The Corner

School Shootings and America’s Problem of the Heart

From Minnesota, a terrifying story:

John David LaDue had it all figured out. He would kill his mother, father and sister and then create a diversion to keep first responders busy while he went to Waseca Junior/Senior High School to wreak havoc.

There, the 17-year-old planned to set off pressure-cooker bombs full of nails and metal ball bearings in the cafeteria. Students who weren’t maimed or killed would be gunned down in the halls, he told police.

After his arrest Tuesday, the high school junior said he intended to kill “as many students as he could,” before he was killed by the SWAT team, according to charging documents filed in Waseca County District Court.

LaDue was charged Thursday with four counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree damage to property and six counts of possession of a bomb by someone under 18.

At root, the problem here is one of desire and not of capacity — the issue being less that American teenagers can massacre their classmates and more that they want to in the first place. In this case, as in so many, the law is somewhat irrelevant: It is already illegal for 17-years-olds to purchase or carry firearms, and illegal in Minnesota for anyone under 18 to possess a handgun; it is already illegal to make and to set off bombs; it is already illegal for Minnesotans to carry firearms into schools; it is already illegal for anyone to shoot their family or their classmates dead; it is already illegal to start fires. What law, pray, would have prevented this?

Unlovely (and frightening) as it is to acknowledge, it seems that if somebody wishes to kill a large number of people, they’re going to find the tools with which to do so. LaDue’s commitment here is, frankly, alarming:

LaDue had planned and practiced for 10 months, refining the chemicals in his bombs to try to find a more lethal combination. He set off “practice bombs” on the playground at Hartley Elementary School, Faith United Methodist Church, Oak Park and high school softball fields. Some of those bombs were found in March, raising concerns.

The criminal complaint said LaDue told police that he originally planned the attack for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre that killed 13 people in Littleton, Colo., in 1999. That was thwarted because that day was Easter Sunday and there was no school.

. . .

LaDue said he had an SKS assault rifle with 400 rounds of ammunition, a 9mm handgun with ammo and a gun safe with more firearms, all in his bedroom at home. He gave an officer the key to the gun safe and the key to his guitar case, where he said they’d find his notebook.

He told police that he planned to kill his parents and sister with a .22-caliber rifle because it would make less noise than some of his other firearms. Then, he said, he planned to go to the surrounding countryside and start a fire. While police and firefighters were busy, he would go back to the school with bombs, firearms and ammunition. He planned to set off pressure cooker bombs in recycling boxes near the water fountains in the cafeteria and would shoot school liaison officer Jared Chrz “so that he did not stop him from his plans for killing more students,” the document said.

LaDue told police that “if he had brought a gun with him to the storage unit … he would have shot the responding officers,” the complaint said.

Had LaDue been successful, we would presumably have been treated to renewed calls for background checks on private sales, an “assault weapons” ban, and a limit on the size of magazines. How myopic this would have been. Read the above paragraph again — twice, if needs be. This is a person who spent almost a year sketching out how he was going to execute his classmates. This is a person who spent ten months trying to make a more perfect bomb. This is a person who planned to kill his own family with a little .22 caliber rifle because he could do so more quietly. What on earth do you do about that?

As usual, the community appears to have been utterly shocked that someone so evil could have escaped its notice:

LaDue was described by Waseca schools Superintendent Tom Lee as a “good kid,” who was quiet and a B student who made the honor roll. He was never in trouble at school and never had any dealings with Chrz, Lee said.

Bailey Root, 19, who grew up with LaDue in Waseca, can’t fathom it, either.

“This little boy was shy, he never talked, always followed the leader,” she said. “I’m absolutely amazed.

“Growing up we played baseball in the side yard. We’d hang out at the park across from the railroad tracks. We’d play hide-and-seek. It was all of us, these three houses,” she said. “We were just a big gang.”

Lee said there hadn’t been any reports in junior or senior high school that LaDue had been bullied. Root said the same.

“He had plenty of friends,” she said. “It was like the outcast friends kind of thing, but he had plenty of friends. I don’t think they got bullied at all, not that I saw.”

Ryan Lano, who taught guitar to LaDue for four years, was left “totally shocked.”

“John was normal in every aspect. He was courteous. … He asked questions and followed instructions very well. He loved music and his guitar and did really well. He was polite and said thank you after every lesson.”

Unsatisfying as it may be to contemplate, the United States needs to come to terms with the fact that it has a problem of the heart and not of the law. The material questions here are, “Why do so many children in America wish to massacre and maim their schoolmates?”; “Why are so many teenagers obsessed with the abomination at Columbine?”; and “What on earth can be pushing young men to carefully plan the execution of their families?” Spending our time debating which regulations we might impose upon the content and the law-abiding may feel good, but, in a country with this many firearms, it is ultimately futile. America has a school shooting problem, and the operative word is “school.”


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