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Louis Jourdain sentenced for threatening messages involving Red Lake gunman

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Buck Jourdain, left, with his son Louis, in a family photo from 2004. (MPR file photo)
The only person to be charged in connection with the school shootings at Red Lake last March, was sentenced behind closed doors Friday. Louis Jourdain, 17, the son of Red Lake Tribal Chairman Buck Jourdain, faced charges stemming from the March 21, 2005, school shootings on the reservation.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Last March, Jeff Weise killed nine people and wounded seven before killing himself in a classroom at Red Lake High school. A few days later, his friend and cousin, Louis Jourdain, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Federal prosecutors dropped the conspiracy charge, and Jourdain pled guilty to sending threatening messages over the Internet.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank sentenced Jordain Friday, but barred the public from the courtroom, and sealed the sentence so it could not be made public.


Red Lake Tribal Chairman Buck Jourdain attended the proceeding, but declined to say what sentence was imposed. He did say the sentence supports his contention that his son is a good kid caught up in a bad situation.

"This entire ordeal has been extremely difficult for my family, and Red Lake in general," Jourdain said. "The judge's ruling will reflect what I've said all along ... my son is a good kid."

Jourdain sped off into a Minneapolis skyway, chased by television cameras. He refused additional comment.

Meanwhile, one of the shooting victims waited in the courthouse lobby. Steven Cobenais lost his left eye when a bullet ripped through his face. He and his family were in Minneapolis for a doctor's appointment, and they hoped to hear Jourdain's sentence.

The attorneys involved left without comment, but the Cobenais family directed their frustration at Chairman Buck Jourdain.

"I don't understand why he can't come and tell us," said Lee Ann Cobenais Thunder, Steven's mother. "I mean, it was closed upstairs, but he's walking out right now, so why can't he tell us?"

Steven Cobenais said he held Louis Jourdain partly responsible for the shootings, and hoped he would go to prison "because of what he did to us kids and all of our friends."

The secrecy that typically surrounds juvenile court proceedings is frustrating for many Red Lake residents.

Francis "Chunky" Brun says he won't rest until he knows more facts about what led to the shootings. Brun's 28-year-old son, Derrick, was a security guard at the school and was among the first to die in the shooting.

Francis Brun says if Louis Jourdain knew what Jeff Weise was planning, he should have told somebody. And Brun suspects others may have known about Weise's plan.

"There will always be a cloud of suspicion in my mind that it could have been prevented, you know?" said Brun. "There will always be some sense of my not really coming to grips with the fact that he was so friendly with this Jeff Weise."

Brun, who said he is thinking about running against Jourdain in the next tribal election, says he got a letter saying U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger would meet with the families of Weise's victims on Jan. 30.

The letter said Heffelfinger wouldn't be able to disclose full details of the case against Jourdain. Only a limited number of direct family members would be allowed to attend.

Heffelfinger told The Associated Press the sentencing would not be revealed at that time, saying everything at Friday's hearing is confidential.

"The court has reminded the father that these are confidential matters, but the court has no authority over Chairman Jourdain," Heffelfinger said.

Many at Red Lake want to know more about the outcome of the Jourdain case, as well as the conversations he had with Jeff Weise. Anita Fineday, a tribal judge on the White Earth and Leech Lake reservations, says the lack of details will probably frustrate people and lead them to speculate.

"I think the community needs to go through some kind of a healing process to kind of get some answers," says Fineday. "I'm sure those parents, those family members would like to know what really happened. And by all of it being behind closed doors, I don't know if they ever will."


Some of Louis Jourdain's closest friends never backed away from supporting him. High school student Jim King is Jourdain's neighbor and cousin. King says he has spoken with Jourdain by phone several times a week since the boy was arrested, a week after the shootings. He even made and gave away t-shirts that read "Free Louie."

I'm sure those parents, those family members would like to know what really happened. And by all of it being behind closed doors, I don't know if they ever will.
- Tribal Judge Anita Fineday

King says he thinks all of the charges against Jourdain should have been dropped.

"They need someone to blame for this, because the guy who did it is dead. So they have to get the closest person to him. And who does that happen to be? It's Louis," says King.

Jim King says Jourdain may have said some stupid things over the Internet, but he says lots of kids do that. King says Jourdain never intended to hurt anyone.

King describes shooter Jeff Weise as someone who pushed his beliefs on others. He says he believes Weise tried to force the idea of shooting up the school onto Jourdain.

"For Louis, all that was was just talk. That's all it was. If anyone knows Louis, he's just a lot of talk," says King. "Louis even told Jeff, 'Don't talk about that to me. I don't want to hear it.' And at the time of the shooting they were actually feuding over that."

King says some people on the reservation wanted Louis Jourdain to be severely punished.

"There's a few of them people who say, 'Keep him locked up, he's guilty, he's guilty.' You know, but I just ignore them, because they have no idea who Louis really is," says King. "Who is he? He's a shy kid who wouldn't hurt anybody. He wouldn't conspire to kill a mass amount of people. He wouldn't conspire to hurt anybody."


Red Lake Tribal Chairman Buck Jourdain has said his son accepts responsibility for his own actions, but was not responsible for the March 21 shootings. Jourdain has hinted that more information will come out about what happened at Red Lake.

The chairman has gotten support from many tribal members as he and his family dealt with the trauma of having their son accused and in jail. It's unclear whether that support will still be there if Jourdain seeks reelection in May.

Bill Lawrence, publisher of the Native American Press newspaper, is a frequent and outspoken critic of Jourdain's administration. He says the school shooting is becoming a political issue that will hurt Buck Jourdain.

"I sympathize with him as a father, and certainly he's got to protect his son and do whatever he can, but I think he's paying a political price for it," says Lawrence. "I think people on Red Lake now feel he's devoting too much time and too much effort to that. And he's neglected his duties as chairman."

It's unclear whether Louis Jourdain will return to his home on the Red Lake Reservation when he's released. Bill Lawrence says that would be difficult.

"When and if he does come back, there's going to be a lot of resentment," says Lawrence. "You have a lot of families there, a lot of the victims' families, and it's hard forgiving and forgetting when you lose a child, in this manner or any manner, actually. I just foresee a huge problem for him if he goes back to the reservation at any time."

Jim King says he doesn't have a clue whether his buddy Louis Jourdain will come back to Red Lake. He says Louis had spent part of his incarceration in a juvenile facility in Rochester, although officials at that facility refused to confirm or deny Jourdain's presence there. King says Jourdain told him he's had mixed feelings about whether he wants to return to Red Lake.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)