BEMIDJI, Minn. – With their school still a crime scene, officials at a Minnesota high school reached out to students traumatized in the wake of the nation's worst school shooting in six years.
"Kids, if you're out there listening, please, we'll be there for you. Come back to school and we'll get through this together," Red Lake High School (search) Principal Chris Dunshee said. "Please, let us help you."
Authorities were still trying to determine what caused 16-year-old Jeff Weise (search) to go on a shooting rampage that began at his grandfather's house and ended at Red Lake High School. Nine people were killed, seven were wounded before the gunman apparently shot himself.
Many students saw their friends shot, or heard gunshots and screams as Weise made his way through the halls, firing multiple shots. Some students said they saw dead bodies in the hall, and trails of blood as they evacuated the school.
"First and foremost, we've got to be focused on getting our kids through this," Dunshee told KSTP-TV. "They're good kids. They don't deserve this."
The school was to remain closed Wednesday, as Dunshee and others assessed what kind of counseling the students in this tight-knit community would need.
Dunshee said many of his colleagues have offered support and encouragement, including Scott Staska, the superintendent of the Cold Spring school district where two students were killed in September 2003. A 15-year-old student is suspected in the slayings.
Dunshee said Staska told him "we belong to a rather exclusive and undesirable club now — and we can get through it." Staska recommended Dunshee investigate grants that may be available to schools affected by such incidents.
Paul Fleckenstein, a mental health leader with the American Red Cross (search), said the organization is out in the community asking questions, learning about American Indian traditions and assessing what the families need as they deal with such a loss.
"We are being particularly sensitive to the needs and the traditions of the community," Fleckenstein said.
It was the nation's deadliest school shooting since the Columbine High School (search) massacre in April 1999, which ended with the deaths of 12 students, a teacher and the two teen gunmen.
The Red Lake killings began at the home of Weise's grandfather, Daryl Lussier, 58, a tribal police officer who was shot to death with a .22-caliber gun, according to the FBI's Michael Tabman. Also killed was Lussier's companion, Michelle Sigana.
Weise then drove his grandfather's squad car to the school, where he gunned down security guard Derrick Brun, 28, at the door and spent about 10 minutes inside, targeting people at random, authorities said.
Hearing the shots, students and adults barricaded themselves into offices and classrooms and crouched under desks. A teacher and five students were shot to death. Two 15-year-olds remained in critical condition with gunshot wounds to the face.
"Right now we are in utter disbelief and shock," said Floyd Jourdain Jr., chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.
The reservation is about 240 miles north of the Twin Cities. It is home to the Red Lake Chippewa Tribe (search), one of the poorest in the state. According to the 2000 census, 5,162 people lived on the reservation, and all but 91 were Indians.
Authorities were investigating whether Weise, who dressed in black and wrote stories about zombies, may have posted messages on a neo-Nazi Web site expressing admiration for Adolf Hitler.
Using the handle "Todesengel" — German for "Angel of Death" — the writer identified himself as Jeff Weise of the Red Lake Reservation. In April 2004, he referenced being accused of "a threat on the school I attend," though it says he was later cleared.
Tabman said Tuesday he couldn't confirm whether Weise was the person who made the postings.
School board member Kathryn Beaulieu said Weise had been placed in the school's Homebound program for a policy violation. She did not elaborate.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty expressed his condolences for the families of the victims and said it appeared the school had "very rigorous security."
"It looks like you had a very disturbed individual who was able to overcome a lot of precautions to do a lot of damage," the governor said.
At the Capitol in St. Paul, several hundred people attended a prayer ceremony for the victims. Religious leaders joined Indians in drumming and chanting.
"Once again our people have been hit... but our people are strong," said Ona Kingbird, a Red Lake tribal member. "We'll come out of it."