Published on October 3, 2013 by Amy
Jeffrey James “Jeff” Weise (August 8, 1988 – March 21, 2005) was a student at Red Lake Senior High School in Red Lake, Minnesota, located within the Red Lake Indian Reservation of the Ojibwe people. He is known for having murdered a total of nine people in a shooting spree on March 21, 2005. He killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion before going to the reservation high school, where he murdered seven more people and wounded five others.
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Before Weise was born, his young parents separated, and Jeff lived mostly with his father and grandparents. From the age of three, he lived with his mother in the Minneapolis area; she later had two more children and married their father. When Weise was nine, his birth father committed suicide on the reservation; when he was eleven, his mother suffered severe brain damage in a car accident and had to be admitted to a nursing home. Weise was taken from his stepfather in Minneapolis and placed in the custody of his father’s family on the reservation. Weise lived primarily with his paternal grandmother and an aunt. Residents of the reservation have suffered high rates of unemployment and poverty, violence and suicide.
Weise struggled in school. In May and June 2004, Weise tried twice to commit suicide and was briefly hospitalized. He was under treatment for depression, and had been prescribed Prozac as an anti-depressant. His case revived the public discussion about the use of Prozac for children and adolescents; the US Food and Drug Administration had published a warning about it in October 2004 as a factor in increased suicides and violence among youths.
Jeffrey James Weise, called “Jeff,” was born in 1988 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the only child of 17-year-old Joanne Elizabeth Weise and 21-year-old Daryl “Baby Dash” Allen Lussier, Jr., an unmarried Ojibwe couple from the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota. The Ojibwe permit only their tribal members to live on the reservation, located in northwest Minnesota 250 miles north of Minneapolis; it is one of two “closed” reservations in the country. The couple separated before the boy was born.
In November 1988, Joanne’s parents forced her to give up three-month-old Jeff to the care of his father, who lived with his parents and family in Red Lake. In June 1991, when Jeff was nearly three years old, his mother Joanne reclaimed the boy. She took him to live in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. He later claimed in online postings that his mother was alcoholic, and had physically and emotionally abused him.
In 1992, Joanne Weise began dating Timothy Troy DesJarlait. He allegedly also abused Jeff. After having two children: a daughter Daphne, born in 1995, and son Sebastian, born in 1997, the couple married on June 27, 1998.
In 1993, Weise’s father “Baby Dash” Lussier married Roma Jean Ryan. Lussier, Jr. had worked for a time at the Chippewa Trading Post on the reservation and as a logger. On July 21, 1997, when Jeff was nine, his father committed suicide by shooting himself. He had been in a standoff with the Red Lake Police Department for some days in Red Lake. His father, Daryl “Dash” Lussier, Sr., a sergeant in the tribal police force, had tried to intervene but was unable to bring a peaceful end.
On March 5, 1999, when Jeff was eleven, his mother was in a car accident, in which a tractor-trailer crashed into the car which her cousin, Elizabeth May Jourdain, was driving. The women had been drinking mid-day. Jourdain died in the accident and Joanne Weise suffered such severe brain damage that she had to be committed to a nursing home in Bloomington, Minnesota. She has been unable to live independently. In 2000, Timothy DesJarlait separated from Joanne, and completed the divorce in May 2004. Their custody arrangements covered only the children they had together and not Jeff.
Following his mother’s accident, Jeff was placed in the custody and care of his paternal grandmother, Shelda (Gurneau) Lussier, on the Red Lake reservation. The boy had to leave Minneapolis, where he had lived for nearly nine years. His paternal aunts Shauna (also spelled Shawna in some accounts) and Tammy Lussier said they were also involved in his care; one lived with her child at their mother’s during this period.
Jeff’s grandmother Shelda and her husband Daryl “Dash” Lussier, Sr. were separated. He shared a house with his companion Michele Sigana and their son. Jeff became close to each of his grandparents. By 2003, his mother had moved to an assisted-living facility; she had recovered enough from her accident to work part-time, and had regained speech. Weise chose to stay with his grandmother Shelda Lussier rather than rejoin his mother and move again.
The Red Lake Indian Reservation of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa is relatively isolated in a rural area of northwest Minnesota; it is one of two reservations nationally that are “closed” by tribal decision: only Ojibwe tribal members may live there and own land. In 1934, the band refused to join with six other Ojibwe bands to form the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe; at the time, it wanted to retain traditional hereditary chiefs rather than form a democratically elected government.
