Waseca: Lucky breaks, God’s intervention, or the degradation of our culture?

What if someone hadn’t seen John LaDue go into a storage locker and close the door behind him and think to herself, “that’s strange. I should call the cops?”

Would LaDue, as the charges against him suggest, have unleashed a Columbine-style attack on the people of Waseca, Minnesota, setting off small bombs in school and then picking kids off as they fled for perceived safety?

It fairly boggles the mind the extent to which one person in one spot at one moment was the difference between that safety and an unspeakable mass murder.

Or does it?

School superintendent Thomas Lee’s statement at yesterday’s press conference provided for plenty of thought and discussion on this question: Is it luck, or a higher power?

Today has been both a difficult and disturbing day, and a day of gratitude. Yet it is not a tragic day and that fact should be celebrated. The members of the Waseca Public Schools community are deeply saddened and disturbed at the arrest of one of our students.

The information that has been revealed in court documents indicates that we have escaped what could have been a horrific experience. We can either believe that this occurred as a result of a lucky break or, as I do, choose to believe that God was looking out for all of us. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of this student. I cannot imagine what they are going through at this time.

Concurrently, we are grateful for the person who called the police for what they believed to be “suspicious behavior”. Their willingness to be vigilant and to look out for the community should be commended by all. This is just another piece of evidence of what a wonderful community we have in Waseca.

People are truly looking out for one another. We are also grateful to the Waseca Police Department who kept the March investigation of the Hartley incident open and continued to track down all leads. We are thankful that the students of our schools and our citizens have been protected so well.

The most important thing that schools do is to assure the development and nurturing of strong relationships with students. The staff of Waseca Public Schools does an outstanding job at this. At the same time, we will re-double our efforts with every student to assure they know that we care about them and that they are valuable. We will support our students in every way possible. We will support each other as we all seek to understand these events.

I do ask you the press to please respect the rights of the family. They must be overwhelmed. Please give them the space they need to sort things out. I also ask that you respect the rights of students and not pester them just to obtain a story. They too need time and assistance to make meaning from these events.

While we are all somewhat shaken by what these recent events, we are resolved to finish this school year as normally as possible –for the sake of our students. Thank you for your understanding.

On another note I respectfully submit that these kind of events that have been happening in schools across this country should be a warning sign to us all. These events are like “canaries in the mines” – an indicator that something is deeply wrong in our culture. These kinds of events are unique to our American culture.

They are certainly not found anywhere else in the world, except in very few isolated cases. Why are they unique to our American culture? What is it in our culture that fosters these kind of events? There will be many opinions about this – our obsession with violence, our tv shows and movies, lack of parenting, the prevalence of guns, corporate greed and of course, gridlock in our government.

I suggest that these are all symptoms of a significantly degraded culture. We all know that nothing is guaranteed in this life but it is time that we collectively look into the mirror with honesty and integrity – that we ask ourselves how our choices are contributing to this degradation, and determine what we can do individually to stem the downward slide. We need to do everything possible to look out for one another – especially our kids.

Lee invites us to consider the work of God in averting disaster. If it is the work of God, how and when does he/she choose when to intervene and when to stay out of it? If God prevented tragedy in Waseca, why didn’t he/she look out for the people of Newtown, Connecticut?

Related: How the planned attack on a Waseca school impacts me personally (Minnesota Prairie Roots).

  • Tyler

    I find it repulsive that the superintendent chose a moment like this to get on a soapbox.

    • John O.

      Tyler, if he had chosen to stay silent, then others (perhaps even yourself) would then be asking why is he not saying anything. Others would go so far as to assume then that they knew something and had some thing to hide. He was in a “no win” situation.

  • Gary F

    Just how and where does a 17 year old get such stuff? Does he buy all that stuff with cash? If online, whose credit card? You just don’t go down to Ball Bearings are Us in downtown Waseca? Where did he buy the black power, ammo and guns? How many 17 year olds have a storage building?

    Just how does a 17 year old kid buy all that kinda stuff? How didn’t his parents know what was going on?

    • doug

      I’ve wondered that as well. All those weapons are expensive, not to mention the storage locker. Where did he get the money?

      • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

        The bombs seemed to be of Tsarnaev variety. Pressure cookers, ball bearings and nails. Simple. The guns, I don’t know.

    • Jim G

      Good questions. I want to know the answers to where this stuff came from too.

    • Kassie

      My guess is he had a job and a bank account. Once you have those things, you can get anything you want on the internet.

  • Jim G

    It’s so hard for Minnesotans to step out of our everyday lives and notice odd behavior by others. The old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This incident shows that observant villagers possessing the courage to report odd behavior can also save the village. This woman is a hero. A citizen without a gun… stopped a potential killer cold.

  • Joe

    Degradation of culture? Because of a single disturbed individual? Utter nonsense. This faulty reasoning that “we” need to change something is the same political boondoggle as the War on Terror. “We” are lucky the system worked, and in a better way than the Christmas bomber. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

  • Thomas Mercier

    I’d love to discuss your questions, but they deserve to be mulled over in a more contemplative environment, like a front porch or the corner bar, rather than in an online response forum. But I’ll try anyway…
    The conflict here isn’t specific to God/religion. It’s a more general thing where we choose when/where to recognize factors of our complex environment. The superintendent chose to recognize God as the concerned citizen doing their civic duty, but then chastises our culture as causing the issues. God either has to be in both or neither. Good acts by one limit the bad acts by another. That is how society and living in community works. Good citizens were present at Columbine, Newtown, etc. as teachers, first responders etc. Whether you attribute their actions to any influence of a deity or not it is undeniable that earth is filled with a mix of good/bad actors.
    I think that is why a lot of us love NewsCut; stories about birthday flash mobs and the like remind us of the goodness present in humanity and I think Bob’s perspective helps us grapple with why unpleasant things happen as well.

  • Joe

    This is not a holy war.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I think this is a very sincere and honest statement the super put together on short notice during one of the toughest days of his career and life. His school could have been blown up, students and teachers slaughtered on his watch. With my mom and half my extended family in classrooms every day, I’m glad this is his reaction.

    You have to be actively looking to be offended to find anything offensive there. If that’s the case, I feel sorry for you.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      I”m not offended but I am taking him up on the opportunity to discuss the religious aspects, seeing as how I don’t know if there’s a God or isn’t a God so I’m interested in the thought process of others who believe he’s/she’s involved in every day life.

      After 9/11, I asked all of my friends about God and they usually responded with an explanation of free will.

      And I can certainly accept that. So when God is invoked as being involved in the good side of things, I have to ask why free will did not hold sway at that time? If God is merely standing back and letting us do our thing, then the woman’s actions ARE just sheer luck.

      If the woman’s actions are an indication of divine intervention, then the free will explanation no longer is acceptable — at least to me — on such matters as 9/11.

      Which is why I continue to ask (and probably will until my death) how and when does God decide when to intervene. Because I have a long list of grievances for when he/she didn’t.

      • Nicholas Kraemer

        Maybe (and I don’t claim any special knowledge) God puts people into a position to act or not (free will) and then the outcome is up to the choice that person makes. Maybe God always makes it so that someone could choose to act and stop bad things from happening. Maybe sometimes the person chooses not to act.

    • kcmarshall

      I too am really impressed by the superintendent’s statement. I appreciate the compassion he expressed for everyone involved – including the suspect-student’s family. As for the source of this luck, grace or miracle: I’m as mystified as Bob.

      For today, I’ll just be grateful for a school leader who so plainly demonstrates how much he cares about his community.

  • MrE85

    If God guided the hand of the woman who called police, who guided the hand of John LaDue? The other guy? Maybe that’s how it works. Sometimes the guy upstairs wins, sometimes the guy downstairs wins. We may never know. I’ll count this one as a win for us.

    • Evan

      Or none of the guy’s exist and we’re fully responsible for our own lives and at the mercy of our actions.

  • Kay smith

    I can certainly understand why the superintendent is feeling he needs to explain this thing but I am constantly amazed when people give their god credit for winning a football game or protecting them from some disaster but never give god credit for a tsunami or mass shooting or the lost game. It’s probably the easiest way to think.

    kay smith

    • davidG

      Oh, there are those that do. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, among many others have said God sent this or that natural disaster to punish this or that state for abortion or gay pride week, or any number of other things.

