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Red Lake shootings
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Hundreds gather for first Red Lake funerals
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A memorial sign for Daryl "Dash" Lussier, one of the Red Lake shooting victims. He and two others were buried after funeral services Saturday. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

Red Lake, Minn. — (AP) - With the bang of a drum and a high-pitched wail, the first funerals began Saturday for victims of the shootings on the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

A lone man's sad, beautiful cry gave way to songs and more drumming from a circle of men. Soon, the hundreds of people gathered into this small town's community center began making their way past a pair of open caskets.

Daryl Lussier, 58, a tribal police officer, and his longtime companion Michelle Sigana, 31, were the first victims in Monday's attack by his grandson, Jeff Weise, 16.

After killing the pair in their home, Weise went to Red Lake High School, where he killed five students, a teacher and a security guard before shooting himself. It was the worst U.S. school shooting since Columbine.

On Saturday, President Bush made his first public comments on the shooting, praising a security guard credited with saving some students by confronting Weise. Bush said he and First Lady Laura Bush were praying for the victims and that federal agencies were providing help to the Red Lake community.

Saturday's service for Lussier and Sigana lasted more than five hours. It took more than two hours for everyone in the Red Lake Humanities Center to file past the caskets for a final viewing. Throughout the viewing, several men gathered around a single large drum kept up a rhythmic beat and sang.

Lussier, dressed in his police uniform, had an eagle father placed in his hands; an American flag, a teddy bear, a couple of cigarettes and his police badge also were in the casket. In Sigana's casket was a ceramic dish filled with cigarettes.

More than 100 police officers attended, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sens. Norm Coleman and Mark Dayton and Rep. Collin Peterson were there. Every seat in the community center - bleachers, cafeteria tables, freestanding chairs - was taken.

Flowers filled a stage behind the caskets; a cross and a large black quilt with a sunburst design shared the stage. On the wall behind were large American and Red Lake Nation flags.

Wealth is not measured in the value of a home, but in the strength of communities and families. Even in grief, I can see that the Red Lake Nation is one of Minnesota's wealthiest places.
- Gov. Tim Pawlenty

The Rev. Julius Beckerman, a local priest who knew Lussier, talked of the differences between Lussier - known to everyone around town only as "Dash" - and Sigana. Besides their age difference, Lussier was much larger, Beckerman noted.

"They didn't look alike, but they acted alike," Beckerman said. "They had a common spirit."

He offered comfort to the people pained by the pair's deaths: "God is forever," he said. "The Great Spirit ... is forever."

Pawlenty, in brief remarks, alluded to Red Lake's reputation as a place of poverty. Wealth is not measured in the value of a home, he said, but in the strength of communities and families.

"Even in grief, I can see that the Red Lake Nation is one of Minnesota's wealthiest places," he said.

Outside the community center, which shares space with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa's Seven Clans Casino, an electronic sign flashed a message: "Red Lake Nation sends heartfelt condolences to all family members of tragic event. We are one in our sorrow and in our love."

With the sun breaking through an overcast sky, the caskets were brought out through a corridor of police officers standing at attention. They were loaded onto horse-drawn carts to be taken for burial at St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Red Lake. Lussier's police SUV led the way, and a long procession of police vehicles followed horse drawn carts.

A third funeral Saturday, for 15-year-old shooting victim Chase Lussier, was delayed slightly as the service for Lussier and Sigana stretched on.

One of Chase's pallbearers, John Morris Jr., appeared as it neared an end, wearing a T-shirt with Chase's picture and the words "In memory of Beka."

"It was a nickname he had since he was just a little bitty guy," said Morris, who said he grew up with Chase, a cousin. "If you called him Chase, he'd get mad and say, 'Call me Beek."'

Chase was the kind of kid who tried to goof around and make people smile, said Morris, 19, now of Flandreau, S.D.

Morris said he had come to make sure the drummers would be on hand to start Chase's service the right way, he said. He described the drumming as comforting, saying it gets into the body.

"It's kind of like our heartbeat of what makes us go," he said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)