As officials piece together the evidence in Monday’s shooting at Red Lake High School, those who knew distraught teen shooter Jeff Weise have begun to ask how they could have missed so many warning signs.
Weise created bloody Flash cartoons of murders, wrote violent fiction about a school shooting, favored a style of dress that mimicked that of the Columbine High School killers, made suicide threats and a posted a chilling message in an online fiction forum in February, saying he might “disappear unexpectedly.”
In the months leading up to Monday’s shooting, in which Weise killed nine others and then himself, the distraught teen obsessed over death, shared his macabre drawings of skeletons and figures with bullet holes in their heads with fellow students and wrote often of his feelings of being trapped.
“I feel like a child in the middle of a dark abyss right now,” Weise wrote in November, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “The world seems very chaotic. I think life is the best soap opera there is … and the producers are about to bust out their most ‘entertaining’ plot lines.”
A crudely drawn animated movie titled “Target Practice” surfaced Wednesday on thesmokinggun.com, posted under the name “regret.” It shows four people being shot and a police car blown up with a grenade before the shooter puts the gun in his mouth. Another, titled “Clown,” involves a clown strangling a person.
Weise wrote of being “pegged … as a school shooter” last year on the conspiracy site abovetopsecret.com, according to the Star-Tribune, which also reported that Weise posted a short story about surviving a school shooting on another site. In yet another disturbing tie to the 1999 Columbine killings in Colorado, Weise illustrated his profile page on yet another Web site with a still from the Gus Van Sant movie “Elephant,” a drama based on the shootings at the Colorado school.
In December 2003, on a site called the Writer’s Coven, Weise posted a story about a shooting spree that featured a character dressed in black and a teacher with a Hitler-like mustache, according to The New York Times. Like Monday’s shootings, in which Weise shot and killed an unarmed guard at the school (see “FBI: Minnesota Shooter Acted Alone, Chose Victims At Random” ), one of the fictional victims was a school security guard, whose throat had been “ripped out, replaced by a bloody mass of torn tissue.” He also wrote that, “in the distance, somewhere else in the school, the sound of a blood-curdling scream echoed through the hallways.”
“The clues were all there,” Weise’s step-aunt, Kim DesJarlait, told the Times. “Everything was laid out, right there, for the school or the authorities in Red Lake to see it coming. I don’t want to blame Red Lake, but did they not put two and two together? This kid was crying out, and those guys chose to ignore it. They need to start focusing on their kids.”
One of the reasons why so many people might have missed the clues to Weise’s growing distress is that many on the Red Lake reservation — where 2000 Census numbers indicate nearly 40 percent of residents live at or below the poverty line — did not have access to computers, according to the Times report. They could not have seen the vast online trail of clues Weise left on the Internet, where the teen found an anonymous world in which he could express his grief and rage and find acceptance.
“We may need people to be more aware,” Red Lake High School principal Chris Dunshee told the Times. “But I think most of us felt like this was a troubled young man, and someone whose problems we felt like we were addressing.”
Weise, who had been left back several grades, wore dark eye makeup and a large black trenchcoat, and, at six feet tall and 250 pounds, towered over many of his smaller classmates. In a school picture from this year, an unsmiling Weise is seen all in black, his hair pulled up into a pair of devil’s horns. But fellow students who saw Weise’s violent drawings said they didn’t think the teen was dangerous, but just a bit odd and misguided (see “Minnesota Shooter’s Friend Says He Warned Her Of Attack” ).
Even those who embraced Weise in cyberspace, though, showed some concern for his violent imagery. When the teen posted the animated movie of the shooting rampage on newgrounds.com in October, one member wrote, “Was that like a warning message? Hmm dude you need help badly.” Weise, posting as “regret,”
responded, “You obviously can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality …
Don’t try judging my mental health based upon a simple animation, capisce?”
Weise shared his mental-health problems with his online community often, admitting to cutting his wrists and being placed on antidepressant medication. In a Yahoo profile in which he used the name verlassen4_20 — a combination of Hitler’s birthday (April 20) with a German word meaning “forsaken” or “abandoned” — Weise wrote that his nickname was Totenkopf, the German word for “death’s head” or “skull,” according to the Times. An altered picture next to his profile featured Weise with monster’s teeth and hollow eyes.
In the Yahoo profile, last updated in June 2004, Weise reported that he was on medication, seeing a therapist and had “a brand new pair of cuts on my wrists.” He listed as his favorite quote, attributed to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, as, “The law of existence requires uninterrupted killing … So that the better may live.”
The FBI has not verified that all the postings are indeed from Weise, but at least one administrator of an online forum told the Times that a number of private messages received from Weise showed stark signs of problems. In them, Weise said his mother drank heavily and “hit me with anything she could get her hands on” prior to the car accident that left her brain-damaged and confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home.
“I have friends, but I’m basically a loner inside a group of loners,” Weise wrote, according to the administrator. “I’m excluded from anything and everything they do. I’m never invited. I don’t even know why they consider me a friend or I them.”
In a journal he kept on the blog site livejournal.com under the title “Thoughts of a Dreamer,” he openly spoke of suicide in January, according to reports.
“Right about now I feel as low as I ever have,” he wrote. “I’m starting to regret sticking around. I should’ve taken the razor blade express last time around. Well, whatever, man. Maybe they’ve got another shuttle comin’ around sometime soon … I think it takes a lot of courage to accept death. It takes courage to turn the gun on yourself, takes courage to face death. Knowing you’re going to die and actually following through takes heart. I don’t care who you are.”
In a February 6 posting in an online fiction forum, Weise posted an even starker warning that things were “kind of rocky right now so I might disappear unexpectedly,” according to the Times.
If you ever see a student carrying a weapon or hear talk of plans for violence, you can anonymously call (866) SPEAK-UP toll free and the tip will be forwarded to the proper local authorities.
For more information, see “How You Can Help Prevent Another School Shooting” .