WASECA, MINN. – After two years of living under the guard of the state, John LaDue returned to his home Wednesday afternoon under the watchful eyes of the media — to live under a skeptical glare of the community.
Arrested as a 17-year-old with plans and some materials to carry off a massacre at the local school in April 2014, LaDue on Wednesday rode home a passenger in his dad’s car, emerging on the driveway a more robust 19-year-old clutching a few folders and paper. He avoided a group of cameras nearby as he walked toward the back door.
“What happened to our garden?” he asked his father as they shuffled inside.
LaDue, who had pleaded guilty to one count of possessing an explosive device and served his entire jail sentence for that crime, is expected to live at his parents’ house for at least a while as he serves probation. He agreed to serve up to 10 years of probation with an unspecified amount of treatment, with the goal of turning the felony on his record into a misdemeanor.
LaDue had been living under 24-hour supervision from the Minnesota Department of Human Services since late January as he underwent mental health evaluation. In that time, two experts found that his risk of causing imminent harm or long-term violence is low, attorneys said in court last week. They found that LaDue suffered from depression — not autism, as previous mental health officials had said — and that he is no longer depressed.
A judge ordered last week that he could return to his parents’ house starting at noon Wednesday, though he didn’t walk through the door until well after 3 p.m., news cameras filming him from the edge of his yard.
Greeted with caution
In town, the news of LaDue’s return was greeted with caution, with some residents wondering aloud whether he has received enough treatment to integrate back into society.
Schools superintendent Tom Lee said he hadn’t heard much concern about safety from students and staff, although some students had expressed worry early this year when they first heard LaDue might be coming home. Lee said students were reminded then that, as part of his probation, LaDue is not allowed on school grounds.
LaDue graduated while he was incarcerated and has no connection left with the school, Lee pointed out.
Lee said that “everybody deserves a second chance” and he thought some in the community would be generous about welcoming LaDue back, while others might watch cautiously, especially at first.
“John LaDue is a known face,” Lee said. “I’m sure he’s going to have to stay on a pretty straight and narrow pathway, because if he doesn’t, people will notice.”
It was a sentiment many residents echoed as they went about their daily lives.
“Oh, it’s a small community. I think people will be watching,” said lifelong resident Lynn Miller as he finished dinner at a local restaurant. “That’s how he got caught; people were watching.”
A call to police from a resident who noticed LaDue suspiciously entering a storage shed led to his arrest.
A judge has publicly warned the community against shunning LaDue, citing previous experts who urged that the teen not be allowed to live a secret life, under the radar.
“I don’t see the city or the community shutting him out,” Miller said.
Still, threats have been made on Facebook pages, with one commenter professing in January he would “finish the job … #execution.” Another wrote recently: “Hunting time anyone?”
While living at home, LaDue must meet with a mental health therapist once a week and a psychiatrist once a month, and he must talk to his probation officer daily by phone and meet with that officer in person once a week. He must seek employment or enroll in classes — something LaDue has said he’s eager to do, according to his father.
LaDue’s parents, who were among the targets in his plot, have stood steadfastly behind him, saying they believe he never would have carried out the attacks and that he needed help. They said they were eager to have him back home and help him work toward a productive future.
His case thrust them all into the national spotlight over his plans to kill his family, set a fire in the countryside to distract responders, then conduct a massacre at the school. Prosecutors filed attempted murder charges that the courts later dismissed, saying he hadn’t taken steps substantial enough to warrant such charges.
David LaDue has said he has noticed a marked change in his son. He said the family would consider moving out of town to provide him with opportunities.