Sept. 26, 2003: Cold Spring school shooting: Horror hit in seconds

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW; JILL BURCUM; SHARON SCHMICKLE , Star Tribune Staff Writers
  • Updated: January 23, 2014 - 7:07 PM

This article first appeared on Sept. 26, 2003.

The third period of the school day had just ended Wednesday when the lives of Jason McLaughlin, Seth Bartell and Aaron Rollins intersected near a downstairs locker room at Rocori High.

As McLaughlin, a 15-year-old freshman, walked from the locker room, he reached into his gym bag, pulled out a pistol and fired two shots, according to information released by authorities for the first time on Thursday.

One bullet struck Rollins, who dropped to the floor. The other shot hit Bartell, who fled upstairs to the gymnasium. McLaughlin followed and fired again, striking Bartell in the head. The 14-year-old crumpled to the floor.

Rollins, a 17-year-old senior, died less than two hours later at St. Cloud Hospital. Bartell, a freshman, was rushed to the same hospital, where he was in critical condition Thursday night.

As this central Minnesota community of nearly 3,000 people mourned and the families of the boys involved grieved, investigators provided some of the first detail of what happened in hopes of addressing questions and rumors racing through town.

"It's a very involved investigation. It's going to take a while," said Tim O'Malley, assistant superintendent for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which took over the investigation at the request of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office to avoid a potential conflict of interest. McLaughlin's father, David McLaughlin, is a Stearns County deputy and a member of a regional narcotics task force.

As of late Thursday, O'Malley said, authorities from several investigative agencies had interviewed more than 60 people and planned on interviewing dozens more. They'd also searched the school and McLaughlin's home, seizing three computers in hopes of learning more about a motive. McLaughlin was known to spend hours surfing the Internet and playing video games. Before the shooting, he had e-mailed a goodbye note to a female friend on whom he had a crush.

O'Malley wouldn't speculate on a motive but said investigators have learned enough to believe the "suspect acted entirely alone."

When asked whether the gun McLaughlin used might have belonged to his father, O'Malley said the weapon - a .22-caliber Colt semiautomatic pistol - isn't one typically issued to police.

McLaughlin, who is in the Stearns County jail, is expected to be charged at 11 a.m. today in St. Cloud. As of Thursday night, it was not clear whether Stearns County will prosecute the case or turn it over to the state attorney general's office.

Because McLaughlin is a juvenile, the hearing will be closed to the public.

Meanwhile, Rocori's 850 students are expected to return to school today. They will be greeted at entrances by Cold Spring residents.

O'Malley said investigators and police dogs searched the school building and grounds into the night Wednesday looking for guns, explosives or other weapons. "We are convinced this school is now safe," he said.

A chronology

During a briefing Thursday, O'Malley wouldn't identify McLaughlin or the victims because they are juveniles.

However, he clarified some circumstances surrounding the shootings.

O'Malley said the incident began at 11:35 a.m. Wednesday as students were between classes. He said McLaughlin was 10 feet from one victim and about 50 feet from the other when he fired the shots in a lower-level locker room near the school swimming pool. O'Malley refused to say which victim was closer or whether either boy was McLaughlin's intended target.

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