  • Jim Hartmann

    Reality as we know it is testable. If there is a “god” we should be able to learn how it acts on nature. Is it by some force that we have yet to discover that this mysterious being affects the outcome of events? There is presently no evidence that such a force exists. It probably doesn’t exist.

  • boB from WA

    As a “professional” theologian, I hear these kind of questions and issues come up in all types of forums. They are never easy and never simple. Re your post, I think that there are two separate and yet intertwined issues that drive the superintendent’s remarks. The first is that this man chooses to express his faith in the God of the Christian bible. And whether we agree or disagree with his assessment of how this particular event played out, we cannot change how he views God’s activity in his sphere of life. The second issue, as I see it, is his view of society viewed with the lens of the Christian faith, as well as his position within the community of Waseca. I think that his remarks about this tap into a larger angst that many in this country have about where this nation is headed, and it doesn’t seem that there are any ready answers to relieve that angst.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      Outside of his remarks about divinity, his remarks about the degradation of society merit contemplation, too. I wonder whether there is such a degradation, or whether technology and media just makes chosen evidence of it more prominent?

      • MrE85

        I’ve wondered that myself. I’m guessing people are as good/bad today as we have always been.

      • Ralphy

        Statistically, we are less likely to be victim of violence than we were 50 years ago. If you are not involved in criminal activity, your odds of having violence done to you go down sigficantly. The most likely source of violence is your significant other. Because of a quantum improvement in media communications and the marketing of violence (If it bleeds, it leads.), we are much more aware of what violent crimes do occur. This awareness feeds the fear-based economy that has emerged, especially since 9/11.
        As for God’s intervention – I can’t accept that a God chooses when to intervene and when to let events unfold. I can’t accept that all events occur according to some sort of Divine plan. Since God is a god, I don’t think God could have been distracted or asleep at the switch. Further, if God is the Divine Creator, I don’t believe that these tragedies are God’s punishment or due to apathy. Having exhausted the possibilities, I believe that God is the human term for the energy of live that flows between humans. I do not believe God is an all-powerful being watching over the flock.

  • Jim G

    There was a time in my life when I attributed everything that happened to me and my family specifically to God’s intimate intervention. I no longer hold that view. When my brother -in-law took his own life, it was not God’s will that he do that. When my former wife suffered a stroke it was not God’s will. When bad things happen to me, it is not God’s will. Also, when things happen that we perceived to good, its not necessarily God’s will. Many prayers were raised by Wild fans during game 7, and there were many prayers also seeking God’s blessing on the their opponents. So, it was not God’s will that the Wild won their series over Colorado and moved on to face the Blackhawks. It was not God’s will that the Twins won their World Series in 87 and 91. In addition, It is not God’s will that I saw that speeding car.and did an emergency dismount of my bicycle to avoid being another older bicyclist squished by another distracted driver. Actions have consequences, diets have consequences, not seeking help has consequences, not watching what we’re doing has consequences. We are responsible. So I’d better be responsible too. I’ll let God sort it out in the end.

  • Evan

    please don’t bring God into this, why would he/she chose to intervene in this case but not others? (i.e sandy hook, columbine etc) that can create a lot of heat for people

  • Andy

    I read in one of the news stories that he had a fully stocked gun safe in his room. Where the F*€K have the parents been? Come on

  • Starquest

    If God prevented tragedy in Waseca, why didn’t he/she look out for the people of Newtown?

    Because god has nothing to do with it. This plan was foiled because of (1) good luck; (2) an alert civilian; and (3) timely police work. Those poor souls in Newtown didn’t have any of that.

    Since my mother passed away suddenly several years ago, my view on religion has gone from dim to black. One of the nurses at the hospital said to me, “It’s god’s plan.”

    When people bring god into tragedies or prevented-tragedies, it precludes us from rationally discussing and analyzing the situation. It clouds our thinking.

    • Joe

      Thank you for your comment, I often hear the terms God’s plan or God’s will thrown around by people with good intentions without thinking of the consequences of the person hearing those words from their perspective and then they are somehow confused as to why we’re not all Believers yet so they can live to see that end times they’ve been dreaming about for years. It’s like it’s OUR fault their end times holy war isn’t going on faster!

