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.
“With this most recent [averted] incident in Waseca, I actually didn’t hear any of the ‘why us’ types of comments,” said Meirose. “There were many who gave great thanks and praise that the situation was avoided and nobody was injured or killed as was planned. More than anything what I see is people focusing on the positive and giving praise in these times.”
“When addressing my congregation in those times, I try to set the tone early so that we can find a common path to walk together on toward healing,” Meirose said. “As a pastor, my goal is to do so in biblically informed ways. To love where we can and should love. To serve in the same way. To give support, to listen, and to strengthen the other when they are in their time of need.”
Mayor Roy Srp has served five terms as mayor of Waseca and was a City Council member and county commissioner. He compares how Waseca handles tragedy to the way the country responded to Sept. 11, 2001.
“When something like this happens, the hard times and adversity go away,” said Srp. “The interesting thing is that there is a lot of negativity in some communities. ‘Why don’t we have this or that.’ You don’t see much of that here.”
“How could you not want to live in a community that pulls together like this and soldiers on?” Srp asked. “We’re proud to live here. The sun most generally shines on Waseca.”
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin