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.
Another victim, 14-year-old Gia Soriano, died on Sunday evening, an area hospital said.
“We are devastated by this senseless tragedy. Gia is our beautiful daughter and words cannot express how much we will miss her,” Soriano’s family said in a brief statement.
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.
On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of students and their families packed a campus gym for speeches by school and area leaders in a mood marked by somber reflection, nagging questions, and a desire for solidarity between the neighboring but interwoven communities.
“Our community has taken a real hard kick in the belly,” said Tony Hatch, a relative of one of the victims. “Our kids have all grown up together. Our communities are building that bond together. We’re really damaged right now.”
After he spoke, the crowd stood in unison as some two dozen tribal members, one beating a hand-held drum, sang a traditional honor song for the victims.
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, 14, and Andrew Fryberg, 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 victim Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, 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 Fryberg 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 also were often together with the victims, attending the ceremonial First Salmon festival in June and, on the Saturday before the shooting, Jaylen 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 Megan Silberberger, a young, first-year social studies teacher named.
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.
The school will be closed on Monday.
“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.”
Jaylen Fryberg, 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, a 26-year-old cousin, said, adding that 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 Jaylen Fryberg had recently been in a fight with another high school football player over a disparaging remark made during practice.
And Jaylen Fryberg himself hinted on social media at a disappointment of some sort, with messages suggesting heartbreak and anger. [ID:nL2N0SJ31I]
“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, Eric Walsh; Paul Simao and Michael Perry