What Led Jaylen Fryberg To Commit the Deadliest High School Shooting in a Decade?

09_25_TulalipShooting_01
An aerial photo shows families and Marysville-Pilchuck High School students reunited at the Shoultes Christian Assembly on October 24, 2014, following a shooting at the high school. Jaylen Fryberg walked into his Seattle-area high school cafeteria on October 24, and opened fire on several friends, before turning the gun on himself. He killed four teens and himself. Dan Bates/The Herald/AP

Before sunrise one morning in July, a day Ray Fryberg Jr. was scheduled to appear in court, someone smashed the windows of his car. He noticed the shattered glass on the pavement as he was leaving his home. He probably wasn’t too surprised. A month earlier, he had awoken to find that someone had broken every window in his house.

Ray was once a respected member of the Tulalip Tribes, who occupy a reservation near Seattle. He worked for the tribal Natural Resource Department and led drum circles. But when he lost his teenage son Jaylen last year, the community turned on him. That sounds unspeakably cruel, but Jaylen’s wasn’t an ordinary death; he died in a murder-suicide that was the deadliest high school shooting in a decade, the second deadliest since Columbine. The tragedy was likely also the only major school shooting in which the killer solely targeted his friends. And the families of those friends he killed were Jaylen’s cousins and neighbors. And, of course, Ray’s.

As the families of those dead children crowdfunded funeral costs and distributed rubber memorial bracelets, Ray became a pariah. Locals blamed him for the deaths of the five young people, in part because it was his gun Jaylen had used. Ray lost his job. Friends and family grew distant or, worse, blasted his family in the press. At one point, Ray and his wife had to leave their home because of death threats.

09_25_TulalipShooting_03 From left, Jaylen Fryberg poses with his brother and father after a hunt. Jaylen, an avid hunter, was given guns for birthdays by his father, and often posted images of himself with game he had killed while hunting. Fryberg Family

Federal prosecutors also blamed Ray. They arrested him in March on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm. In July, they added more unlawful possession charges. (His trial was scheduled to start in late September.) In less than a year, Ray went from being a prominent tribal figure, known for preserving Native American traditions on a reservation that was rapidly modernizing, to Tulalip’s most wanted. “It’s sad that the government thinks they need to sadden this family any longer,” says Ray’s lawyer, John Henry Browne. “They’ve been through enough.”

A close family member says about the shooting, “People are entitled to be devastated, and we never wanted anybody to have to go through anything like that, but we had no idea what happened. We didn’t create a monster.”

‘He Looked So Lost’

Though some locals say Ray Fryberg’s problems have been building for decades, his current troubles started on the morning of October 24, 2014, at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington. Jaylen had asked his friends to meet him for lunch. The cafeteria was noisy and smelled of cheap pizza as some 150 students buzzed around. Jaylen, 15, was dressed in all black and, as he often did, had his long dark hair parted down the center and tied into a bun concealed beneath a hat. Sitting with him were Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, Zoe Galasso, Andrew Fryberg (his cousin), Nate Hatch (another cousin), Gia Soriano, Keryn Parks (another cousin) and Carmen Lopez. It was the first of two lunch periods, and at Jaylen’s request, some of them had cut class so they could all eat together.

09_25_TulalipShooting_11 Carmen Lopez takes a selfie with Jaylen Fryberg on October 23, 2014, one day before the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, when they were in art class. Some friends say Jaylen appeared distraught the week of the shooting. Others detected nothing unordinary. Carmen Lopez

As they chatted between bites, Jaylen stood up, began digging inside his brown-camouflage backpack and pulled out a Beretta handgun. He said nothing as, one by one, the skilled hunter calmly took aim at each of his friends and fired, working clockwise around the table until he emptied the clip. He shot Shaylee, Zoe, Nate and Gia once each and Andrew twice. He shot each of them in the head.

Carmen thought Jaylen had popped a bag of chips until she saw smoke. As he reloaded, she clambered over Shaylee and Zoe, who were on the ground, bleeding, and ran. Keryn dropped to the floor, unharmed, and crouched beneath the table while someone pulled the fire alarm. Students scrambled to evacuate, falling over each other, ditching their bags and lunches.

“I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do,” Keryn says. Then she saw blood pooling on the floor—and Jaylen. “His face, it just looked so blank, and he looked so lost, you know? Like when you’re staring at something for so long and you’re just spaced out?... And after that first shot, you could tell he just needed to keep going. There was no turning back after that.”

