Retrospect always seems to provide tragic clues that might have prevented a school shooting. Bullying. Trouble at home. An unusual fascination with guns or violent video games. More than one’s share of typical teen angst.
None of that appears to have been the case in Marysville, Wash., Friday morning when 14 year-old high school freshman Jaylen Fryberg walked into the cafeteria at Marysville-Pilchuck High School and without a word shot five fellow students – killing one and then himself.
Jaylen has been described by those who knew him well as “happy-go-lucky,” a popular kid from a tight-knit family who played sports and had recently been elected to the school’s homecoming court.
He loved to go hunting and fishing with his father and brother. There were guns at home – not unusual in many households around rainy, rocky Puget Sound, or anywhere in America, for that matter. The .40-caliber handgun recovered at the shooting scene was legally registered.
In the wake of major school shootings in the US ranging from Columbine High School in 1999 to Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and as with all communities and school districts in the United States, authorities in Marysville were not unaware of the possibility of gun violence on school property. Officials there had been involved in a federal program, administered through state offices in Olympia, to detect and avert such attacks.
A big part of the Marysville community are the Tulalip Tribes, well-represented in the schools. (The high school nickname is the “Tomahawks.”)
“While poverty, joblessness and other social ills have helped push Native American youth suicide rates to more than double the national average, the Tulalips are among the country’s most financially successful, sophisticated and best-run tribes,” the Seattle Times reports. “The tribes’ casino and retail developments help drive Snohomish County’s economy, and its government has won awards from Harvard University.”
Friends and family say Jaylen Fryberg took part in tribal ceremonies, including drumming. A slim youth, he wore his black hair long and pulled back.
The tribes are officially described as “successors in interest to the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish and other allied tribes and bands signatory to the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott.”
“Our tribal population is about 4,000 and growing, with 2,500 members residing on the 22,000 acre Tulalip Indian Reservation located north of Everett and the Snohomish River and west of Marysville, Washington,” according to the tribal website.
While tribal life can include closeness and mutual support – “everyone is related in one shape or form,” state senator and tribal member John McCoy told the Associated Press – being a modern American teenager can also be more challenging for Native American kids, Tulalip board member Deborah Parker told the Seattle newspaper.
“When you celebrate your rich culture and go to school where it’s completely different, that’s always going to be an added pressure,” Ms. Parker said.
School district Native youth counselor Matt Remle, also speaking to the Seattle Times, echoes that observation.
“None of us can really say what led him to that,” Mr. Remle said. “But you could say that when you’re part of another culture, that’s just an added stress on top of what is already a very stressful time in every kid’s life.”
“They’re very family-oriented. All of them come from big families that love and support each other,” Remle added. “That’s what makes a lot of it unreal, I guess.”
Inexplicable too is the fact that most of those Fryberg shot – including two of his cousins – were Native American. (Authorities have identified those who survived with critical wounds, but not the girl who was killed.)
As the community reels, looking for answers as well as solace, several clues emerge, according to friends and fellow students who knew him.
Fryberg had been temporarily suspended from the football team for fighting with another player said to have taunted him with a racial slur. And he had recently broken up with a girlfriend. His recent postings on social media expressed some anger and anxiety, although apparently no warnings of what was to come.
If there is one hero in the Maryville tragedy, it is first-year social studies teacher Megan Silberberger.
According to student eyewitnesses, and confirmed by teachers union president Randy Davis, Ms. Silberberger intervened in the attack, grabbing Fryberg’s arm as he reloaded his weapon. In that brief struggle – either accidentally or deliberately – he shot and killed himself.
"I'm completely amazed by her actions and I feel for her," Mr. Davis told the AP. "I don't know why she was in the cafeteria but I'm just grateful she was there."
In a statement posted on the school district’s website, Silberberger says, “While I am thankful and grateful for the support from everyone, at this time I am requesting privacy for myself and my family.”
For now, Marysville is mourning, with vigils and church services planned through the weekend. The Tulalip Tribes, especially, are reeling.
Says tribal member Sen. John McCoy, "If I were to walk into their homes right now, they would probably be praying.”