Families gather to commemorate lives of loved ones
RED LAKE -- For the Red Lake Nation, the date March 21 echoes as definitively as does Sept. 11 for the nation as a whole.
Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the afternoon when student Jeff Weise, 16, opened fire at Red Lake High School, killing seven people before taking his own life. Prior to the shooting rampage at the school, Weise killed his grandfather, Daryl "Dash" Lussier, and his grandfather's girlfriend, Michelle Sigana, at their home in Red Lake.
Families remembered their losses in the traditional Ojibwe manner on Tuesday, with memorial feasts to mark the end of a year's mourning. The Red Lake Tribal Council declared Tuesday a Day of Remembrance and requested flags be flown at half staff. In a press release, the Tribal Council also announced that no communitywide events would commemorate the tragedy, leaving the families of victims to observe the anniversary privately.
The Tribal Council also issued a press release declaring that the school and schoolgrounds were off limits to the media. School was open, but no classes were scheduled, and tribal offices were closed.
Range of emotions
For some, Tuesday was a day to look back on months of healing. For others the tragedy is still too hauntingly close.
Vern Sargent noted the overwhelming support Red Lake received from neighboring communities and around the country in response to the shooting. He also said the tragedy brought members of the Red Lake Nation closer together.
However, said he said he still can't sleep well, and his 7-year-old son, Gerald, hasn't been able to return to school. Instead, he is home-schooled. Sargent said Gerald always sat on the school bus beside Thurlene Stillday, a 15-year-old student who died in the shooting.
"He didn't realize she had gone until he rode the bus for three days and she wasn't there," Sargent said.
He said he and his son needs much more time for healing.
"I wish I could fast-forward 10 years, but I can't," he said.
Barbara Brun, mother of Derrick Brun, the school security guard killed during the shooting, said everyone grieves differently.
"Like with me, I felt going back to work right away would help," she said. Barbara is a contract specialist for the Red Lake government.
"Keeping busy helps," she said. "I work with a lot of nice people. They helped me."
She said just standing outside tribal headquarters and having people greet her and ask how she was faring helped. Coming home to her family and keeping her son's photo at her bedside also are comforts, Barbara said.
"We never forget our loved ones. Never," she said. "They're always with us in our minds and hearts."
St. Mary's Mission held a week of memorial prayers from March 12-19. The church kept lighted 10 candles, symbolizing the victims, including Weise.
"Their names were given and a prayer for each one," said Sister Stephen Kurpiers, a teacher at St. Mary's Mission School. She said students and parents spent Tuesday making memorial crosses and attending services.
A memorial service was also held for Derrick Brun at St. Mary's on Tuesday. Following the service, his family and friends gathered at the Humanities Center for a feast of walleye, turkey, ham, wild rice and other hot dishes.
"The church was comfortably full and there was a good spirit," said Rev. Pat Sullivan. "It was difficult, but good."
Sullivan led the memorial service along with Revs. Bill Mehrkens, Julius Beckerman and Meinrad Dindorf, all former priests at St. Mary's.
Vicky Brun read a eulogy and Sheila Horn, Red Lake High School librarian, described Derrick's bravery in engaging Weise and giving her time to lock the library door to keep the 25 students there safe.
"Everything seemed so senseless at the time, but the words of Sheila Horn give a powerful meaning and witness to Derrick's brave and valiant stand," said Sullivan. "His death was not in vain. I think today has revealed to me the deep spirit and growth that has taken place in the past months."
Vicky said her brother's stand also provided the seconds students in the hallway needed to disperse.
Another living memorial to Derrick Brun is a 5-month-old baby boy family members passed around in admiration and joy during the memorial feast.
His mother, Lindsay Johns, said she had a doctor's appointment at 4 p.m. on March 21, 2005. That was about an hour after her uncle, Derrick Brun, was shot to death, but Lindsay hadn't heard the terrible news.
When she told her grandfather -- Derrick's father, Francis "Chunky" Brun, that she was pregnant, she said he hugged her. "He said, 'Can you name him Derrick if he's a boy?'" Lindsay recalled. "When one life's taken another comes in, and I thought, 'This is Derrick.'"
For the celebration, family members wore commemorative black-and-gold T-shirts -- "In loving memory of Derrick B. Brun 9/28/76 - 3/21/05," printed with an Indian Police Academy Class of '99 logo Derrick designed. They looked at photos of Derrick from when he was a baby closely resembling his 5-month-old namesake, Derrick Smith, to just before he died at age 28. They also read the Congressional Record citing Derrick's bravery and deploring the loss of life, as well as the Minnesota Public Safety Service Award for Valor.
Derrick's cousin, Ramona Bailey, said her large family has experienced many deaths, but they hold together and celebrate happy times as much as they can.
"You can't draw on sadness," she said. "There's too much good in life. We have to have happy family times, too."