Gia was on her side, still moving, and Keryn grabbed her hand. Nate was on his hands and knees by the table, clutching his jaw, where Jaylen had shot him. As Jaylen reloaded by the table, a social studies teacher raced over. Before she could stop him, Jaylen finished reloading and aimed the black barrel at his neck and fired. He was dead instantly.

A co-principal ordered the school on lockdown and darted between his office and the cafeteria, desperate to figure out if an active shooter was still on the loose. Kids hid in closets and fired frantic texts to each other and their parents, listening to helicopters overhead. When police finally entered with bomb-sniffing dogs and guns drawn, they instructed everyone to put hands up and come out one by one. “We’re the good guys,” they said. “We’re here to help.”

09_25_TulalipShooting_02 An FBI officer helps guide students off of the Marysville-Pilchuck High School campus in Marysville following the shooting on October 24, 2014. Ian Terry/The Herald/AP

Keryn refused to leave her dying friends until police pried her away and led her to a nearby classroom. Her first phone call was to Jaylen’s on-and-off girlfriend, who attended a different school. She refused to believe what Keryn was telling her and hung up on her. Then Keryn tried to calm her classmates. “Guys, we don’t need to go anywhere, he’s already dead,” she told them. “He shot himself. Shot all of them. There’s no more.”

‘He Loved Talking About His New Guns’

Since Columbine, there’s been only one high school shooting deadlier than the one at Marysville-Pilchuck, and a troubled Native American teen was the shooter there as well. In 2005, Jeff Weise, who lived on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota, killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion, then seven people at his former high school and then himself. He had suffered from depression and bullying. His mother, who had a history of alcohol abuse, suffered brain damage in a car accident. His father had killed himself.

Jeff and Jaylen were both members of what Native American youth experts say is the population that experiences more violence than any other group of young people in the country. These youths are often the victims or witnesses of domestic and gang violence, sexual assault or bullying. The Justice Department says such exposure can lead to “altered neurological development, poor physical and mental health, poor school performance, substance abuse and overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system.”

It can also lead young people to attempt suicide or commit other acts of violence. Three-quarters of the deaths of Native Americans ages 12 to 20 are violent, and Native American teens die from suicide at a higher rate than any other group in the U.S. They experience post-traumatic stress disorder at the same rate as veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There has to be a recognition that all of our children have been abused or neglected at some point,” Theresa Pouley, the Tulalip Tribal Court chief judge, told a Justice Department task force in 2014. In Tulalip, she said, only half of the young people graduate from high school. Their life expectancy is 2.4 years lower than average, and they are twice as likely to die before they turn 24.

The Marysville-Pilchuck shooting happened just as the U.S. government was gearing up to confront Native American youth violence. In November 2014, the Justice Department released a report on children exposed to violence and issued recommendations. In December, President Barack Obama announced the Generation Indigenous initiative to fund and support Native American youth programs. In July, the White House hosted its first Tribal Youth Gathering. “We have to invest in them, and believe in them, and love them,” the president said in December, adding that the issue has brought tears to his eyes. “I deal with a lot of bad stuff in this job. It is not very often where I get choked up.”

When the president spoke of wanting to “cultivate the next generation of Native leaders,” he was speaking about kids like Jaylen, who grew up on the Tulalip reservation, which wraps around Tulalip Bay in the northwest corner of the country like a jagged bottle opener. A 50-minute drive north of Seattle, it sits on 22,000 acres that include a salmon fishery and a resort-casino that draws a lot of elderly Canadian tourists. Gaming money goes to the tribal government, then trickles down to social services that help keep the suicide rate lower than on some other reservations. Still, Tulalip Tribal Court Associate Judge Ron Whitener says, “these economies have only been going since the late ’80s, early ’90s. That’s not a long time to knock that snowball off its path down the hill.”

The reservation leads the county in heroin deaths. From 2003 to 2007, Native Americans in the county had twice as many deaths from injuries as whites, and nearly three times as many car accidents. And despite the chiming slot machines, the poverty rate on the reservation is more than double the U.S. average and four times the average for the surrounding county. The tribal government operates out of a gorgeous cedar building with waterfront views, but just down the road are flimsy houses with bedsheets for curtains.

Locals remember Jaylen as among the best and brightest of their young people. He, like his father and grandfather, embraced his Native American traditions. He participated in drum circles and dances, paddled alongside his father in a regional event called Canoe Journey and posted a video of his traditional chanting. He proudly posted pictures of himself in feather headdresses.

