RED LAKE – Justin Jourdain is among the few people who just might be able to understand.
Jourdain, a 2008 graduate of Red Lake High School, was in the school on March 21, 2005, when 16-year-old Jeff Weise shot and killed five students, a teacher and a security guard before killing himself.
Jourdain now is leading 10 Red Lake graduates in a three-vehicle caravan to Newtown, Conn., to offer comfort to the grieving community in the wake of Friday’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which killed 26 people, including 20 young children.
“It brings up a lot,” said Jourdain, who was a freshman at the time of the deadly Red Lake shooting. “All of the memories from 2005, they all came back. We’re dealing with it. It is hard.”
He planned the trip knowing firsthand the benefit of connecting with other school-shooting survivors. Following the Red Lake tragedy, the community was visited by two women who survived the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School.
“It helped a lot, just knowing there are other people out there who understood what we were going through,” Jourdain said Tuesday. The group planned to leave early Wednesday morning.
Holly Carpenter was a junior at Northwestern College in Roseville, Minn., when she heard about the Red Lake shooting. It was an emotional reminder of April 20, 1999, when two students attacked her school with guns and homemade bombs, killing 12 students, a teacher and themselves and wounding 23 others.
“I remember I was so angry I was beating on my steering wheel,” she said Tuesday when asked about her recollections of the Red Lake shootings. “I was so mad that someone could do this again.
“But I instantly went from anger to deep, deep sorrow. I had to pull over on the side of the road. I knew I had to do something.”
Carpenter drove to the Red Lake Indian Reservation and met with students, families and community leaders, who asked her to stay the week. She attended healing ceremonies and funerals and visited recovering victims at the Bemidji hospital.
“I just felt like I needed to do something to help,” she said. “So I just went up there. I felt very compelled to go. I know how much it hurts to be in that situation.”
The Red Lake shooting followed the Sept. 24, 2003, shooting at Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minn., when 15-year-old John Jason McLaughlin shot and killed two fellow students.
“Every time, it’s just like why can’t people just learn to love and not let hate consume us,” said Carpenter, now a middle-school teacher and, with her mother, the co-author of “Healing Together: An Alphabet Book,” a children’s book about grief.
“(Each school shooting) takes you back to where you were,” she said. “I just feel so badly for the people feeling this (today). I wish I could take it away, take it from them.”
Jourdain, now an officer with the Red Lake Department of Public Safety, was on duty when he first heard about the Newtown shootings. He soon came up with the idea of going to Connecticut, in essence carrying on what Carpenter helped begin in 2005.
“To see it go full circle is really powerful,” Carpenter said. “All the time I was there (in Red Lake), I hoped I was making a difference, and to hear that I did is really special. It’s a really unique feeling.”
Red Lake graduates will carry with them a signed Red Lake Band of Chippewa flag and patches from local emergency units, including Red Lake police, fire and EMS departments.
Jourdain’s plan grew quickly after he posted on Facebook that he was seeking donations to fund the trip. His request swiftly spread through the country as people reposted his message and sought financial assistance on his behalf.
It wasn’t long before Jourdain was getting messages and calls from across the country. In fact, his group is expected to meet up with a New Yorker who plans to follow them to Newtown with a “truck load of teddy bears” for families.
“I put a post on Facebook and, wow, that thing just took off,” Jourdain said.
First National Bank of Bemidji said Tuesday it is accepting donations toward the travel expenses. Donations can be dropped off or a check can be sent through the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians’ account. To donate by mail, write “RLBCI Newtown collection” on the check and mail it to First National Bank of Bemidji, P.O. Box 670, Bemidji, MN 56619-0670.