TULALIP – Deborah Parker’s son was going to sit with Jaylen Ray Fryberg for lunch in the Marysville Pilchuck High School cafeteria on October 24. “He had just talked to him,” Parker told ICTMN. The boys joked around and Jaylen laughed. All seemed normal.
“They were about to have lunch when [my son] went out to his car,” Parker said. “That’s when he heard the shots.”
No one saw this coming, Tulalip citizen Andrew Gobin wrote in the Everett Herald, where he is a reporter. “We know Jaylen became troubled. Why is not clear … The shaken community on both sides of [Interstate] 5 now must put the pieces together, to help each other learn how to heal from this, to understand why.”
Parker said, ‘It’s a nightmare for [my son] and it’s a nightmare for all of us. Everyone’s playing out how they could have, would have, should have stopped it.”
Vigils continued through the weekend in Tulalip and Marysville, as citizens of the Tulalip Tribes and neighbors united in prayer for the families of those involved in the high school shootings, grasping for understanding as they comforted each other.
Investigators reportedly interviewed more than 100 students and others, in an effort to piece together why Fryberg, 14, a culturally involved Tulalip teen who was recently crowned Homecoming prince by his fellow high school freshmen, would shoot five other students with a .40 caliber handgun and then kill himself in the school cafeteria.
Photo Courtesy Fern Naomi Renville
Jaylen Fryberg gave Red Eagle Soaring Native Youth Theatre a song and joined the group onstage at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle two summers ago.
Community members were joined at a Tulalip vigil on Saturday by Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington.
Families stood watch at Providence Medical Center Everett, where Shaylee Chuckulnaskit and Gia Soriano each fought to recover from a bullet wound to the head; and at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where Andrew Fryberg, Jaylen’s cousin, was listed in critical condition with a bullet wound to the head, and Nate Hatch, another cousin, was listed in serious condition with a bullet wound to the jaw.
On Sunday morning, Providence Medical Center reported, “Gia Soriano and Shaylee Chuckulnaskit remain in critical condition, and are receiving continual monitoring and care. Both girls continue to be surrounded by family and loved ones, and Providence is doing everything possible to support the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all who have been affected by this tragedy.” But by Sunday night, officials at Providence reported that Soriano had died.
And the family of Jaylen Fryberg began making arrangements for a traditional burial for their loved one.
Many Coast Salish people, particularly those who participate in the annual Canoe Journey, have fond memories of Jaylen Fryberg. Photos of him seemed to bear out the common descriptions of him: athletic, outgoing, active in his culture, always smiling. But those images don’t jibe with messages he is believed to have posted on his Twitter account, which depict a young teenager in the midst of personal crises – what Gobin described in his Everett Herald article as “A few outbursts on social media, a few scuffles, normal freshman angst that came with normal consequences.”
He added, “After Friday’s events, we are left with questions that may never be answered.”
Parker, a Tulalip Tribes council member who has been active in local schools, described Jaylen as “a huggy guy” who was happy and popular with others.
“In almost all the pictures I have of him, he’s hugging somebody… He was filled with energy and loved his friends and family and his little cousins,” she said.
“He just had a strong love for his family. When he was singing and drumming, he felt alive. He sang loud and he sang proud. He couldn’t wait to get out on the floor when he danced. This was a young man who loved life. That’s why it’s so shocking.”
Fern Naomi Renville, Sisseton Wahpeton, managing director of Red Eagle Soaring Native Youth Theatre in Seattle, remembered two summers ago when Jaylen gave Red Eagle Soaring a song and joined the group onstage at the Experience Music Project museum.
“I was so impressed by his sweetness, his powerful voice, and his love for his people,” she wrote to ICTMN. “Today’s events are beyond my comprehension and my heart is breaking for all involved. Praying for comfort and healing for everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Matt Remle, Lakota, Native liaison at Marysville Pilchuck High School, was emotionally drained late October 25 after spending the morning at Tulalip. “Sadly, this is the high school I work at and the students involved were ones I work directly with. It is still unreal,” he said, earlier, he offered this message over social media: “Love your family and relatives, hold them close and tell them you love them. Reach out to all because we are all relatives. Everyone needs to know that they are loved and appreciated.”
The tragedy at Marysville Pilchuck High School was the 39th school shooting in the U.S. this year, according to a sourced list on Wikipedia. Those who work with young people say peer mentors and life skills coaching in schools could help prevent future tragedies.
Shasta Cano-Martin is a Lummi Nation council member and former director of the Lummi CEDAR Project, which works to improve health and well-being in the Lummi community by teaching traditional values, youth leadership, and community organizing; and by building bridges between youth and elders.
Although young Native people are going back to our culture and traditions and learning more about who they are as indigenous people, they face new social ills, Cano-Martin explained. And most of the time, peers know before parents do of a young person’s struggles.
She said it’s important that young people know that it’s OK for them to share what they’re going through, to express their feelings. If a peer or an adult sees a disturbing text message, for example, intervene: Perhaps the young person is going through a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a parent is not well. Initiate conversation and find out what the young person needs or wants, if they would be willing to talk to an elder or someone else who can help.
Tracy Rector, Choctaw, said Jaylen “made a strong impression” on her son during their time together in the Red Eagle Soaring program last summer. Rector works with a lot of teenagers through her Longhouse Media filmmaking program.
Teen years are filled with changes – emotional, hormonal, social. For many teens, learning how to deal with and manage those feelings is a tough road to walk alone.
On social networks, which give public access to thoughts that formerly would have been written in a personal journal, teens might express feelings about dealing with the complexities of life, and often those feelings are dark, but in person that’s not what you get at all, Rector said.
Rector said she tries not to react to everything she reads on social media, but her relationship with the young people she works with enables her to keep tabs on how they’re doing emotionally. “It’s important to look for patterns,” she said. She looks for rapid mood swings and signs of sleep deprivation and eating disorders.
“Peer-mentor programs are incredibly effective,” she said. “In my opinion, in Indian country, we should consider ways to train young people and community members to be emotional mentors, to see these signs and have the skills to help young people through these situations.”
Parker agreed, saying there should be peer mentors and life skills coaches in schools.
Most counselors focus on academics, she said. “We need to address the emotional and social wellbeing of students – not just the academic, but how they’re adjusting socially. If a person is emotionally stable and emotionally well, they will be able to concentrate on other things and learn … If there was place for these children to go to, maybe they could get the help they need.”
As for Jaylen: “We hear about children who don’t have a support network. He had a big support network,” Parker said. “That’s why it’s baffling.”
She added, “My heart goes out to the students and the kids here. These are best friends from childhood [and] relatives … We will continue to walk through this together. But it’s going to be difficult road to walk.”