09_25_TulalipShooting_07 Drummers walk out of a gymnasium following the memorial service for Jaylen Fryberg on the Tulalip Indian reservation in Tulalip, Washington on October 30, 2014. Jaylen embraced his Native heritage, and his family was a respected and influential part of the Tulalip reservation. Elaine Thompson/AP

A cousin says Jaylen’s father pushed him to be competitive in sports, and he played on the freshman football team and wrestled. He got good grades and had a big group of friends and a long-term girlfriend, with whom he even spoke about getting engaged. He was so popular that his classmates elected him homecoming prince. “He was a good kid...always clowning around, having a good time,” says a close friend, Mitchell Sawyer. “He always had a smile on his face. He was always great to be around.” A former wrestling coach at Jaylen’s school, Rick Iversen, told The New York Times, “This wasn’t the typical trenchcoat, introvert-type person.... This was an outgoing person that everyone in the school loved.”

There are hundreds of Frybergs on the reservation, but Jaylen’s immediate clan is a distinguished branch that has produced many local leaders. In addition to his father and grandfather at the Natural Resource Department and his grandmother as tribal CEO, his mother, Wendy, sat on the Marysville school district’s board of directors. “A lot of folks [thought] he would move up the culture ranks and become a leader,” state Senator John McCoy, a Tulalip member, told ABC News. “He had that kind of charisma and raw talent.”

Jaylen also had a passion for hunting. People close to the family say his father bought him guns for his birthdays, and he’d pose for photos with his bloody kills. In one photo, he stands beside what appears to be a gigantic felled elk, with his father on the other side, holding an infant, and his younger brother in the middle, straddling the carcass. They’re all dressed in camouflage, even the little one. Jaylen smiles wide and clutches the enormous antler in his left hand.

“He loved talking about his new guns,” Keryn says.

“He was a great hunter,” adds Mitchell.

‘My Funeral Shit’

Students in Tulalip and Marysville get to choose which high school they attend, and the kids in Jaylen’s group were excited that they could enroll together freshman year. Keryn even transferred into the school district so she could attend Marysville-Pilchuck, and Andrew begged his sisters to buy him hundreds of dollars of new school clothes. Shaylee loved her new school and never wanted to miss a day.

Jaylen, though, seemed to have trouble adjusting. Teachers later told investigators his grades had slipped because he would spend class with his head on his desk or playing on his phone. He missed fourth-period English 10 days in a row.

On October 13, a Monday, his classmates elected him homecoming prince, but an altercation nearly cut his reign short when he and a football teammate got in a fight on Tuesday, before practice. Mitchell says the kid Jaylen fought had said that “Natives are a bunch of good-for-nothing slaves and that Natives don’t deserve to live.” So Jaylen “punched this kid in the face and gave him a bloody nose.”

Also that week, Jaylen was acting differently toward his girlfriend, whose name police and reporters have withheld. “You’ve had a really short fuse with me lately,” she texted him on Thursday, October 16. “You’re not loving me lately like I know you know how.” (She declined Newsweek’s interview request, saying in a Twitter message, “I don’t want to be involved in anything negative about my boyfriend and his family.”)

09_25_TulalipShooting_06 Students talk with FBI agents at Shoultes Gospel Hall in Marysville, Washington on October 24, 2014, after the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting. No one has come up with a clear motive for the massacre, although Jaylen had been sending cryptic messages for a few weeks prior, and had just broken up with his girlfriend. Matt Mills McKnight/EPA

That Saturday, before the homecoming dance, Jaylen and his friends met at the casino so their parents could take photos. Jaylen wore a red dress shirt, a black bow tie and sneakers. Some of the kids went in couples, including Jaylen and his girlfriend. After the dance, the group went to Jaylen’s house. Two kids who were there say Jaylen’s girlfriend got mad at him for flirting with another girl. The group left the couple alone to sort it out, but their arguing escalated, and it sounded as if the fight had turned physical. They then broke up. Early on Sunday, he went hunting. “I’m going to the woods to shoot something,” he told the girl.

At school on Monday, October 20, Jaylen appeared distraught. “That week he was being weird,” Keryn says, adding that he was acting like a “psycho” about the breakup. Late Monday night and early on Tuesday, he shot out a series of tweets:

An hour after tweeting that, when his ex wouldn’t respond, he wrote to her: Just please talk me out of this and The guns in my hand. She told him to leave her alone.

Ohk well don’t bother coming to my funeral, he texted her.

