Cold Spring, Minn. — Cold Spring is a small town with about 3,000 residents, but the population is growing. City administrator Larry Larr says he knows why. "Oftentimes it is for the schools. They feel that the community is well connected to the students and the staff there," he says.
Larr grew up here. He moved away for a spell, then came back. To him, a decade or so later, Rocori High School still seems to radiate warmth and intimacy.
"I was just commenting to someone the day before the tragedy that the school, in terms of the the atmosphere there, hadn't changed much from what I observed. I always felt very secure. I knew the name of each of my classmates, each and every one. It's amazing how everyone seems to know each other."
But despite that, some things have changed. The school has been conducting security drills for teachers and administrators in preparation for events like Wednesday's shooting.
Dan Steil, executive vice president of 1st National Bank in Cold Spring, was involved in the schools before things got so complicated.
"I was on the school board in the early '90s and I think the temperament of the school and the nation as a whole was a little different," he says.
Steil lauds Rocori High School's efforts to maintain security. But the ambitions of his school board administration were much cheerier. Steil helped lay the groundwork for a senior center that operates out of Rocori Middle School.
"We have a senior center that is given space by the school district and also has its own senior center director paid for by the school district. And there's a real connect between the old people and the young people," he says.
Choral groups, bingo, and outings bring some of those seniors together with kids in the community.
"When I was in middle school, I did a lot of stuff with the senior center. I thought it was fun. It helped me as a person to get to know the older people better," says 9th grader Keisha Held, eating lunch with her mother at a cafe. She's only recently out of junior high, though her brown eyeliner works hard to age her.
Alleged suspect Jason McLaughlin was her peer. According to some accounts, McLaughlin was taunted about bad acne. That may have contributed to his actions.
But Andrew Grelson, 16, says teasing's no excuse. He says adults should have picked up on McLaughlin's problems, but not just the teachers "Everybody's getting teased about something. And the staff can't do everything to help them. It's totally the parents' job to do that."
But then comes the truth. Asked whether he goes to his parents when he has problems at school, Grelson answers, "no."
Hundreds of people gathered in the past few days to grieve at St. Boniface Church. A priest there, Father Cletus Connors, says he empathizes with the streses of high schoolers like McLaughlin.
"I think at that age of being a ninth grader, a person is growing so much in so many different ways, I can see how things can be disturbed," he says.
As a leader in the community, Father Connors laments that Jason McLaughlin didn't seek help from an adult. But perhaps his church will now have a better understanding of how to intervene with such a young man.
"We learned a lot here; we have a lot to learn yet. We've always placed an emphasis on youth. It's just hard to reach 100 percent of the people."
Understanding teenagers has never been easy. But in Cold Spring, sorrow now seems to have given the task a greater urgency.