Its residents suffer high rates of unemployment and resulting poverty, with related violence and suicide rates higher than the state average or on other reservations. Housing is poor, and many students do not finish high school. Logging timber on the reservation provides some jobs. Work opportunities are limited for the population of 5,125. The 2004 Minnesota School Study found that 43% of boys and 81% of girls in the freshman class of Red Lake High School had considered suicide, and 48% of the girls had tried it at least once.
Jeff’s close friend, Sky Grant, said that Weise did not participate in traditional activities on the reservation; for instance, he stayed away from pow-wows and never learned any dances or traditional skills.
Due to his disrupted family life, Weise attended numerous schools as a boy: Pearson Elementary School in Shakopee, Minnesota from kindergarten to fourth grade, Bluff Creek Elementary School in Chanhassen, Minnesota for fifth grade, and Red Lake Middle School for sixth through eighth grades. In 2001, Weise was forced to repeat the eighth grade because of failing grades and truancy; he enrolled in a special education program at the school called the Learning Center. Beginning in middle school, Weise was frequently taunted and bullied by other students.
Weise became close to his paternal grandfather, Daryl “Dash” Lussier, Sr., and his younger companion, Michele Sigana, who had given him his own room with them. The family said Weise had a good relationship with both.
In September 2003, Weise enrolled at Red Lake Senior High School in Red Lake. He was remembered as withdrawn by teachers and fellow students, and reportedly had a history of troublesome behavior. At times he was referred to be home schooled. His grandmother said he had not been in school for five weeks before the shooting.
But, his social studies teacher Wanda Baxter recalled, ” was a good listener like any other ordinary student. He was quiet but never a troublemaker.” Another teacher described Weise as “a pretty bright kid, but was lazy when it came to school.”
According to reports, Weise was teased by fellow students because of his physical appearance: he was six feet tall and 250 pounds; he dressed in all-black clothing with a full-length coat. He usually did not respond to their taunts. Weise said, “Because of my size and appearance people don’t give me as much trouble as they would if I looked weak.” Several students remember Weise as being non-violent. In addition, family member Patrick Tahwahah said that students knew about the suicide of Weise’s father and his mother’s being confined to a nursing home.
Cartera Hart, a sophomore, was a close friend of Weise, describing him as “the only one I talked to about my problems. He was trustworthy, and he was always capable of understanding what I was going through.” Other girls also said they could talk to him. Although Weise was sometimes described as a loner, several students said he had numerous friends. He had a notebook in which he drew what his close friend Sky Grant described as “evil and dark… stuff”.
Later Weise was found to have posted numerous online comments expressing his frustration with living in Red Lake, and feelings that his life was beyond his control. He described the reservation “as a place where people ‘choose alcohol over friendship,’ where women neglect ‘their own flesh and blood’ for relationships with men, where he could not escape ‘the grave I’m continually digging for myself’.”
His depression led to his attempting suicide in May 2004, when he cut his wrist. He changed his mind, deciding “this was not the path,” and posted his thoughts on the website, Above Top Secret:
“I had went through a lot of things in my life that had driven me to a darker path than most choose to take. I split the flesh on my wrist with a box opener, painting the floor of my bedroom with blood I shouldn’t have spilt. After sitting there for what seemed like hours (which apparently was only minutes), I had the revelation that this was not the path. It was my dicision (sic) to seek medical treatment, as on the other hand I could have chose to sit there until enough blood drained from my downward lascerations on my wrists to die.”
After he attempted suicide again the following month in June 2004, his aunts arranged with the Red Lake Medical Center for him to be hospitalized at a facility away from the reservation. His continuing treatment included counseling and a prescription for Prozac, an anti-depressant.
One source said that his doctor had increased his dosage in 2005 a week before the shooting, to 60 mg a day of Prozac. His grandmother said he had not seen the doctor since February 21. His aunts Shauna and Tammy Lussier were concerned about the increase in his dosage.
Weise’s murders and suicide reopened the public debate about Prozac use among children and adolescents. In October 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had issued a warning about its use because of its association with more thoughts and acts of suicide and violence. But, it was at the time the only anti-depressant approved for use with children.
In March 2004, during a school pep rally, Weise attracted attention by giving a Nazi salute while students were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. He was sent to a school counselor, whom he told of his extremist leanings and his admiration for Adolf Hitler. In April, the faculty at Red Lake Senior High School had been warned that there was a threat of someone “shooting up” the school on April 20, Hitler’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. Weise was a prime suspect but was cleared. Some sources say that he was expelled in October; others that he was recommended for “homebound schooling.” For the following five months, Weise was enrolled in a home-schooling program for children living on the reservation. Later people commented that this likely increased his emotional isolation.
