an 8-inch scar curves up the side of his neck. Five students and a teacher were shot dead in that classroom.

JEFF MAY: I can still imagine. I can still hear. I can still taste the blood.

DAN GUNDERSON: Loud noises or kids crying still trigger post-traumatic stress reactions for him. Jeff May sits at a table at the Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake. Country Western music and the occasional beep of slot machines punctuate the conversation as May explains how the shooting changed his life.

JEFF MAY: Went from normal kid to have everything taken from me. I can't move my left arm. I can't do anything any other people could do.

DAN GUNDERSON: Life also changed 10 years ago for Ashley Lajeunesse. She was in the same classroom as Jeff May. She wasn't wounded, at least, not physically.

ASHLEY LAJEUNESSE: I still get the anxiety. That's why I quit going to college. I wouldn't even be able to pay attention in class. I'd be thinking of ways to exit if a shooter came in or a place to hide.

DAN GUNDERSON: One of her three children watches television as Lajeunesse talks in a small home she shares with her boyfriend on the Red Lake Reservation. She's blocked some of what happened that day from her memory. Other images are fresh.

ASHLEY LAJEUNESSE: I remember his gun jammed up on him. And he was really messing around with that gun, and pretty soon, he just threw it. And then he pulled out another one.

DAN GUNDERSON: After the shooting, Lajeunesse took the advice of tribal elders in an effort to purge the horrifying memories.

ASHLEY LAJEUNESSE: I was soaked in blood and don't know whose, but they told me to take my clothes, take it out into the woods, and burn it. And so that's what I did. And I had to put out the tobacco, so I did that, thinking it would help me a little bit. But the flashbacks were still-- every single day.

DAN GUNDERSON: Lajeunesse also visited one of the dozens of counselors who descended on Red Lake after the shooting. But she says the counselor wanted to talk about God, and that didn't fit with her traditional spiritual beliefs, so she never went back. Instead, she spent time talking to a local American Indian counselor. Jeff May also turned toward home for therapy. He says he's found healing in traditional ceremonies and being alone with his thoughts.

JEFF MAY: Go in the woods and hiking, that's part of my self-therapy, I think, I want to do for myself to make myself move on or keep moving. It helps me a lot.

DAN GUNDERSON: May was lauded for his heroism for attacking the gunman. He was Reader's Digest Hero of the Year. He still finds comfort in helping others.

JEFF MAY: I don't know, I just look around and look at people, and I can't really imagine not helping them. So it pushes me to go on every day to help somebody, try to help my friends get jobs. I give them rides. I do this, I do that.

DAN GUNDERSON: A $750,000 insurance settlement to compensate for his injuries brought a raft of new friends. He bought a house and cars, and helped friends. When the money was gone, the new friends disappeared. Today, he hangs out with the few friends he grew up with. May says the money changed people.

JEFF MAY: When the shootings happened, everybody's worried about the kids. But everybody started talking about courts and settlements, it wasn't about the kids. It's about that money. After school shooting happened, that money came. Everybody worried about that money, and everybody lost their way.

DAN GUNDERSON: May lives alone. His mom is in a nursing home. He rarely talks to his siblings. He doesn't have a girlfriend. The girl he loved died in that classroom 10 years ago. Alicia White was 15 when she was shot and killed. Her death also haunts Ashley Lajeunesse. They were best friends. She says, for a long time, Alicia came to her in terrifying dreams. The dreams and flashbacks have mostly ended, but the anxiety is ever present. After a car accident, she fought an addiction to painkillers for years. Lajeunesse got pregnant not long after the shooting. She says having a baby was a form of therapy.

ASHLEY LAJEUNESSE: I no longer really worried about my problems, and it kind of helped me get over them and move on a little bit. But then once she started school, then I was like, I'm so scared for her to go to school. I want her to stay home because I don't want it to happen to her.

DAN GUNDERSON: Lajeunesse and her boyfriend are still together. They have three children. The oldest is at school, another watches television, and the youngest naps as she talks. She's tried therapy over the years but says, on the Reservation, it seems drugs are often the therapy of choice. She pulls out an old yearbook and runs her finger down the page of classmates' photos.

ASHLEY LAJEUNESSE: She's doing pretty good. Justin's doing good. This one's into a holy mess-load of drugs. If you've seen him today, you would not recognize that's who that is.

DAN GUNDERSON: Shooting victims haven't gathered in the past 10 years to share memories or offer each other support. The gunman left scars on everyone who was there that day. Some like Jeff May and Ashley Lajeunesse have reached an uneasy truce with their demons and moved on. Others seem unable to escape the fear, guilt, and anger that fell on them 10 years ago. Illegal drugs and alcohol use continue to plague the children of Red Lake Nation as they did before the school shooting.

Compared to a decade ago, fewer Red Lake kids are graduating and more are leaving the Reservation for schools in neighboring districts. Red Lake School administrators declined interview requests, and other tribal officials were reluctant to talk. Before the 2005 shooting, Red Lake High School was well prepared. It was one of the only schools in the state with fences, metal detectors, cameras, and guards. Tony Treuer is an American Indian author and professor at Bemidji State University. He says the school shooting prompted new resolve to improve life for Red Lake children.

TONY TREUER: I have seen a lot of people trying to redouble efforts in the schools, in the community. I think it's an opportunity not yet fully realized. But a lot of people are really trying. And there's an effort to think about how do we build up our young people and give them tools.

DAN GUNDERSON: There's been change at Red Lake. There's a new Ojibwe language immersion school. After the shooting, new funding allowed for expansion of Red Lake Boys and Girls Clubs. And things have changed at the high school, too. There are still metal detectors and security guards like there were 10 years ago, but the fences topped with barbed wire, meant to protect, made some students feel more like prisoners. Now, those fences are gone. With reporting by John Enger, Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio News.

SPEAKER 1: And tonight on All Things Considered, we'll hear from a teacher and an FBI agent who are thrown together in the chaos that followed the Red Lake shooting. You can learn more online right now by going to


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