March 23, 2005
People on the Red Lake Indian reservation are trying to understand what made 16-year-old Jeff Weise go on a bloody shooting rampage. That question may never be answered, but a picture of a troubled young man is emerging.
Red Lake, Minn. — It seems many people knew Jeff Weise, but few knew him well. He's been described as a loner. Students say he was sometimes teased, but rarely responded to the taunts.
Classmates describe him wearing black clothing and drawing pictures of skulls and swastikas on his notebooks. He contributed to racist Web sites.
Weise had not been in school for several months. He was expelled for violating school rules, and was in a program that provided in-home tutoring.
Some classmates remembered him as quiet, friendly and non-threatening. Others say they were afraid of him. Ashley Morrison says she and her friends thought Weise was weird.
"Every time I saw him he wore a big trenchcoat. He was scary. He was a big guy," says Morrison. "Kids picked on him but he didn't say much. We always suspected him of doing something, but nothing like this."
It seems everyone remembers Jeff Weise as an introvert. Wanda Baxter had him as a student in her traditional culture class at Red Lake two years ago. She says he was quiet, never a troublemaker.
"He was a good listener, just like any ordinary student," Baxter says.
Baxter says she's struggling to understand what happened to make the young man she knew shoot and kill nine people. She saw no clues about what sent Jeff Weise on a shooting rampage.
"When you have students, it's like looking at your own grandchildren. We have to be together, share our pain together. It's not easy," says Baxter.
If Weise was quiet in school, he became an extrovert in cyberspace. It appeared he may have posted messages on a neo-Nazi Web site expressing admiration for Hitler and calling himself "Todesengel," German for the "Angel of Death."
Several notes signed by a Jeff Weise, who identified himself as "a Native American from the Red Lake `Indian' Reservation," were posted beginning last year on a Web site operated by the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party.
In one posting, he criticized interracial mixing on the reservation and slammed fellow Indian teens for listening to rap music. "We have kids my age killing each other over things as simple as a fight, and it's because of the rap influence," he wrote.
While the writing of his postings on the neo-Nazi Web site may have been sloppy and full of typos, Weise was also able to write more polished prose for stories published on the Internet about zombies.
Weise's Hotmail address links him to frequent postings on one Internet forum called "Rise of the Dead," a site where contributors collaborate on stories about "average people attempting to survive in a zombie-infested world," according to the site.
Weise, posting under the handle "Blades11," appeared to be a regular contributor to numerous fan fiction sites related to zombies. On one, Weise identifies himself as being from Red Lake and lists himself as an amateur writer.
He goes on to write, "I'm a fan of zombie films, have been for years, as well as fan of horror movies in general. I like to write horror stories, read about Nazi Germany and history, and someday plan on moving out of the US."
In a posting from Feb. 6, he agreed to continue contributing to a story line but added that things are "kind of rocky right now so I might disappear unexpectedly."
It seems Jeff Weise was often alone. His father committed suicide in 1997. His mother has been in a nursing home since 1999, after suffering a head injury in a car accident.
Police say it's unclear where Weise was living. A member of his extended family says it seemed like the teenager was floating -- on his own, with no adults watching out for him.
Community activist Audrey Thayer runs the ACLU offices in Bemidji. Thayer says somewhere along the line, Jeff Weise was lost.
"When a youth acts out in an inappropriate manner such as happened in Red Lake, my heart goes out to what happened to him," says Thayer. "Where was the disconnect for Jeff? And that's not placing blame on anyone. There was a disconnect. Something happened. What could we have done differently? I keep thinking about his losses. Was he left out there? Sure was. Was it anyone's fault? No. It's just reality."
Thayer says now is not the time to place blame, but to find ways to reach out to kids like Jeff Weise and make them feel valued and appreciated.
Tony Treuer says there are a lot of American Indian kids who feel disconnected.
Treuer teaches in the American Indian studies program at Bemidji State University. He says it's clear Jeff Weise was deeply troubled, but Treuer says many Indian kids are lost and searching.
"Kids looking for something. They don't even know what it is themselves, and couldn't put a label on it," says Treuer.
Treuer says he hopes the Red Lake shooting won't simply be a tragic memory, but an opportunity to reach out to a generation searching for a place to belong.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)