A quiet anniversary for Red Lake
Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of the school shootings on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Teenage gunman Jeff Weise killed nine people that day before committing suicide.
Many tribal members spent the day quietly with family or friends. Some gathered at private memorial services or dinners held in honor of those who were killed.
Red Lake Indian Reservation — Ten red candles burn on the altar of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Red Lake, one candle for each of the people who died on March 21, 2005. Dozens of people gathered at St. Mary's to pay tribute to 28-year-old Derrick Brun, who was a security guard at the high school and the first person to die in the attack on the school.
Retired Pastor Bill Mehrkens lived in Red Lake for 12 years, just a block from where Derrick Brun grew up. Mehrkens said it's clear the one-year anniversary of the school shootings was difficult for many.
"Now it's time for us to accept healing. Healing from God, healing from one another and healing for the present and the future. There comes a time when hearts have to heal, even though they've been crushed," said Mehrkens.
Family and friends of Derrick Brun took turns stepping to the altar to talk about his life, and death.
One of the more moving tributes came from Red Lake High School social studies teacher Sheila Horn. Derrick Brun confronted Jeff Weise as he entered the Red Lake High School building, and Horn said the two gunshots that killed Brun alerted others and gave them enough time to flee to safety.
Horn was in the library with 20 students when those shots rang out. She's convinced Derrick Brun's heroic action saved her life and the lives of her and her students.
What happened that day forever changed her.
"I think most people who were in the school on March 21 were affected forever. I think we were all changed in a way that you can't turn back," said Horn. "Somebody who wasn't there is thinking, 'Oh, you know, it's time to just move on, it's time to go to the next step.' But that's not the way it happens. It turns your whole life upside down. It changes everything. And there's no turning back."
Following the church service, more than 100 people gathered at the Red Lake Humanities Center for a dinner in honor of Derrick Brun. Former Red Lake Tribal Chairman Bobby Whitefeather joined those paying respect.
"Definitely, it's bringing back some painful memories for a lot of people," said Whitefeather.
The past year has been difficult, according to Whitefeather, who believes the community has still not come to grips with the shootings and what caused them.
"There's a collective sense that there has to be a better understanding of exactly what happened here," said Whitefeather. "And maybe it's a symptom of a greater issue that we need to work together on. We have to at least start talking to one another about this tragedy openly."
The death of Derrick Brun has been hard for his dad to accept. Francis "Chunky" Brun said he was devasted by his son's death and still sheds tears a year later. He thinks getting beyond the anniversary of the shootings will help him heal.
There are many divisions on the reservation, according to Chunky Brun, who believes the shootings deepened those disagreements. Now that the one-year anniversary has passed, he hopes the Red Lake community will come together.
"Hopefully it will change. Hopefully a lot of us that have bitter pain in our hearts or even hatred for why people have to become this way, to want to take people's lives. I hope that from this anniversary, even people like me, I think there's hope for us. We've got to look past our differences and our downright hostilities towards one another and to accept the challenge that lies ahead of us," said Brun.
There were other memorial gatherings around the Red Lake Reservation Tuesday. Friends and family gathered at the Red Lake High School to remember Neva Rogers, the teacher who was killed by Jeff Wiese. Reporters were not allowed in the school.
There was also a private family dinner in Ponemah for another shooting victim, 15-year-old Chanelle Rosebear.
In Bemidji, some community members gathered at a local church to offer prayers and remember the Red Lake shooting victims.
At the state Capitol in St. Paul, Gov. Tim Pawlenty led a moment of silence. The governor urged people to continue offering comfort to the people of Red Lake.
- Morning Edition, 03/22/2006, 7:20 a.m.