Tevlin: Community, compassion shine brightly in Waseca

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2014 - 10:00 PM

During an interview with Waseca investigators, there seemed to be a brief moment of compassion when alleged would-be school bomber John LaDue made reference to an act of kindness he performed in the fourth grade, after another tragedy for this small town that has seen too many.

“There was this guy, Zach Kruger, and you probably know what happened to him,” LaDue began.

He didn’t have to say any more. The investigators were no doubt well aware of the story. Tracy and Zach Kruger, a beloved father and son, were murdered on a farm just outside of Waseca in 2007, a crime that stunned the town.

LaDue, who authorities say planned to kill his family and fellow students in Waseca, went on to talk about how he took about $200 he had saved, all he had, and gave it to a fundraiser called “Coins for Kruger.”

“And at the time I really cared about people, and I don’t even know why,” LaDue continued.

An investigator tried to give him some credit for doing something positive and recognizing the good in people.

“I wouldn’t know. I did back then,” LaDue said. “Yah, I guess. I guess that’s fine.”

LaDue’s father was so proud at the time, he bought his son silver bars. “And once the price rose, the value of the silver rose, and I decided to get that cashed in for materials,” he told investigators.

So, the rewards of charity in one tragedy paid for the arsenal of what was going to be the next, an inexorable link between two horror stories. That’s what happens in small towns, where nearly every life somehow intersects.

Waseca, Dakota for fertile or rich, is a normally peaceful town on the shores of Clear Lake. Main streets are lined with grand Victorian, Greek Revival and Tudor homes.

But there have been moments of darkness that gained statewide, or even nationwide attention. Cally Jo Larson, 12, was murdered by an intruder in 1999 after coming home from school. Then there were the Kruger deaths, in which a young man broke into their farmhouse and shot them for no apparent reason.

Now, LaDue has been arrested, accused of plotting to kill “as many people as I can.”

I spent a lot of time in Waseca covering the Kruger murder and trial and got to know a lot of people around town. I came away impressed by how caring the leaders and residents were.

They turned out by the hundreds and thousands for fundraisers. They paid bills and did favors for the survivors. It was a remarkable show of resilience and compassion.

Even though LaDue said he wanted to “get out of this place,” he later told investigators, “I was not bullied at all. I don’t think I was ever bullied in my life. I have good parents, I live in a good town.”

Roger Haug, the recently retired pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, said he won’t be surprised to see residents rally during this crisis. Haug was the pastor for the Kruger family and at the time told his congregation that “evil visited this town.”

“First of all we want the best for that [LaDue] family to heal,” said Haug. “We are a very tight-knit community and we always come together when something happens like this that is so emotional.

Pastor Chris Meirose of the First Congregational Church of Waseca agrees.

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