Weise is believed to have posted messages on the Neo-Nazi Internet forum of the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party under the aliases NativeNazi and Todesengel (German for “angel of death”). The posts revealed his admiration for the race ideas of Hitler, and interests in persuading other Native Americans of their merits. He also was fascinated with the swastika.
In one post, dated July 13, 2004, Weise wrote:
“As a result of cultural dominance and interracial mixing there is [sic] barely any full blooded Natives left. Where I live less than 1% of all the people on the Reservation can speak their own language, and among the youth wanting to be black has run rampant…Under a National Socialist government, things for us would improve vastly… and that is why I am pro-Nazi.
Another post read:
“I try not to be aggressive in most situations, I’ll use force if I have to, but I’m not about to go out and pick a fight. I’m mostly defensive, I’ll defend myself if someone tries something but other than that I’m a peaceful person.”
The posts were dated eleven months prior to the shooting.
On March 21, 2005, Weise killed a total of nine people. He first killed his grandfather, 58-year-old Daryl Allen Lussier, Sr., and Lussier’s companion, 31-year-old Michelle Leigh Sigana. Later he shot and killed seven people at Red Lake Senior High School, including a security guard, one teacher, and five students. He shot and wounded five other students. After briefly exchanging fire with police officers who arrived at the school, Weise was wounded. He committed suicide via shotgun.
In the search for motives, Lorene Gurneau, related to Jeff Weise’s paternal grandmother, said she and other family thought the youth had never gotten over his father’s suicide. He suffered from his mother’s alcohol abuse and her absence after severe injuries in her car accident, another kind of parental loss. He never lived with her again.
The extended Lussier family had been involved for years in trying to help him, and arranged for Weise to have care and psychiatric treatment for depression. Dr. Leslie Lundt, a psychiatrist, has commented that a parent’s suicide put individuals at high risk for psychological problems, as does alcohol abuse in the family.
According to reports, Weise spent great amounts of time online. In online posts, he frequently discussed zombies, under the pseudonym “Blades11.” He posted a short story, “Surviving the Dead,” on the Writers Coven forum. It includes a detailed description of a school massacre from the perspective of a victim, combining it with the theme of zombies. (He sets the story in Grover’s Mill, Minnesota, which is reminiscent of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, the site of a fictional landing of aliens in the radio version of War of the Worlds, broadcast in 1939 starring Orson Welles). Weise also posted at Above Top Secret.com.
Another website he frequented was The Official Mars Website, the online headquarters for the San Francisco Bay Area horrorcore rapper Mars. Users are encouraged to post about music, murder, and suicide on its forums. Weise was described by friends and family as an obsessed fan of both horrorcore music and Mars.
Weise created violent Flash animations and posted them on the Internet (including Newgrounds) using the alias “Regret.” One animation, entitled Target Practice, depicts an individual who shoots three people with an assault rifle, blows up a police car with a grenade, and fatally shoots a Ku Klux Klan member. It ends when the character shoots himself with a handgun. The animation is accompanied by the sounds of rapid gunfire.
A reviewer of the animation on Newgrounds wrote, “Umm… ok. Was that like a warning message? Hmm dude you need help badly,” to which Weise replied,
“Lol, you obviously can’t tell the difference between Fantasy and reality. This cartoon was made for nothing more than Random violence, and believe it or not there’s an audience out there that this appeals to. So don’t try judging my Mental health based upon a simple animation, capisce?”
Weise’s Newgrounds profile noted that two of his favorite films were Elephant (2003) and Zero Day, which were both based on the Columbine High School massacre.
Weise’s other animation on Newgrounds was “Clown,” in which a clown devours a young man’s head while the song “Even in Death” by the gothic metal band Evanescence played; the scene is less than a second. Weise was briefly part of a defunct animation website known as Anitude, where he created an unfinished crime series featuring violent gangsters, but his work was overlooked due to more notable animators.
A LiveJournal account, apparently created by Weise, contained three entries from December 2004 through January 2005. Weise expressed a desire for change and salvation. In January 2005, he told of feeling very dark.
After the murders and Weise’s suicide, in April 2005, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa distributed 15 grants to families of victims and people affected by the shootings from a memorial fund that received $200,000 in donations from across the country. They gave $5,000 as a victim’s-aid grant to Weise’s relatives, to help pay for the youth’s funeral and burial. Although some people objected, a tribal leader said Weise’s relatives had a “double burden.”