  • Peatbogjeff

    I admire this man for saying these things.

    Generally, we are a country that has looked away from heaven, and that means we have looked away from the help available there. We need public leaders like this, and politicians who are God-fearing, prayerful people. I have always believed the Lord has reserved special blessings for the United States, and even Minnesota, but if we keep pitching toward a culture of violence, pornography, abortion and similar exports, we will face consequences.

    Consider our so-called president Barack Obama. He is utterly secular, and has modeled nothing but contempt for Christianity, and its values. Are we a better country these days? Not to me.

    • KTN

      He actually is the President, nothing so-called about it. Of course having a practicing Muslim in the office does complicate things right – better if he renounced all that and put Jesus in his heart right.

    • HS English Teacher in MN

      Every time I see politics and religion mix, as if one party has all of the right answers, I cringe. Last week Sarah Palin suggested that waterboarding terrorists was their “baptism.” This is exactly why I will fight tooth and nail to keep religion OUT of politics. How many of your “God-fearing, prayerful” politicians have been exposed as charlatans and hypocrites? Most politicians who pray (not all, but MOST) do it to win the votes of sheeple. Pretty crass way to campaign, but it’s been exposed time and time again. They keep your focus on a “demonized” enemy so you don’t ask too many questions about their motives or who is funding them. Can’t question a “Christian” politician, even one who only shows up at church for the photo op and who regularly votes on polluting God’s creation.

      Peatbogjeff, I would encourage you to look outside America to other societies that are both secular and peaceful. England is secular. We don’t see mass shootings or violence there. Scandinavia has had one mass shooting in a decade, and the shooter came from what was called an extreme religious right movement. I’m hard-pressed to find any 1st world country that matches America for domestic violence. In fact, America has higher religious participation AND higher rates of violence. To suggest that this country is being punished by God for not trying hard enough is ridiculous, especially when one juxtaposes America with other countries.

      What evidence do you have that there is some Manifest Destiny or Special Blessing for this country and particularly this state? What makes us any more or less deserving than other places? I’d argue that the idea of American exceptionalism actually prevents us from cooperating to solve the problems of violence in this country, because we deny our own attitudes and beliefs are some of the primary causes.

      • Peatbogjeff

        I am praying for you fellow Minnesota English teacher, and hope you are not among those of us who allow “creative nonfiction” to trump actual literature; the prose of your rant suggests this might be so. And if could editorialize, I hope further that you don’t encourage your captive charges to lock caps, cuz it’s pretty loud on these pages as it is.

        And when you say lens, you must mean terministic screen…mine is religious, as it is Socrates who reminds us the only thing that matters is the condition of our soul.

        • HS English Teacher in MN

          A bit confused by your response, because you haven’t addressed the points I raised.

          Yes, I’ve read Plato. If you’ve thoroughly read the Apology, you’ll understand why your response puzzles me. For others following along, Socrates rejects the state’s promotion of stories about the gods because he believes that becomes an easy way to “corrupt” the notion of the gods.

          You have yet to address my concerns about leaders politicizing religion. I provided a specific, fact-checked example in Sarah Palin and could produce additional evidence.

          You also don’t respond to my charge that the most “god-fearing” and “god-practicing” nation in the 1st world is also the subject of so much violence. You suggested this is because Christians haven’t made the place holy enough and the rest of our citizens are too corrupt. I asked, “why lash out here? Why wouldn’t a deity punish Europe, England, Canada?” You have no answer for that. I don’t mean to appear rude, but your assertions don’t hold up logically.

          When I said most believers view the world through a religious lens I meant that that is how they see events — which is what this superintendent did. I understand and appreciate that. It is what some people need to get through their lives. I distinguish that that is different from the politicians who use this lens to their advantage.

          We don’t all need to see the world in this battle of forces good and evil. Some of us just see the world as it is, and that is enough.

          • Peatbogjeff

            I am no logician. And I have never been a member of a political party. I feel we are still suffering the effects of the French revolution…you’ll recall the tilt towards the goddess of reason. The cult was subdued, but the ideas lived on, and Europe forgot how much it depended on the Catholic Church. Several hundred years later, faith there is very nearly dead, and you might have noticed the head of the Church of England this week called his country a post-religious society.

