Sunday, July 21, 2019


Prosecutor: Dozens knew school shooter's plans

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Elbert White, father of shooting victim Thurlene Stillday of Ponemah, who was 15 at the time of the shooting talks with reporters after a meeting with U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger. At right is White's partner, Lisa Lyons. (MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)
At least 39 people at Red Lake may have known about gunman Jeff Weise's plan to attack Red Lake High School before it happened. That's what family members of the shooting victims learned Monday in an emotional meeting in Bemidji. About 40 people attended the two-and-a-half hour closed session with U. S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger. The families heard details about what happened during the shootings that left 10 people dead. Many family members left the meeting angry and frustrated.

Bemidji, Minn. — Only close family members of the victims were allowed in the meeting. They got a detailed description of what happened during the March 21st shootings. They say they were told by the U.S. Attorney that 16-year-old Jeff Weise had talked about going on a shooting rampage at the school since 2003.

Francis "Chunky" Brun, the father of slain school security guard Derrick Brun, says many at the meeting were frustrated to hear that nearly 40 people had advanced warning that Weise might shoot up the school.

"Yeah, it did surprise me," says Brun. "I knew that there was maybe a dozen or so that were friends of Jeff Weise. You know it's unfortunate that the guy took the coward's way out and killed himself rather than him tell his story and implicate whoever may have been involved."

Brun's wife, Barbara, said U.S. Attorney Heffelfinger told those gathered that four or five people had direct knowledge that Weise was planning an attack. She says many who lost loved ones in the shooting were frustrated to hear that none of those people could be charged with a crime, because it isn't a crime to be aware that a crime is going to be committed. Barbara Brun says for her, it was painful just to hear the shooters name mentioned.

"We don't talk about Jeff Weise when we get together, when we visit," she says. "We don't even mention his dirty name, because he hurt us too badly. And Heffelfinger... every other word is 'Jeffrey Weise this' and 'Jeffrey Weise' that."

Barbara Brun said she was hoping for some closure from the meeting. But she says she got no satisfaction.

"Oh, by far, no! No, no, no! None whatsoever. In fact, I'm going to be more upset when I go back home."

Talking with reporters after the meeting, U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelinger declined to give specifics about what was said to the group. He said he hoped the information he provided would put a stop to rumors that have been rampant on the reservation. He said the shooting investigation is closed and his office will not issue a public report. Heffelfinger says he wasn't surprised by the reactions from victims' families.

"I knew there would be high levels of emotion," he said. "And I knew that the range of emotion would run the typical human ranges of emotion in a highly emotional situation, which include anger, frustration, tears, for want of a better description, and there was all of those things."

Some people at the meeting were hoping for more answers about 17-year-old Louis Jourdain, who was the only person charged in connection with the shootings. Jourdain was not directly involved in the attack, but admitted exchanging threatening e-mails with Jeff Weise. Jourdain is the son of Red Lake tribal chairman Buck Jourdain. The boy was sentenced earlier this month, but details were kept secret because he's a juvenile.

For Lisa Lyons, the meeting brought a lot of painful memories to the surface. Lyons attended with her boyfriend, Elbert White. White is the father of one of the shooting victims, 15-year-old Thurlene Stillday. Still, Lyons was optimistic about the future at Red Lake.

"Something good is going to come out of this. It will," Lyons said. "Because our people are a strong nation, and there has to be something good that's going to come out of this, because behind every tragedy there's always a brighter tomorrow. I believe that."

Heffelfinger says he plans a similar meeting this morning with members of the Red Lake tribal council and a few school board members. That meeting will also be closed to the public.