“I knew the breakup hit him hard,” Carmen says, “but he was always saying how heartbroken he was, and then the next minute he would be completely different.” Keryn says Jaylen and his girlfriend often broke up and got back together. For months he had flooded his Twitter page with these sorts of posts: "Fuck It!!" "Might As Well Die Now" "Your gonna piss me off...And then some shits gonna go down and I don't think you'll like it..."

On Wednesday, October 22, Jaylen and the girl continued arguing by text. He wrote: I set the date. Hopefully you regret not talking to me.

Then: You have no idea what I’m talking about. But you will.

And then: Bang bang I’m dead.

She asked him to quit texting her and stopped responding.

On October 23, one day before the shooting, he posted his last tweet: It won't last.... It'll never last.... He also told his ex to make sure to read his texts the next day. He reminded her again early the next morning.

On Friday, October 24, 14 minutes before the first 911 call came in, Jaylen tried one last time to reach his ex. At 10:25 a.m. he sent a photo of a gun resting between his legs to one of the girl’s relatives and said, “Have her call me before I do this.” The ex called him at 10:27. She later told his father that during that two-and-a-half-minute call he said that even before their breakup “he was thinking about this. And when I asked him why, he said, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’” After the call, Jaylen texted his father, “Read the paper on my bed. Dad. I love you.”

09_25_TulalipShooting_04 Two girls hug outside Shoultes Gospel Hall church in Marysville, Washington on October 24, 2014. Jason Redmond/Reuters

Seconds later, he texted 14 or so family members a message titled “My Funeral Shit.” Cell records indicate he had started drafting the text the previous day. He told his family to bury him next to Andrew and Nate, his soon-to-be victims, and in “brand new expensive as shit camo.” He said to apologize to his victims’ “parents and tell them that I didn’t want to go alone.... I needed my ride or dies with me on the other side.” He said Zoe, Gia, Shaylee and other friends might “get caught in this shit tomorrow.” His “last dying wish,” he said, was for his ex not to be with someone whose name police redacted in their transcript. He said his funeral “needs to be POPPIN!!” and told his family to play “Hot Nigga” and other songs and eat deer meat. He closed, “I LOVE YOU FAMILY!! I really do! More then anything. Tell [redacted] the same. I needed to do this tho... I wasn’t happy. And I needed my crew with me too. I’m sorry. I love you.”

Two minutes later, at 10:39, the first 911 call came in. Investigators never found the paper Jaylen said was on his bed.

‘He’s a Monster’

On the reservation, not far from the casino, a Cabela’s superstore has 110,000 square feet of guns and outdoor gear. Replicas of two killer whales—the Tulalip symbol—hang from the ceiling, and bears, elk, a mountain lion and other big game decorate the walls and dominate a faux-rock display. Ray bought five guns there between January 2013 and July 2014. One of those, a Beretta pistol, was the gun Jaylen pulled out of his backpack in the Marysville-Pilchuck cafeteria. Ray had kept it in the center console of his pickup truck, along with extra magazines.

Owning guns isn’t unusual on the rez, but Ray had an order of protection against him that federal prosecutors say prohibited him from having any. Police arrested him for the Beretta in March, and prosecutors added charges for nine more guns in July, for a total of six counts. He faces up to $250,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for each count.

Ray pleaded not guilty and has been out on bail, awaiting trial. His lawyer says the Tribal Court never informed Ray that under the order of protection he couldn’t own guns.

The order is from 2002. Lawyers for a woman whom court documents identify as J.G. Fryberg, a former girlfriend with whom Ray has a child, said he “had recently threatened her and had in the past physically assaulted her by hitting, slapping and/or pulling her hair.” The court found him guilty of committing domestic violence, and the order had no expiration date. (The Tribal Court declined to release documents pertaining to the case to Newsweek.)

“He may be standing in front of the crowd leading the drum song and looking like he’s a spiritual person, but he does got skeletons in his closet,” says Kristie Fryberg, Keryn’s mother and Ray’s cousin. When they were younger, Kristie says, “he just did a lot of bad things when he was drinking.”

“He’s a monster,” she says through tears. “His son died, took his own life, and he’s got to live with that. And I feel that that’s things coming back on him for all the lives he took. He may not have killed somebody, but he killed people’s spirits.”