            We permit that here at our hazard. I can’t be talked out of the idea that there is a war on for souls, and this war is being worked out in every single human heart.

            Sorry to have failed at answering your questions…I have a colossal pinched nerve in my neck colleague, and student writing calling me in D2L.

          • Peatbogjeff

            At Mass tonight I thought a little more.

            You have proven you have read the Apology. What about the Gorgias? Socrates was hardly an atheist…what about his warning to Callicles near the end of the Gorgias, the one about what might happen when he appears not before a court of men, but of God?

  • CB

    I would like to thank everyone for their thoughtful responses in this conversation.
    While I don’t feel the need to share my thoughts, I appreciate everyone else’s.

  • KTN

    Well right now, God has time to watch out for things like this, but come fall, when he/she will be too busy watching football games and praising the players who score touchdowns. What with all that finger pointing to the sky indicating that those players are very special people, and their accomplishment of scoring pushes the world closer to world peace.

    • HS English Teacher in MN

      My only correction would be that your model is probably reversed. The players are praising God. So I’m thinking s/he is busy relishing praise as opposed to praising the players. God may be helping to make holes bigger on the line, or giving a running back/wide receiver extra wind, or nudging a ball between (or away from) the goal posts, but I don’t think an omnipotent being is praising anyone.

  • Grace Kelly

    When Hope Dies

    Many people are asking why are we seeing so many planned incidents of mass destruction and suicide by students. Why do incidents like Waseca and Newtown exist? I think that the underlying cause is the overall increase of suicide. Suicide is officially the tenth leading cause of death in the US. That ranking may be understated because the fifth leading cause is unintentional injuries, where one third of those are “accidental” poisonings. Basically many suicides are classified as something else to protect the family.

    Why so many suicides? I think we live in a time where climate change, peak fossil fuel, economic recession, increasing inequity of incomes and the paralyzation of political action have cause a general case of hopelessness. This lack of hope affects everything.

    So if there are no longer dreams to be had, then what does a young person dream of? What are the scenarios of our video games, our movies and our TV? Destruction. Not that there are not attempts at comedy and positive themes, it is just that the public does not embrace those themes because they don’t feel it. So is a self fulfilling re-enforcing cycle.

    There is a cause and somewhere to place blame. Basically a few rich people who want to milk even more riches from fossil fuels and other counter-productive investments have set up the political stalemate. So instead of a young person dreaming of how to save a world that badly needs saving, that same young person seeks a way of expressing frustration in a spectacular way. Our real blessings is that even though so many feel that way, so few actually act on those feelings.

    But someone should ask those rich people why they are killing hope for everyone.

  • Rich in Duluth

    Based on the principal of the separation of church and state, I find it inappropriate for Superintendant Lee to have attributed the fortunate outcome of this event to god. Also, while acting as a public school superintendent, his belief that a god or gods intervened in this is irrelevant.

    To the question of how does a god choose when and when not to intervene…it seems the question makes an assumption as to the existence of a god. And the question points out the fact that trying to understand the hypothetical thinking of a hypothetical being is futile.

    • HS English Teacher in MN

      I firmly support and understand the necessity of the separation of church and state, and am usually one of the first to point out when that line has been crossed. I’m a Jewish mom trying to raise her kids in greater Minnesota, where the assumptions that everyone is Christian, that my children or myself need to be saved, and that Christians are the only keepers of moral behavior are regularly apparent (and offensive). If I had a dollar for every time a colleague offered, patronizingly, to pray for my soul, I could retire early!.

      Having said that, this superintendent’s first thoughts were not about preserving that line between church and state. He responded in a very human way, and his words came filtered through his personal belief system. I know superintendents who are overtly religious — if it interferes with job assessment or opportunity for advancement, it is wrong. If it interferes with a child’s beliefs, it is wrong. In this case, having just come to terms with the fact that an unknown threat had planned multiple killings and carnage on his watch, he responded in the most human way he could. I’m ok with that.

