The 17-year-old accused of a massacre plot wants to “find out what’s wrong with me.”
On the night that Waseca police unveiled John LaDue’s unfulfilled plot for a massacre at his school, the 17-year-old asked them about seeing a psychiatrist, saying he wanted to “find out what’s wrong with me.”
Two months later, as LaDue spends his days in a Red Wing state juvenile facility awaiting trial on charges including attempted murder, his parents and attorney say they believe he’s not getting the kind of mental health treatment he needs and wants.
“So far it seems to be the attitude of the state to punish and not to get help for someone who clearly needs it and is asking for it,” defense attorney Dawn Johnson said.
LaDue’s parents said a counselor has been seeing their son in the facility, but often for only a few minutes and less often in recent weeks.
Defendants entering confinement are evaluated for mental health needs and risk of self-harm, and are seen by trained and licensed staff as necessary, depending upon severity, according to the state Department of Corrections, which runs the Red Wing facility.
In general in Minnesota, new juvenile and adult inmates who aren’t acting out by threatening danger to themselves or others don’t typically get ongoing intensive therapy, those who work in the justice system say.
“The prisons, the jails and the detention facilities aren’t going to be engaging in any kind of ongoing treatment … where they’re sitting and working with him,” said Kyle White, a St. Paul attorney with a history of defending criminal cases involving mental illness. “He’s going to be evaluated, monitored and assessed, and he could get treatment of the medication sort, but not an ongoing treatment that’s really going to be something long-term that can help him.”
If a defendant wants treatment, a judge can authorize that, according to the state courts office. That’s done on a case-by-case basis.
Some defense attorneys don’t encourage treatment from court-appointed psychologists or staff at the facility where inmates are housed, though, cautious of the possibility that those sessions could be used against a defendant in court.
Delays can make a difference in the outcome of treatment, professionals warn.
“The literature now shows, across studies from around the world, the longer you go without being treated for your psychotic illness … the poorer you will do for years,” said Dr. Charles Schulz, head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
‘Might not get my goal done’
LaDue’s defense attorneys don’t know the full extent of the care he’s getting in Red Wing, Johnson said. They know he is undergoing evaluation by a court-ordered professional to determine whether he should be certified as an adult.
He is also getting occasional short visits from a “grandfatherly” man who is a mental health professional at the facility, according to his parents.
Johnson said the defense team hasn’t received any records about those visits and is requesting information about them.
In his initial interviews with police, LaDue said a few times that he was interested in getting a mental health check, according to records released last week. He told a Waseca officer that he’d been hiding his mental illness and had never seen a psychiatrist before.
“No one knows what I think,” he is heard saying on an audio recording of his police interview, after coolly, unemotionally telling an officer of his secret plans to kill his parents, set a fire to divert authorities and then set off pressure cooker bombs and shoot students at his junior-senior high school.
He told the officer that he had wanted to ask to meet with a psychologist many times but didn’t want his parents to know about it “cause if I did get treated, I might not think the same way I do now, and I might not get my goal done,” he said.
Officers found LaDue in a storage locker with bomb-making materials. They confiscated chemicals, several guns, ammunition and ball bearings, some at the locker and some at his home.
LaDue is technically in the custody of the Waseca County Sheriff’s Office while he awaits court action, but because Waseca doesn’t have its own juvenile facility, he’s being housed in Red Wing through an understanding with the state.
A Department of Corrections spokeswoman would not comment on specific cases, but said in an e-mail: “Youth placed at Red Wing receive adequate mental health care based on their level of need. The court maintains authority over the placement of the youth. If their needs exceed what can be provided, the courts would likely place them in a mental health facility.”
Parents look for help
David and Stephanie LaDue said that their son has never been diagnosed with a mental illness and that they knew nothing of his dark thoughts until after police came knocking at their door with a search warrant on April 29.
Last week, the couple visited a Twin Cities psychologist in hopes of paying for the psychologist to give their son regular treatment while he’s awaiting trial.
David LaDue said that he and his wife want to get their son full-time counseling “while everybody’s waiting to decide what to do with him.”
The LaDues told their son on their first visit that they would love him unconditionally, Stephanie LaDue said, and they believe he is in a better emotional state than when he was scribbling his horrific plans in a notebook that he kept hidden in a locked guitar case.
Now that he’s been caught, they said, they believe their son feels unburdened from years of hiding his dark thoughts.
“I’ve seen more emotion out of him since we’ve been visiting than we have in quite a while,” David LaDue said. “The glass case he’s built for himself has cracked all around.”
John has asked them for help, too, they said.
“He’s been saying, ‘I want counseling’ and ‘medicate me,’ ” his mother said.
They believe they could provide him with more help than the judicial system has a budget for — if they’re allowed to do it.
“I thank God that he was interrupted or caught and this was brought to our attention,” David LaDue said. “It’s not like we want John to come home and pretend nothing happened. … We want him to become a responsible and contributing person.”
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102