09_25_TulalipShooting_09 Tyanna Davis, a student, cries after placing flowers on a fence outside Marysville-Pilchuck High School on October 25, 2014, the day after the shooting. Jaylen, who lured his friends to their death, left a note of apology, explaining that he “needed to do this,” because he wasn’t happy, and “I needed my crew with me.” Jason Redmond/Reuters

Ray’s lawyer dismisses these comments. “There are animosities that go back for generations,” he says. “You’re going to find bad people in Indian Country that say bad things about other members for no reason whatsoever other than just history.”

A police report says Ray kept his guns in a safe in Jaylen’s bedroom. But people close to the family say Ray’s role in Jaylen’s violent death may have involved more than just easy access to firearms. Rich Miller, grandfather of victim Zoe Galasso, says he heard about possible abuse from law enforcement soon after the shooting. “They made it very clear [Jaylen] came from a very, very abusive home. And they really stressed that part,” he says. (A county sheriff’s department spokeswoman would only say she would be surprised if someone involved in the investigation shared those kinds of details with a victim’s family.)

Browne calls the allegations that Jaylen was abused “tabloid shit” and “absolutely untrue,” adding, “He was very well loved. For godsakes, he was a star student. You don’t become a star student if you’re the victim of child abuse.”

‘We Belong to This Weird Club’

When Marysville-Pilchuck reopened a week after the shooting, locals lined the sidewalks to welcome the students back. Mourners erected an impromptu memorial along the school’s fence. The Seattle Seahawks and other pro sports teams offered students tickets to games and visited the school. Officials from other sites of school shootings have offered guidance, including Newtown, Connecticut; Isla Vista, California; and Red Lake. A teacher from Columbine High School visited with Marysville-Pilchuck staff. “I feel like, yeah, we do belong to this weird club,” says Deann Anguiano, the co-principal.

Zoe died first, then Gia, then Shaylee. Andrew clung to life for two and a half weeks and then he died too. Keryn and Carmen switched schools. Nate survived and has undergone surgeries. In their reports, paramedics said that when they asked Nate who shot him, he responded, “My friend.” After a pause, he added, “He was like a brother to me.” Two weeks after the shooting, Nate wrote on Twitter, tagging Andrew:

As the one-year anniversary of the killings approaches, people still don’t know why Jaylen did what he did. Gathering and then killing his closest friends is without parallel in modern school-shooting history.

For some in this shattered community, the unanswered questions about Jaylen’s motive and mindset have made hating him difficult. Kids include his image in their memorial collages, his initials alongside those of the victims in their Twitter and Instagram profiles. “We miss your handsome face,” someone posted online. Marysville-Pilchuck students have worn “Team Jaylen” T-shirts to school—apparently made years ago to support his struggle with diabetes—and Tulalip tribal employees have worn them to work, a local paper reported. “I forgive him,” Keryn says. “He’s my family. He’s my blood.”

The Marysville-Pilchuck staff faced a dilemma when considering how to address the massacre in the yearbook. They decided to include a special section with photos of the victims and accounts of the tragedy and its aftermath. They also chose to leave in Jaylen’s alphabetized photo and pictures of him with the football team and as the school’s homecoming prince.

While the feds grapple with the Native American youth crisis, Marysville and Tulalip have flown in mental health experts and hosted crisis intervention trainings. The first one filled 30 spots and had a waiting list of 95. “Rather than putting our head in the sand and crossing our fingers and hoping and praying it never happens again, we’re really trying to be proactive and focus on the things that we can control,” says Stephanie Fryberg, an associate professor at the University of Washington who specializes in Native American youths’ mental health. She lived next door to Jaylen’s family but is not an immediate relative.

09_25_TulalipShooting_10 Part of a sign that reads "Cracked But Not Broken," hangs at a growing memorial on a fence around Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Wash. on October 27, 2014. School officials struggled with how to handle the shooting and aftermath in the yearbook, but decided to leave Jaylen’s class photos in place. Ted S. Warren/AP

Those efforts at Marysville and Tulalip don’t help the rest of Indian Country, which continues to lose its young people at a horrific pace. At the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, at least 11 young people have died from suicide since December, and 176 more have made attempts. The tribal president declared a state of emergency in February, and in June he said before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, “We are struggling. We simply do not have the resources to get out in front of this problem.”

Marysville-Pilchuck closed its cafeteria after the shooting, and its windows are boarded up. The superintendent says a community survey found that most people felt they should tear down the cafeteria, and the district is awaiting funds to do so. “You hear it on the news all the time. I guess it was our—it was us this time,” a cafeteria worker told police.

Greg Erickson, the school district athletic director, says, “I never want to go in there. I try not to look at it.”