The news broke Friday morning that there had been a school shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington. The first hours after the shooting were full of chaotic reports, as breaking stories always are, and the media constantly re-runs the same interviews over and over again until the next official press conference.
Now, three days later, a clearer picture of what happened is beginning to emerge – as is the sad news that another victim has died of her wounds.
Jaylen Fryberg, age 14, stole his father’s .40 Beretta, walked into the school cafeteria on Friday and shot, at point-blank range, 5 other students in the head or face. By the time police arrived on the scene, Fryberg himself was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Those are the bare details of the shooting itself. Now comes the part that there may never be an answer to, or at least one that everyone will agree upon: motive.
Fryberg was Native American, a member of the Tulalip tribe, and belonged to a well-known family within the tribe. The Tulalip Reservation borders the city of Marysville and the kids from the reservation attend the schools in the Marysville School District. All of his victims are apparently also Tulalip tribe members. He shot three girls and two boys. The two boys – Andrew Fryberg, 15, and Nate Hatch, 14 – are his own cousins. One girl was dead at the scene. Another girl, Gia Soriano, 14, passed away on Sunday night. Yet another, Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, 14, remains in critical condition, as does Andrew Fryberg.
This was not sparked by bullying (as if bullying should give one a license to kill). This was not triggered by racism (as reports of a “racial slur” being used on the shooter was part of the early breaking news). If you look at Jaylen Fryberg’s Twitter feed, you might get an idea of how this “homecoming prince” and “popular kid” might have decided to steal a gun and start shooting his friends and family members in the head. The Twitter feed is not pretty reading, so let me sum it up. Fryberg was a 14 year old who was obsessed with sex – and was apparently sleeping with his girlfriend, who talked about wanting to die this last June, and when his relationship with the girlfriend ended, he did not take it well. For every time you hear that he was a “happy” and “popular” kid, think about that Twitter feed. When you hear how “close-knit” the Tulalip tribe is, ask yourself why none of the adults in his life knew about what he was tweeting out for the world to read. And if they DID know, why didn’t they care enough to stop what was going on?
The speculation has been, considering the victims’ identities, that this had been a “love triangle” gone bad. We may never know unless someone is willing to shed light on the family and tribal dynamic. There is also speculation whether Fryberg would have continued his shooting spree, if not for the heroic efforts of first-year teacher Megan Silberberger. Fryberg did die of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but whether he intentionally committed suicide or accidentally shot himself while struggling with the teacher for control of the gun, we don’t know yet. We don’t know if Fryberg intended to hunt down more kids. His shooting of these 5 students, in a packed cafeteria, was a targeted execution. If his intent had been to simply kill as many people as possible, there is no denying that he had the opportunity. But he didn’t.
It is hard to describe to people who do not live near or around an Indian Reservation what it is like. Having lived in Washington state all my life, I’m still not sure that I can. It’s a strange feeling to know that there are areas near you that technically are “sovereign nations” of their own. It’s sickening to see local politics and state politics bend over backward to court the Native lobby, their endorsements, and make sure that they continue to get special considerations at the cost of others. And now, we all have to live with the after effects of what appears to be a family argument, and a tribal one, dragged into the public school and ended in a most violent way.
Two girls are now dead, a school community is reeling, and if the Tulalip tribe closes ranks and insists on dealing with the families involved in their own way, there will never be any answers for the public at large. Instead, we get nonsense from the anti-gun lobby and the promotion of a state initiative to expand background checks in order to “prevent future violence” – never mind that the shooter wasn’t legally able to own a handgun and stole it from his father. Never mind that no new state gun law would not apply to tribal members on tribal lands. And never mind that 14 year olds were running around, having sex, and dealing with the emotional fallout without much, if any, adults paying attention.
There is no law that can stop the broken and damaged from inflicting more damage on those around them.
May God have mercy on the victims, and may those still living have a chance at recovery.