MARYSVILLE Wash. (Reuters) - Members of a tight-knit Native American community in Washington state were struggling on Sunday to comprehend how a life-long friendship among cousins ended with one of them gunning down the other two, along with three friends, in a high school cafeteria.
The shooter and one girl, identified by a family friend as Zoe Galasso, were killed, while the other freshmen students were gravely wounded in the Friday morning shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, an hour’s drive north of Seattle.
The rampage, the latest in a string of violent incidents that have prompted national debate about school safety and gun control, sent shock waves through the Tulalip Tribes, a native American organization that operates two casinos and an outlet mall, and beyond to Marysville, a town of about 63,000.
“For our generation, we couldn’t have even fathomed something like this,” said Marysville resident Frank Ripley, standing near a makeshift memorial of flowers and notes near the school. “For some of these kids, they’ve now heard about it so many times ... they almost in a way are desensitized to it.”
While police have not officially identified the gunman or discussed possible motives, family members told Reuters 14-year-old Jaylen Fryberg was the shooter, and the two male victims were his cousins, Nate Hatch and Andrew Fryberg, ages 14 and 15.
Hatch, in serious condition with a gunshot to the jaw, improved on Sunday, while Andrew Fryberg was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, hospital officials said.
Female victims Shaylee Chuckulnaskit and Gia Soriano, both 14, remained in critical condition at a different hospital, officials said. The shooter carried a .40 caliber handgun which he used to kill himself, police said.
Family and tribal members recalled that the boys, especially Jaylen and Hatch, seemed like best friends, growing up doors away from each other near Marysville.
They rode four-wheelers along back roads near the Puget Sound just months ago, played video games after school, went to the movies and played basketball and football together, family members said.
The boys were also often together with the victims, attending the ceremonial First Salmon festival in June and, on the Saturday before the shooting, Fryberg and all the victims went to a high school dance together.
Formally attired, they went out for dinner and posed for photos near the swimming pool at a tribe casino, said Don Hatch, Nate’s grandfather.
“You would think there was some animosity that caused it but they were the best of friends, they were like brothers,” he told Reuters. “All of us wonder why, but we are trying to pray together and heal and forge on.”
Details about the shooting are still emerging, including the heroics of a young, first-year social studies teacher named Megan Silberberger.
According to a statement provided by her union, Silberberger said she rushed into the cafeteria when she heard gunfire and “confronted the shooter” and “did everything possible to protect students” until on-campus security arrived.
On Sunday the high school planned to host staff members, parents, and students “to hold each other, to talk, and to get some questions answered, perhaps,” Superintendent Becky Berg said. “Even though I agree some of these questions won’t ever have answers.”
More than 150 people gathered at a prayer vigil at a Tulalip gymnasium late Saturday, praying, singing and hugging in between speeches by tribal and community leaders. Mourners also contributed nearly $900 for the victims’ families.
Jaylen, from a prominent Tulalip Indian Reservation family, was described by classmates and parents as a popular member of the football team who was also homecoming prince.
“Jaylen was always outgoing, an athlete,” Brandon Hatch, 26, the boys’ cousin, said, adding there was no indication of trouble between the cousins before the incident. “He was a funny guy at times, too, a jokester.”
Others saw some troubling signs. Classmates and parents said Fryberg had recently been in a fight with another high school football player over a disparaging remark made during practice.
And Fryberg himself hinted on social media at a disappointment of some sort, with messages suggesting heartbreak and anger.
“There is a disconnect,” said Jay Napeahi, executive director of Tulalip Housing. “We’re trying to make sense of it.”
Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by Chris Michaud, Jason Neely, Frank McGurty and Eric Walsh