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Jeff Weise, 16, didn't really grow up in Red Lake; he just ended up there. His earlier years were spent in Minneapolis, about 250 miles to the south. His family moved often between the city's suburbs, and for a year they lived in a rented mobile home behind a pickle factory. "He seemed like a normal kid to me, except that he liked to be alone," says Patrick Tahahwah, a family member who lived two doors down from Weise when the boy was 7. In 1997, his father committed suicide. In 1999, his mother was in a car accident that led to major brain damage. Weise was then sent to live with his relatives on the Red Lake reservation. "There wasn't anywhere else for him to go," Tahahwah says. The main town on the reservation is made up of mobile homes and factory-built houses. Its roads have no street signs. "This place is crap," says Cory Desjarlait, 27, the son of the Red Lake school's superintendent.
At school in Red Lake, Weise became known as a goth, dressing almost exclusively in black and sculpting his hair into spikes and horns. Many classmates saw his drawings of guns, Nazi soldiers, and people being shot and hanged. "I'd go over and talk to him, ask him how he was doing," says Cody Thunder, 15, whom Weise later shot in the hip during the school rampage. "He always talked about guns."
Still, he didn't entirely fit the stereotype of the school shooter. While he may not have been popular, he had a small but close group of friends. They hung out a few times a week at one another's houses, talking and watching TV. "The people saying he didn't have any friends are just talking to each other," says Jen Stately, 16, who wears Vans skateboarding sneakers and a metal stud in her lip. "They never talked to him. He was the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet." Among the girls in the group, Weise was known as the rare boy who could talk about his feelings and listen to others. "He was always trying to help other people with their problems," says Marissa White, 14. "When he talked, he made a lot of sense."
But Weise also lived in other worlds and, in postings made available by a number of websites after the shootings, had a disturbingly energetic online existence. In January 2004, he purportedly posted this message on a website: "I've been feeling a strong connection towards Nazi Germany, and it's not necessarily the most pleasing thought, though I can't help it. I feel like in a past life I was a German soldier." Two months later, he seemed to have become much more comfortable with that identity, allegedly signing on to nazi.org first as Todesengel (German for angel of death) and then as NativeNazi. "I've always carried a natural admiration for Hitler and his ideals, and his courage to take on larger nations," he wrote. Racial purity became an issue for him, and he lamented that Native American stock was being diluted by intermarriage.