WASECA, MINN. – The Waseca County attorney’s office sought Friday to have a 17-year-old Waseca High junior who told police he planned to set off bombs and go on a shooting spree at his school charged as an adult.
As the stunned community began searching for answers, prosecutors filed a motion that would raise the stakes for John David LaDue, who could be imprisoned for years if he is convicted as an adult.
LaDue, who police say outlined his plot in chilling detail — and backed it up with a cache of guns and homemade explosives — is currently charged as a juvenile with four counts of attempted murder, two counts of first-degree damage to property and six counts of possession of a bomb by someone under 18.
Adult charges are expected to be addressed at LaDue’s next court appearance, on May 12, said Waseca County prosecutor Brenda Miller.
If convicted of one count of first-degree attempted murder as an adult, LaDue could serve up to 18 years in prison, according to state guidelines. If convicted as a juvenile of the same offense, LaDue could be released from juvenile detention when he turns 21.
Waseca school Superintendent Thomas Lee was in the courtroom Thursday and saw the LaDue family.
“I can only imagine what they’re going through. We’re a resilient community, but this is tough,” Lee said.
The Rev. Chris Meirose, who led a prayer service Friday night at the First Congregational Church where the LaDue family was active until three years ago, said LaDue’s parents “are surprised, shocked, struggling to understand the magnitude of it all.”
Meirose, who said he has been in contact with the family since the start of their ordeal, had lunch brought to them on Friday. He said he knew John, who was in a church group when he was younger, better than other family members.
“Rather than assigning blame … we want to be loving and graceful and providing hope and support,” he said. “This is not of their making,” he said about the family.
Waseca Junior/Senior High School was closed to students Friday due to a scheduled staff development day. The mood inside was “various levels of somber,” Lee said.
While police continued investigating, faculty members and administrators talked about addressing students, parents and the community.
Lee said some teachers openly struggled, asking: “How could I have missed this?” Others walked around in stunned disbelief. Still others were “beating themselves up,” the superintendent said.
The school district held a community meeting Friday night to inform families about what the schools had done and what new measures are going to be implemented, Lee said.
“Parents are nervous,” he said. “I think they need to know that it’s safe for their kids and that’s what we’re going to try to reassure them.”
There was particular concern for LaDue’s sister, Valerie, 18, a senior at the high school and, according to court documents, one of her brother’s intended targets. LaDue’s plot included killing his parents and sister, authorities said.
Valerie LaDue attended school Thursday, after her brother’s arrest, Lee said.
“Measures will be taken to make sure she feels comfortable,” he said. “We’re doing everything possible to support her. We told the family that she has the option to take individual study or a home-based tutor. The family indicated that she wants to come back to school.”
At the LaDue home, a friend of the family said Friday that John LaDue’s parents, David and Stephanie LaDue, had no comment.
Police declined to offer any new details on the investigation into LaDue’s foiled plan to attack the schools in homage to the Columbine High School shootings 15 years ago.
The criminal complaint said LaDue told police that he originally planned the attack for April 20, the anniversary of the massacre that killed 13 people in Littleton, Colo., in 1999.
But that day was Easter Sunday and there was no school.
It’s unknown how LaDue was able to obtain seven guns. He also had built up a stockpile of bomb-making materials, including chemicals, other materials and 60 pounds of ball bearings that he apparently planned to pack into explosive pressure cookers.
According to the charges filed Thursday, LaDue told police he planned to kill his mother, father and sister, and then create a diversion to keep first responders busy while he went to the school to wreak havoc.
After his arrest Tuesday, LaDue had said 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.
Mike Ahlman, general manager of Ahlman’s, a gun shop in nearby Morristown, Minn., said it’s not unusual for local young people to have access to firearms, especially if their families engage in hunting.
“If you are out in a rural area, it’s not unusual to find a kid with a gun cased in their trunk,” Ahlman said.
Trapshooting also is popular with local high school students, he said.
Ahlman said he didn’t find any records of his shop selling a firearm to the LaDues.
Meanwhile, Waseca schools will be open Monday, with counselors available through the week.
“We’re going to try to finish this year as normally as possible,” Lee said, “because that’s what our kids need.”