Waseca Teen who Allegedly Plotted Attack was 'Totally Normal Kid'

Updated: 05/06/2014 12:30 PM
Created: 05/01/2014 3:46 PM
By: Cassie Hart

Attempted murder and explosives charges have been filed against a Waseca teenager who plotted to kill his family and attack his school, officials said.

The teen, identified at 17-year-old John La Due, was arrested around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday as the result of an investigation into three small explosive devices discovered at a school playground in late March.

La Due was charged in juvenile court Thursday with four counts of attempted first-degree murder, six counts of possessing explosive devices and two counts of first-degree criminal damage to property. The juvenile petition alleges he obtained weapons and explosives with the intent to kill his father, mother, sister and a school liaison officer.

During a news conference Thursday, Capt. Kris Markeson of Waseca Police Department confirmed details revealed to KSTP by a law enforcement source Wednesday.

Markeson said police received a report on Tuesday of a suspicious teen at a storage facility. Officers responding found bomb-making materials, including a pressure cooker, pyrotechnic chemicals, steel ball bearings and gunpowder in the storage facility.

Officers secured the locker and brought La Due to the police department for a voluntary interview.

During a search of La Due's home, which he shared with his family, officers found numerous guns, ammunition, and prepared bombs along with paperwork documenting his plans of the attack.

Markeson says La Due told investigators his plan was to kill his family and start a fire in rural Waseca to distract first responders from the area of the school. Markeson said La Due planned to go to the Waseca Junior/Senior High School where he wanted to set off numerous bombs during the lunch hour, kill the school resource officer, start fires and then shoot students and staff.

Markeson said La Due also planned to be killed by responding officers. A journal found at the teen's home outlined the attack in great detail, Markeson said. "We believed La Due planned to carry out his attack in the next few weeks."

Markeson said La Due originally planned the attack for April 20, the anniversary of Columbine, but it was on a Sunday this year.

"This case is a classic case of residents doing the right thing. An unimaginable tragedy was prevented," Markeson said.

Three small explosive devices were found on the Hartley Elementary School playground in March. Two of them were found detonated, one of which was found inside a toy. The third explosive failed to ignite.

Police say no one was hurt, but parents were upset at the delay in information after the devices were found.

“Today has been a very difficult day but has not been a day of tragedy," Superintendent Tom Lee said. "We have escaped what could have been a horrific event .... We are grateful to the person who called police for what they thought was suspicious activity."

Lee said La Due was not unknown to teachers and staff. “People made lots of contact with him. He was a good student; people knew he was a little quiet,” Lee said. Both administrators at the school would go out of their way to talk with La Due, he added.

Lee said La Due was not a troublemaker.

"I met John as a boy. He was 13 years old when he first came in," said Ryan Lano, who taught the teen guitar twice a month for four years. He described John as courteous, curious, and inquisitive.

"He's just a totally normal kid, kind of came in and he really liked his music and he followed the instruction really well," Lano said. "He would ask questions. He would understand instruction and follow up with his own questions. He would say, 'Please and thank you.'"

Lano said John excelled as a music student. Their last session together was at the end of last year.

"I got a message from him saying that, 'Thanks, Ryan, for the guitar lessons. I can't believe I learned so much, and at this point I'm ready to take off on my own," Lano said.

He said nothing about John even hinted at anything out of the ordinary.

"There's no warning signs. There's no shortcomings in his personality," Lano said. "It's totally surprising."

“While we are all somewhat shaken by what was read in the court documents, we are also resolved to finish the school year as normally as possible for the sake of our students,” Lee said.

Counselors were made available at the school Thursday to any students, family members or staff members who needed to talk.

The incident is still under investigation, and anyone with information is asked to call the Waseca Police Department at 507-835-9720.

Police believe La Due planned to act alone and there were not other planned attacks at other locations.

La Due remained in custody Thursday and is said to be cooperating with police. A motive is unknown at this time.

Read the written statement from Waseca police here.

Read the statement of probable cause here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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