March 27, 2005
Red Lake, Minn. — It was a sad weekend on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Skies turned gray and gloomy. It was an appropriate backdrop for the funerals of three of the shooting victims.
People are remembering them now. Some family and friends can talk about the victims of the shooting. They recall stories, favorite times. Relatives want those who've been lost to be remembered as individuals -- young people who liked to hunt or fish, surf the Internet, sing or dance.
One of the young victims was a father. People at Red Lake say all of the victims had one thing in common: courage.
When a young person dies, there is anger. No one can explain why these kids were killed. The survivors are left to cope with frustration and anger.
Larry Stillday, an Ojibway elder, says efforts to ease the Red Lake Nation's pain must reach out to survivors of the shooting and their families. They must also reach out to the family of Jeff Wiese, the young man who authorities say shot and killed 10 people, including himself.
"Remember, these are still our relatives; they still live with us and they need to heal just as,equally as we all need to heal," Stillday says.
It seems some people are already doing that. Outside Red Lake High School, tributes that take the form of a memorial. Posters made of paper hearts are tied to a fence. White crosses bear the names of victims. Some people find solace contributing to the memorial. Others find comfort from more traditional forms.
Patrick Defoe lost five relatives in the shootings, including Jeff Wiese.
"I've forgiven him," he says. "That's a step. That's a first step: forgiving. And I have forgiven him. There are circumstances that led up to this and we don't know; we'll never know. We'll come together, we'll make it."
It's often difficult to resolve the anger over a violent act. But there are times when anger can be transformed. Father Bill Mehrkens, is a retired priest. Locals call him Father Bill. For more than a decade, Father Bill was the parish priest in Red Lake. He believes all violence is stupid, but he says in this case, anger may have a positive result.
"Anger can motivate us to the do the best we can to change something and not let it happen again if possible. And this anger can maybe push us to do even more to heal young people," he says.
Members of a Red Cross disaster relief team are in Red Lake at the invitation of the tribe. Alan Brankline, who is assisting counselors on the reservation, has spoken with kids who were at the school, and visited with teachers and the police officers who responded to the incident.
He says the children of Red Lake are looking to the adults for cues on how to respond. He believes the adults in the community are reacting in a positive way.
"They're getting the signals that, 'I'm here. I'm going to make it safe for you and I'm going to be here for you. And I'm living this with you, I'm taking this journey with you.' And that's very powerful," according to Brankline.
Blankline says it's impossible to put a timeline on recovery. Everyone reacts differently. But he is encouraged by the early signs and is hopeful.