WASECA, MINN. – John David LaDue had it all figured out. He would kill his mother, father and sister and then create a diversion to keep first responders busy while he went to Waseca Junior/Senior High School to wreak havoc.
There, the 17-year-old planned to set off pressure-cooker bombs full of nails and metal ball bearings in the cafeteria. Students who weren’t maimed or killed would be gunned down in the halls, he told police.
After his arrest Tuesday, the high school junior said he intended to kill “as many students as he could,” before he was killed by the SWAT team, according to charging documents filed in Waseca County District Court.
LaDue was charged Thursday with four counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree damage to property and six counts of possession of a bomb by someone under 18. Police found seven firearms and at least six completed bombs in his bedroom and in the storage unit where he was arrested.
Police on Friday said they have no further information to share on the investigation and declined to comment on how LaDue was able to obtain so many guns and bomb-making materials. Students in the Waseca schools were home on Friday on a scheduled off day.
A community meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday at Waseca High School “to communicate to families our plans for moving forward together,” the School District said in a notice on its website.
Parents throughout the town were shaken and shocked as they began to hear details of LaDue’s plot.
“It’s just too scary to put in words,” said a parent who has kids in Waseca’s middle school and high school but asked that her name not be used. “Everybody in town feels sick to their stomach. Scared. There were tears today.”
Police Capt. Kris Markeson said that he believes LaDue would have carried out his murderous plot “just because of the amount of preparation and thought he put into this.”
LaDue had planned and practiced for 10 months, refining the chemicals in his bombs to try to find a more lethal combination. He set off “practice bombs” on the playground at Hartley Elementary School, Faith United Methodist Church, Oak Park and high school softball fields. Some of those bombs were found in March, raising concerns.
The criminal complaint said LaDue told police that he originally planned the attack for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre that killed 13 people in Littleton, Colo., in 1999.
That was thwarted because that day was Easter Sunday and there was no school.
Markeson said police believe the attack would have happened “within the next few weeks” if it hadn’t been for an alert 911 caller who grew suspicious after she saw a tall, white male wearing a backpack open a storage unit, go inside and close the door.
Chelsie Schellhas was washing dishes Tuesday night when she noticed a boy with a backpack and a fast-food bag walking through her back yard toward the nearby MiniMax Storage Units.
“He walked through the puddles when there was a perfectly good road he could have walked on,” she said. “It just didn’t seem right to me because we see people come and go with their trucks, and they don’t come on foot and cut through people’s back yards. It was like he was blatantly trying not to be seen. That’s why I thought it was odd.”
And then it took “some time” for him to open the door, leading Schellhas to believe he was breaking in. Before he shut the door, Schellhas noticed trash and Wal-Mart bags in the unit. That also “didn’t look right,” she said.
According to the complaint, three Waseca officers were sent to the storage facility at 7:24 p.m.
LaDue was in the unit when officers arrived. Several small lanterns were set up inside to provide light, and officers saw ammo boxes, a scale, a pressure cooker and packaging for red iron oxide, materials commonly used for making bombs.
The complaint said LaDue almost taunted the officers when they approached, telling them that if they could guess what he was doing, he would talk to them. When an officer said LaDue appeared to be making bombs, LaDue agreed to go to the police station.
LaDue said he had an SKS assault rifle with 400 rounds of ammunition, a 9mm handgun with ammo and a gun safe with more firearms, all in his bedroom at home. He gave an officer the key to the gun safe and the key to his guitar case, where he said they’d find his notebook.
He told police that he planned to kill his parents and sister with a .22-caliber rifle because it would make less noise than some of his other firearms.
Then, he said, he planned to go to the surrounding countryside and start a fire. While police and firefighters were busy, he would go back to the school with bombs, firearms and ammunition. He planned to set off pressure cooker bombs in recycling boxes near the water fountains in the cafeteria and would shoot school liaison officer Jared Chrz “so that he did not stop him from his plans for killing more students,” the document said.
LaDue told police that “if he had brought a gun with him to the storage unit … he would have shot the responding officers,” the complaint said.
Seven firearms and three completed bombs were found in LaDue’s bedroom, the complaint said. Another three bombs, along with chemicals and other materials, were found in the storage unit. LaDue also had 60 pounds of metal ball bearings.
In a second interview with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, LaDue talked about his notebook. In his first journal entry on July 24, 2013, LaDue listed a detailed plan for killing his family, Chrz and students. Over the nine months covered in the notebook, he never changed those plans.
LaDue was described by Waseca schools Superintendent Tom Lee as a “good kid,” who was quiet and a B student who made the honor roll. He was never in trouble at school and never had any dealings with Chrz, Lee said.
Bailey Root, 19, who grew up with LaDue in Waseca, can’t fathom it, either.
“This little boy was shy, he never talked, always followed the leader,” she said. “I’m absolutely amazed.
“Growing up we played baseball in the side yard. We’d hang out at the park across from the railroad tracks. We’d play hide-and-seek. It was all of us, these three houses,” she said. “We were just a big gang.”
Lee said there hadn’t been any reports in junior or senior high school that LaDue had been bullied. Root said the same.
“He had plenty of friends,” she said. “It was like the outcast friends kind of thing, but he had plenty of friends. I don’t think they got bullied at all, not that I saw.”
Ryan Lano, who taught guitar to LaDue for four years, was left “totally shocked.”
“John was normal in every aspect. He was courteous. … He asked questions and followed instructions very well. He loved music and his guitar and did really well. He was polite and said thank you after every lesson.”
Three sets of neighbors across the street from the LaDue home recalled seeing him outside almost every day throwing knives and axes at a tall pine tree in the front yard. The bark is gone on a swath of the tree trunk. After neighbors complained, plywood boards, wider than the tree, were nailed to the other side to prevent the knives from flying through the bushes and into the street.
Shelly Simon, who lives across the street, said she thought at first that LaDue was practicing archery or some similar sport.
“Now,” she said, “it’s kind of disturbing.”
Cliff Keyes, the single father of boys ages 15 and 16, said he would hear the “thwacks” or “thuds” of LaDue’s axes hitting the tree. The teen didn’t socialize with the Keyes boys, but his parents seemed to be nice people, he said.
LaDue’s mother and father were in court when he made his first appearance Thursday morning, said prosecutor Brenda Miller, an assistant county attorney. A plea was not entered into the record, she said.
After LaDue’s arrest he was held at Many Rivers juvenile detention center. The center refused to readmit him after the court hearing because he made “homicidal threats” against staff members there, Miller said. While being admitted, LaDue told a staff member that he wanted to wrap a telephone cord around her neck and strangle her, Miller said.
LaDue now is being held at the Red Wing detention center, the most secure juvenile center in the state. His next court appearance is set for May 12.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Lee was asked about reaction within LaDue’s school.
“I do think that people are in shock,” he said. “I know the staff is. I’m sure the students are as well.”
But, he added, “We have escaped what could have been a horrific experience. We can either believe this occurred because of a lucky break or, as I do, choose to believe that God was looking out for all of us.”
Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.