March 28, 2005
Red Lake, Minn. — Services for the dead began on Saturday morning. Hundreds of mourners came to Red Lake to pay their respects to Michelle Sigana, 31, and her companion, Daryl Lussier, 58. Lussier was a Red Lake tribal police officer and grandfather to 16-year-old Jeff Weise. Police say Weise killed his grandfather and Sigana at their home. He then went to Red Lake High School and killed eight others, including himself.
Gov. Pawlenty, Sens. Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman, and about 150 police officers came to honor the two victims. The joint funeral for Lussier and Sigana lasted several hours.
A horse-drawn carriage took the two victims to their final resting place. Reporters were not allowed to attend the services, but singing and tribal drums could be heard from the Red Lake Humanities Building. The services were different than a conventional funeral. Mourners would leave the building, come back and then leave again.
Patrick Defoe took a break from the services for a few minutes. Defoe is Daryl Lussier's cousin. He says everyone in the community knew Lussier.
"He was a very well-respected man in the community. He will be missed a lot by a lot of people. In my mind he was a pillar in the community, and he will be greatly missed by everybody -- not only those in law enforcement but everybody in the community," according to Defoe.
As Defoe spoke, children were chasing each other around the side of the Humanities Building. A memorial for the victims was about a quarter mile up the road.
At one point, a bald eagle flew directly above the building where the services were being held. The bird circled in the air, climbing higher and higher until eventually flying off into the western sky.
The eagle has spiritual significance to the Red Lake band. Cheryl Thunder says it means the victims are in a good place.
"He'll carry the messages back to the other world. It never fails; if it's a ceremony, a pow wow, you'll always see an eagle no matter where you're at," Thunder says.
Thunder says she thinks it's important for the Red Lake students to get back to school as soon as possible. But many students and their relatives aren't so eager to go back. Jamie Pankow, 23, has two brothers who were at the school during the shootings. She says neither one wants to return to the place where their friends were killed.
Pankow also says some family members are reluctant to attend the funerals. She says one of her brothers decided against going to the funeral of his friend, Chase Lussier, 15, who was buried Saturday.
"I'm there for my brothers. My brothers were there. One of my brothers will not attend. He had said that he can't handle going to so many funerals at once, so he had already left town," Pankow said.
One student who did attend Chase Lussier's funeral was Rodney Defoe. He and Lussier played together on Red Lake's basketball team. Defoe was an honorary pall bearer at Lussier's funeral. He wore a T-shirt with Lussier's picture on it. Defoe says he also intends to continue attending Red Lake High School.
"I want to go back to school. Something just makes me want to go back to overcome it," Defoe said.
Private services for Thurlene Stillday, 15, were held on Sunday. Stillday was buried on her family's burial grounds on the reservation. Reports say she came from a big family and looked forward to doing good things in high school and beyond.
The sky above Lake Bemidji was streaked with pink clouds Sunday morning. Forty miles south of the Red Lake Reservation, the members of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Bemidji were doing their best to match those pastel colors in their Easter clothing. About 150 people attended the sunrise service and breakfast.
Pastor Hyle Anderson asked the members of the congregation to pray for the Red Lake community. Anderson was one of several clergy members who were called to the Bemidji hospital to provide comfort to those who were injured. The three boys who were admitted to North Country Regional Hospital in Bemidji have been released. Two students are still being treated at a Fargo hospital.
Anderson says he's been talking with his congregation about the tragedy. He says the violence might bring some much needed attention to the impoverished reservation.
"Some good is going to come out of this. I'm not sure what yet. But at least the country is much more aware of a place called Red Lake, and even perhaps the folks that live there. Just an awareness is going to be a good thing," Anderson said.
Others say they're deeply troubled by what happened. Lois Reierson took time from her Easter breakfast at Holy Trinity to talk about the shootings. Her daughter used to teach at a Red Lake school. Now her daughter and her daughter-in-law teach at Bemidji schools. Reierson says she's troubled by the violence depicted on television, the movies and the Internet.
"I just think that we, as parents and grandparents, probably have to start doing more with our children to know what they're doing and to bring them to church. I think that's an important thing," said Reierson.
Clergy at other churches also spoke of the incident during their Easter services.
Father Mike Patnode gave communion to several hundred people at The Church of St. Philip in Bemidji. During the mass, Patnode encouraged the congregation to show both moral and financial support to the Red Lake community. Envelopes for the Red Lake tragedy fund were placed at the end of every pew.
Patnode also told parishoners that Easter Sunday is a sign of rebirth. During his Easter sermon, he said the Red Lake tribe has become the victim of the violence of its time -- much like Jesus Christ was a victim of the violence of his time.
"The angel at the tomb today speaks to the afflicted and the unconsoled. Do not be afraid. Even now, Christ goes before you to Galilee and to Red Lake and to Bemidji," he said.
Patnode also encouraged the congregation to put aside differences they have with the Red Lake community. He says the recent violence should deepen non-Indians' respect for those who live on the reservation.
On Monday, services for Weise, Red Lake High School security guard Derrick Brun and student Alicia White, 14, will be held on the reservation. A funeral for Red Lake High School teacher Neva Rogers will be held in Bemidji.