This afternoon, the Waseca School District called an afternoon meeting in an attempt to allay fears after it was announced that a student of Waseca High School had planned to go on a killing spree. John LaDue, 17, was arrested at a storage facility where police found materials to make explosives. When LaDue was taken into the police station, he told police that he had a plan to kill his sister and his parents, then to go to the Waseca Junior/ Senior high school, kill the resources staff, the police liaison and as many students as he could.
LaDue’s plan was detailed, and involved the use of firearms as well as explosives. He had multiple handguns as well as an assault rifle and 400 rounds of ammunition. In preparation for the event, he had set off practice incendiary devices at the playground of the local middle school. Police discovered these devices when the snow started to melt in late March. After LaDue’s arrest, police searched his room at his parents’ home and found the guns as well as three working bombs. The bomb squad was alarmed at the amount of bomb materials that they had also found at the storage space during the time of his arrest.
LaDue was obsessed with school shootings in general and with Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold specifically. LaDue believed that he would have been killed by a SWAT team after he had succeeding in killing as many people as he could. Originally, LaDue planned to carry out his killing spree on March 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shootings. When he realized that March 20 was Easter Sunday and there would be no school, he put off his plans, and police say from the evidence that they found they believe the incident would have occurred within the next two weeks if LaDue had not been arrested.
Students will return to Waseca schools on Monday morning, and school representatives have already implemented new security procedures. At Hartley Elementary, there is a new machine that will swipe the driver’s licenses of incoming visitors. There are also new surveillance cameras at the visitor’s entrance and a button that employees can press to alert the police to an emergency. But will any of these efforts help to prevent future violence? When LaDue placed the practice bombs in the playground of Hartley Elementary School, he never went inside the school building, so the visitor precautions would not have helped. Chances are, when he put the bombs on the ground he just looked like a teenager hanging out in a playground. These security systems would also do very little good if installed in the high school. If we have learned nothing from the multiple school shootings that have occurred in past two decades, it should be that it is not the visitors or the strangers that we need to fear. These assaults are coming from the students themselves. One plan that does have merit is a future training session from Homeland Security and a role-play of an active shooter situation to help prepare staff. Yet one of the more frightening elements of LaDue’s plan was that he was going to set a fire in a rural area to distract first responders, which would have given him more time to kill more people.
School officials say that LaDue had been on their radar for some time. But it wasn’t until a neighbor reported him to the police that he was taken into custody. Chelsie Shellhaus saw LaDue cut through her backyard and head for a locked storage unit. She said that his behavior seemed suspicious, especially that he spent ten minutes inside the unit and then left. But what exactly was suspicious? In actuality, a person going into a storage unit for ten minutes is not unusual at all. Many people use storage units and it can take them ten minutes to find the item that they are looking for. Storage units are commonly used during changes of season, when people need to gather items that they haven’t used in a while. It is more likely that Shellhaus was responding to her instincts which told her that something was amiss. We are all lucky that she did so, and if nothing else, this story should teach us all to respect that inner voice that tells us when something just isn’t right. Homeland Security advises its employees to pay attention when the hair stands up on the back of their neck. Yet most of us are so afraid of making a mistake, of wrongly accusing someone that we ignore our instincts and intuition. When we feel this way, it is important to remind ourselves that a call to the police is not a life sentence for the person that we suspect.
Police have advised local Neighborhood Watch groups that there are three things that prevent and alleviate crime in any given neighborhood. The first is people practicing common sense security like locking their doors, putting away their valuables and having dogs that bark. Dogs are the perfect example of the self-preservation instinct that we all should try to develop within ourselves. Dogs don’t care how you dress, what your socioeconomic background is or what religion you practice. If you’re acting suspicious, dogs will bark.
The second piece of advice is for neighbors to call police whenever they see something suspicious. In Neighborhood Watch Block Captain training events, police have said that they would much rather be called out to patrol an area when someone saw or heard something suspicious than to be called hours later after a tragedy has occurred.
The third advisement from police is for neighbors to talk to one another about their concerns. One neighbor said that she always saw LaDue throwing knives at trees. While some people might do this as a game like darts, this woman was scared of the teen and saw his behavior as menacing. It sounds like she was not alone. School staff said that they were concerned about LaDue, even though he was a good student and a talented musician.
LaDue has been charged in juvenile court with multiple counts of Attempted First Degree Murder, Possessing Explosive or Incendiary Devices, and Criminal Damage to Property. LaDue was moved from the Red Wing Juvenile Detention Facility to Rochester after he continued to make homicidal threats. Prosecutors now say that they will seek to have LaDue charged as an adult. LaDue’s initial hearing is set for May 12.
In the midst of this horrific plan coming to light, the school superintendent also had to announce to parents that one of their bus drivers has been found to have had a collection of child pornography. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has announced that Arthur Gustave Mlenek, 69, has been charged with 19 counts of possession of child pornography. Not exactly the person you want driving your children to school. Yet once again, this is an example of how we err when we try to stay safe. People are continually telling children about “Stranger Danger,” and how they should avoid people who they don’t know. In reality, statistics say that the person who is most likely to be the perpetrator of sexual abuse is someone that the children already know, such as their neighbor, their family member, or their bus driver.
For more information about the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and their work to stop child predators, see their link-
If you want to learn more about staying safe by trusting your instincts and teaching your children to do the same, read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. See link-
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