John LaDue planned a trail of death in Waseca, Minn. His father says there were no signs.
WASECA, Minn. – David LaDue sat on his front stoop, sleep-deprived and fighting back sobs as he questioned himself aloud about the signs he might have missed.
It had been an agonizing nine days. His 17-year-old son, John LaDue, was in jail, charged with creating a Columbine-style plot to kill his family and massacre as many people as he could with bombs and guns at the local junior and senior high school in this small town in southern Minnesota.
The father was still struggling to make sense of the dark and violent thoughts that apparently clouded the mind of his son, an honor-roll student. He still couldn’t believe the teenager would have carried out the murderous plan.
“I understand everyone wants to know and try to make sense of it, and it’s real easy if we could … give it a simple answer like ‘he’s a maniac.’ Or ‘his parents just bought him [stuff] and ignored him,’ ” LaDue said. “It would really be nice if it was that simple. … I wish it was that simple.”
John LaDue is scheduled to appear in court again Monday. Prosecutors will seek to try him as an adult. His father was careful not to say too much out of fear that he might hurt his son’s case. But he agreed to an interview because he wants other parents to be aware of the darkness that exists in the world, and the reality that sometimes they don’t know what’s going on inside their kids’ heads.
That’s something he and his family are still trying to grasp, he said, as they search for answers to what may have led John LaDue to the brink of violence.
Guiding, not pushing
David LaDue’s parenting style was shaped partly by his own trouble in childhood, he said.
He was expelled from grade school in the Twin Cities and once put under observation at a hospital. But he straightened out, found God, became an industrial mechanic and got married nearly 21 years ago. He said he and his wife did their best to raise the couple’s two children in a stable, loving home, and it seemed things were turning out all right. Both of his children, he said with pride, are better students than he ever was.
Remembering his own rebellious formative years, LaDue said he had tried to be careful as a parent to toe the delicate line of guiding his children and not pushing them too hard.
“I don’t believe you can force opinions onto people, but you try to be an example,” he said.
Though he found comfort in spirituality, he also tried not to preach, he said.
It concerned him in recent months when his son came to him questioning obscure Bible verses, interpreting them to mean that God was unjust or cruel. Twice, David LaDue said, the verses he cited focused on the punishment of children. Another time, he said his son announced that he was an atheist. “I could tell he was leveling with me, so I let him, and then I just calmly continued to talk with him.”
The Bible verses were so little-known and interpreted so darkly, David LaDue said, that he assumed his son was being “fed” the material from somewhere, probably through writings or videos on the Internet. Still in some ways, he felt it was natural — even healthy — for a teenager to be questioning. “And yes, we did look at his browsing history and stuff, but he must have been covering his tracks.”
Authorities contend the younger LaDue had plenty of tracks to cover. He was arrested April 29, after a citizen saw him suspiciously enter a storage locker and called police. When authorities approached him, he told them of his plans:
He would kill his parents and sister with a .22-caliber rifle, then go to the countryside and start a fire to distract police and firefighters. He’d then go back to school with pressure cooker bombs, firearms and ammunition, setting off explosions in the cafeteria, shooting the school liaison officer and killing students. A 180-page notebook outlining his plans contained an entry dating to July 2013.
John LaDue told police that he intended to kill “as many students as he could” before being killed by a SWAT team, according to charging documents filed in Waseca County District Court.