      • Rich in Duluth

        Yes, of course you make a good point. I am pretty sure his statement came out of an emotional response to the terrible things that could have happened. But it was also thought out enough to be written down and placed on the school district web site, so someone should have put a little more thought into the statement and deleted that part.

  • Matt Kennedy

    While not all Christians subscribe to this belief, when one looks to the Bible for their life’s direction, its possible to both “thank God” for being sparred calamity while at the same time affirming that prospering/suffering do not always come from the hand of God. The epistle from James instructs believers that, “all good gifts come from above”. Yet the Old Testament prophets “called out” God for the ways evil seemed to reign in the world. When Jesus himself was asked questions about suffering/evil, he pivoted away from a philosophical discussion of theodicy and instead reminded his listeners that there are no better or worse sinners, so all should repent.

    The marriage of folk religion and Christianity in much of the world creates a worldview where one can attribute good things that happen in our lives to God’s intervention, and bad things to God’s judgement. But for many other believers, we live with the tension that there is no neat explanation for why some suffer and others are sparred, but that “in all things, we give thanks to God.”

    • boB from Wa

      Well said

  • Steve Schewe

    Without engaging the theodicy in the superintendent’s thoughtful statement, I think the second question that Thomas Lee raises could be addressed by believer and non-believer alike. Can we hold up the mirror and try to understand what changes in policies and values of our society have produced the mass murderers who admire and try to outdo their predecessors? Most seem to be teenage to young adult and male, a point in life when schizophrenia often begins. The incidence of disabilities on the autism spectrum also has been rising among males. It’s not clear to me how many of the school and workplace shootings are directly tied to mental illness, or whether you could screen for it. Until the new provisions of the ACA, funding authority for mental health care in real dollars, particularly for inpatient treatment, had fallen dramatically in the last 30 years.

    Secondly, the most recent imitators of the Columbine murderers are caught up in violent fantasies from videogames and the Internet. As one of your commenters points out, the Internet has made knowledge about guns, explosives and inspiration to mass murder communicable on a wide scale; in some ways it’s the same phenomenon driving Al Qaeda. Wide availability of violent video games and the World Wide Web are relatively new things in our culture. The World Wide Web was invented in 1994; the first title in the Grand Theft Auto series came out in 1997.

    Surgeon General Koop’s letter on sex education in the 1980s helped steer the public conversation on AIDS in constructive ways. I find myself wondering if we need a public health bulletin mailed to every household in America about the potential for violence in the nexus between the Internet, violent videogames, and the potential onset of mental illness in late adolescence.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      I have thought for nearly a generation now that the media specializes in destroying hope what with it’s failure to document the human condition in true perspective. I think it’s led to a general sense of despair and moves us to identify our enemies and act accordingly. Violent video games? Maybe. But I think it’s deeper than that. Whatever it is, we failed. That much is clear to me.

      • Steve Schewe

        I agree there’s probably more to it, and many people play violent video games without being incited to real violence. But a general sense of despair won’t help unless it moves us to do something differently as a community. Let’s look for the compound of elements that affect a small group of people in a destructive way, and then mitigate the risks. For example, drinking and driving can be done independently without much harm, but when you put them together and throw in a predisposition to alcoholism, you have a recipe for mayhem from a small group of people. As a society, we’ve cut violent deaths from drunk driving dramatically by raising awareness, lobbying for stiffer regulations and penalties, and raising the stigma of a DWI violation. Couldn’t we pursue a similar strategy for elements that appear in the histories of this small group of young males who are obsessed with suicide and mass murder?

  • Emery

    God has always had trouble with the ground personnel.

  • kevins

    I am generally wary of public employees, especially those with some ascribed power, that assert personal religious beliefs, as it is most difficult to understand their true motives for doing so. I do agree with many comments below that we can be arbitrary in attributing cause and effect when god is concerned. In this case however, it makes some limited sense to me, because faith, in any of it’s forms, serves to comfort in the face of fear, and that is healthy and useful. Understanding that there is more than one way to be full of faith would also be healthy and useful.

  • herbdavis

    Matthew 6:6

  • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

    I’m very proud of NewsCut for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the quality and intelligence that people who comment bring to it. This thread is a perfect example. Well done.