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Five years later: Red Lake Nation changed forever

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Nine minutes on the school clock -- 35 shots -- eight killed.

March 21, 2005, was a day of horror for the people of the Red Lake Nation. A day that truly lives in infamy.

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Today is the fifth anniversary of the day 16-year-old Jeff Weise walked into the Red Lake High School a little before 3 p.m., gunned down security guard Derrick Brun and continued on his deadly journey along the halls.

This is a day for remembrance and mourning for a community still carrying the scars of that terrible time.

The roster of the dead started with Weise's grandfather, Daryl Lussier, and his partner, Michelle Sigana, the two Weise killed first at their home. Their deaths added to those killed at the school to bring the total to 10 altogether.

Killed at the school, in addition to Brun, were Dwayne Lewis, 15; Chase Lussier, 15; Chanelle Rosebear, 15; Alicia Spike, 14; Thurlene Stillday, 15; teacher Neva Rogers; and Weise, who at the last, turned his gun on himself.

Wounded were Ryan Auginaush, Steven Cobenais, Lance Crowe, Jeffrey May and Cody Thunder, all 15.

In the days and weeks that followed March 21, 2005, grief and its trappings -- wakes, funerals, burials -- unfolded, along with the onslaught of media attention, much of it unwelcome.

George Stowe, who was director of the North Star Chapter of the American Red Cross at the time, expressed another legacy of that shocking day.

He echoed the impression of all of us who spent time with the people of Red Lake after the disaster. We were all uplifted by their courage and community spirit, how families wrapped their arms around each other and offered what comfort they could.

"The greatest gift I received was being able to observe the human spirit overcome adversity and triumph over tragedy," Stowe said in announcing his retirement last month. "I have the greatest admiration for the people of the Red Lake Nation. The dignity and support of one another was inspiring."

Brun died a hero. Unarmed and the first line of defense for the school where he himself had been a student, he stood off Weise giving others time to take whatever safety measures they could. He chose a warrior's death. Ogichadaa.

May has also been honored as a hero, putting his friends' safety ahead of his own as bullets flew across the school. May struggled with Weise and tried to stab him with a pencil.

"He wasn't one to turn his back," said his brother, Shane, a couple of months later. "He wanted to help."

"He just told me he did his best," May's mother, Jodi May, said. "He tried to prevent a few (students) from getting shot."

May took a bullet in the face during the shooting as he tried to fend off Weise.

Red Lake High School has been renovated, repainted and reconfigured to erase the scene of terror.

But the post traumatic stress remains; the lives ripped out of the community fabric are still mourned.

Nevertheless, in some ways the response of the Red Lake Nation to the worst tragedy in recent history was their finest hour -- and an example to communities everywhere.

Molly Miron is editor of the Bemidji Pioneer

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