RED LAKE, Minn. — In the aftermath of the tragic shooting by teenager Jeffrey Weise on the Red Lake Chippewa Reservation in Minnesota that left 10 people dead, the community has turned inwards to grieve and reflect on the horrific events. NBC News’ Kevin Tibbles reports from Red Lake on the mood among people living on the reservation today.
Can you describe the mood on the reservation?
The Red Lake Reservation is already a very isolated, small, tight-knit community, particularly because of its geographic location in northern Minnesota — it’s some 200-plus miles from Minneapolis-St. Paul. It is also one of the most stridently independent Indian nations in this state. They have their own independent police force, their own independent government and the people there strive to live apart essentially from the outside world.
When this shooting happened, as was seen at the vigil that was held outside of the hospital here, the community, of course, came together. But, as the community came together to grieve those who had died, it also closed itself off —- even more than before.
They don’t want outsiders coming onto the reservation. Journalists who are on the reservation are kept close to what they refer to as the "detention center" there. It’s the small sort of county jail and the police are there.
Anyone who comes to the reservation is directed to go to this one location. People who go off of that location — as we did yesterday attempting to go to the school, attempting to go to the grandfather’s house, or attempting to speak with people who live on the reservation — are going to be stopped by the police and given warning. If you do not follow their directions to return back to the media area, you will be escorted off of the reservation.
It’s a place that is openly grieving the loss, but has essentially closed itself from the outside world.
In terms of this being a tight-knit community, are there questions of guilt? Questions of how did we not notice this young man's problems and let this happen?
In an interview that we did with the boy’s aunt who lives in Minneapolis, she points to the community being isolated and being very traditional in many of its ways. She used the phrase that “kids are more often seen rather than heard.” So, a young person who perhaps was having difficulties, may not have been noticed or may not have been given the attention that he required.
This teenager, Jeffrey Weise, his father died tragically by committing suicide. His mother is now in a nursing home as a result of an accident and that same accident took the life of a cousin. So, it looks like Weise essentially was moved from Minneapolis to the reservation some time ago and may have had some issues with his new life — this new life, that was forced upon him by several traumatic incidents in his family.
I have not gathered any sense of guilt at all within the community. What I have gathered is absolute horror over the fact that this has happened there. I don’t think that anyone in this community, because of the fact that it is so isolated, ever could have imagined that this could happen to them.
Is there a sense that this incident is really a reflection of the outside world finally coming in?
That was actually said to us by the brother of one of those who was injured. He said, you know, you see these sorts of things on television, you see incidents like Columbine on television. But, never, ever, did we ever contemplate that something like this could happen here — in such a small corner of northern Minnesota.
What is next for the community?
The chairman of the tribal council, Floyd Jourdain, said they are arranging to have counselors come to the reservation. They say that many people are having difficulty dealing with their grief and counselors are going to be provided for people who are having trouble coping.
I am not sure when the school is going to re-open. But, today, teachers from the school are meeting at the school — I don’t know if they are talking to counselors or talking about what happens next. But, there is a meeting there today.
What was the community reaction to the idea of Weise being an adherent of Nazism? Where did that idea even come from? And what is the reaction to it?
Apparently, this young man had on numerous occasions — more than 40 times — visited a web site that is being described as a neo-Nazi web site.
On that web site, he was very critical of his tribe — saying that they were not maintaining racial purity to the standards that he thought they should. He also said that he identified with Hitler and he used the German word for “angel of death” to refer to himself. In one of his communications he said there were problems at school because some kids had said someone was going to shoot up the school and that the finger had been pointed at him.
Many of the people in the community said that this fellow kept to himself. Many said that he dressed rather oddly — he wore long, sort of duster coats, he had spiky hair, some people have identified that as being sort of “goth.”
Some kids have suggested to me that they were wary of him, some kids said that they were perhaps a little afraid of him and that they thought that he might do something, some day. But, no one thought that whatever it was he was capable of doing involved violence or that it would come to this.
Some students have suggested that people picked on him and made fun of him because of the way he dressed.
It’s such a small community that everyone knows everyone, and everyone knew who he was, but it’s clear that not too many people had much to do with him.
And of course, the flip side is that because everyone knows everyone, everyone knows someone who was involved in the shooting.
So, for that reason, the whole community is a very dark place to be right now.
Kevin Tibbles is an NBC News correspondent on assignment on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota.