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The Teenaged School Bomber Who Almost Was: John LaDue

February 16, 2018

I won’t pretend to I believe that the all-too-familiar public-venue shooting/bombing has behind it a single, easy solution. Yes, I am disturbed by how popular semiauomatic weapons have become in general; how their now-frequent appearances in mass shootings appears to feed a certain vogue among would-be mass shooters, and the nonchalance of many surrounding the easy availability of these weapons. However, as the story of Minnesota teen, John LaDue, demonstrates, those who are drawn to mass bombing and other associated homocidal acts might well defy public expectation of the bullied, homewrecked young man who views mass violence as a means of getting even with hateful society.

photo (11)  John LaDue, 2014

The excerpts below are from an October 2015 New Yorker article, “Thresholds of Violence: How School Shootings Catch On,” by Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell, who concludes the following:

In the day of [Columbine High shooter] Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

Gladwell reached the above conclusion based upon the story of John LaDue. Here is how the LaDue story begins:

On the evening of April 29th last year (2014), in the southern Minnesota town of Waseca, a woman was doing the dishes when she looked out her kitchen window and saw a young man walking through her back yard. He was wearing a backpack and carrying a fast-food bag and was headed in the direction of the MiniMax Storage facility next to her house. Something about him didn’t seem right. Why was he going through her yard instead of using the sidewalk? He walked through puddles, not around them. He fiddled with the lock of Unit 129 as if he were trying to break in. She called the police. A group of three officers arrived and rolled up the unit’s door. The young man was standing in the center. He was slight of build, with short-cropped brown hair and pale skin. Scattered around his feet was an assortment of boxes and containers: motor oil, roof cement, several Styrofoam coolers, a can of ammunition, a camouflage bag, and cardboard boxes labelled “red iron oxide, filled with a red powder. His name was John LaDue. He was seventeen years old.

One of the officers started to pat LaDue down. According to the police report, “LaDue immediately became defensive, stating that it is his storage unit and asked what I was doing and pulling away.” The officers asked him to explain what he was up to. LaDue told them to guess. Another of the officers, Tim Schroeder, said he thought LaDue was making bombs. LaDue admitted that he was, but said that he didn’t want to talk about it in the storage locker. The four went back to the Waseca police station, and LaDue and Schroeder sat down together with a tape recorder between them. “What’s going on today, John?” Schroeder asked. LaDue replied, “It’s going to be hard for me to talk about.” The interview began at 7:49 P.M. It continued for almost three hours.

He was making Molotov cocktails, LaDue said, but a deadlier variant of the traditional kind, using motor oil and tar instead of gasoline. From there, he intended to move on to bigger and more elaborate pressure-cooker bombs, of the sort used by the Tsarnaev brothers at the Boston Marathon bombing. “There are far more things out in that unit than meet the eye,” he told Schroeder, listing various kinds of explosive powder, thousands of ball bearings, pipes for pipe bombs, fifteen pounds of potassium perchlorate, nine pounds of aluminum powder, and “magnesium ribbon and rust which I use to make thermite, which burns at five thousand degrees Celsius.”

Schroeder asked him what his intentions were.

“I have a notebook under my bed that explains it,” LaDue replied.

Schroeder: “O.K. Can you talk to me about those intentions that are in the notebook?”

LaDue: “O.K. Sometime before the end of the school year, my plan was to steal a recycling bin from the school and take one of the pressure cookers I made and put it in the hallway and blow it up during passing period time. . . . I would detonate when people were fleeing, just like the Boston bombings, and blow them up too. Then my plans were to enter and throw Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs and destroy everyone and then when the SWAT comes I would destroy myself.”

In his bedroom, he had an SKS assault rifle with sixty rounds of ammunition, a Beretta 9-mm. handgun, a gun safe with an additional firearm, and three ready-made explosive devices. On the day of the attack, he would start with a .22-calibre rifle and move on to a shotgun, in order to prove that high-capacity assault-style rifles were unnecessary for an effective school attack.

Schroeder: “Do you have brothers and sisters?”

LaDue: “Yes, I have a sister. She’s one year older than me.”

Schroeder: “O.K. She goes to school too?”

LaDue: “Yes.”

Schroeder: “She’s a senior?”

LaDue: “She is.”

Schroeder: “O.K. So you would have done this stuff while she was at school as well?”

LaDue: “I forgot to mention a detail. Before that day, I was planning to dispose of my family too.”

Schroeder: “Why would you dispose of your family? What, what have they done?”

LaDue: “They did nothing wrong. I just wanted as many victims as possible.”

You will want to read the entire article.

Also, here is a follow-up on LaDue, published in the May 2016 Star Tribune, and another, from the May 2017 Star Tribune.

photo (12)  John LaDue, 2016


I wrote a few books. Here’s one on the history of charter schools and vouchers:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

And here are two more: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. Swell stuff.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Leigh Campbell-Hale permalink

    Thanks for sharing these. I’d never heard of this young man. An alert neighbor called the police. Some very sensitive police officers talked to him. He’s got a supportive family. I’d feel a lot better if people going through hard times didn’t have access to AK-15s, though.

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    I guess I am missing something. “It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.”

    But in the case being offered, assault guns were in the mix. The teen was gathering weapons and that included bombing material. He had a mental model in mind on the power of specific types of bombs–seemingly influenced by seeing videos of the Boston Marathon bombings, but perhaps from other sources as well. He appeared to be a student of bomb-making devices, including chemistry and charges. He did not seem to be intimidated by the officers. He seemed to be quite willing to display his indifference to killing his parents and some cleverness in doing that before obliterating the school and himself.

    I am not a psychiatrist, but the apparent absence of feeling is matched with a seeming pride in having a plan marked by a certain brilliance in the scale of the disaster that would result if he could carried it out meticulously.

    I have seen such brilliant indifference in a nephew who was mathematically precocious. This account reminded me of him. My nephew believed he could win a Nobel prize. He earned money in high high school doing aeronautical calculations for an aircraft maker. So far as I know, my nephew did not seek to harm others, nor was he attracted to weapons. He was alienated from his parents. He could accept gentle teasing from his brother. But my nephew was also suicidal, and first hospitalized with a diagnosis of teenage-onset schizophrenia, with many more of those acute episodes over the next four decades.

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