SEATTLE — A teacher’s warnings, social media posts and observations from students suggested something was seriously wrong with Jaylen Fryberg or at the high school in the days before he fatally shot four friends in the cafeteria. But authorities say although it’s clear he planned the massacre, no one could have known it was coming.
One expert who studies school shootings said they’re hard to predict, but some specific actions can be considered “attack-related behaviors.” Some behavior might simply be common teenager mood swings, while actions that involve threats may be red flags of an upcoming suicide or shooting.
“A kid who puts his head down on his desk may just mean he’s not getting enough sleep,” said Dr. Peter Langman, a psychologist and author of studies and books on school shootings. “But if he did tweet or text that he wanted to kill someone, that’s a warning sign.”
Hundreds of pages of interviews, photos and messages gathered during a months-long investigation into the Oct. 24 shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School and released this week by authorities reveal evidence of a moody teen and some possible behavior that could have suggested Fryberg was planning an attack.
• A substitute teacher told police that on the Wednesday before the shooting, a student told her everyone was discussing a social media post warning there would be a shooting in the cafeteria on Friday at 10 a.m.
• A federal agent told an officer that he interviewed students and learned that Fryberg “sent text messages to people saying he wanted to kill (redacted name) and Andrew Fryberg, then he wanted to kill himself.” Andrew Fryberg, Dylan Fryberg’s cousin, was one of the students killed in the shooting.
• A student told a police detective that Fryberg posted on his Twitter or Instagram page: “tell my mom I love her and there’s like an emoji of a gun.”
• A woman who lives in Bremerton told police that she logged on to her ASK.FM account on Oct. 25 and someone had posted anonymously just before the shooting: “Jaylen fryberg will kill.”
Ann Deutscher, a lawyer representing the families of the shooting victims, said the documents appear to confirm concerns about anecdotal information they had previously received about the days and weeks leading up to the shooting, in particular a fight Fryberg had with another football player and reports of bullying on campus.
Shari Ireton, spokeswoman for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office, said: “After an in-depth and lengthy investigation, the only person who knew the shooting was going to take place was Jaylen Fryberg. There is no evidence of any advanced warning.”
However the substitute teacher, Rosemarie Cooper, said she stands behind her original statement to police that she warned office staff after a student told her about a shooting.
“I thought when I went to the office they would all take precautions,” Cooper told The Associated Press.
Out of sorts
Cooper was clear about what happened when she first spoke with police on Oct. 29, according to the transcript of the interview. But after police spoke with the office staff and no one remembered speaking with Cooper, officials called her to the police station for a second interview, and she was less clear about exactly what the boy had said.
But this week, she said she’s sure it happened the way she first reported it.
“When I turned in what I knew, I did say there is going to be a shooting because I heard it from a young man,” she said. “But when they called me to the police station a second time, they just didn’t want to hear the truth.”
Many of the students interviewed by police said Fryberg seemed out of sorts leading up to the event.
Most of his teachers reported that on the morning of the shooting, he kept his head on his desk during class.
Language Arts teacher Peter Zeller said in documents released this week that when he confronted Fryberg and told him he was being disrespectful to the other students, “Jaylen just reached into his backpack and said something like ‘it doesn’t matter.’ ”
Studio Art teacher Karen Epperson said Fryberg was always nice and polite, but after he was suspended for fighting with a football player, “he was withdrawn and moping and not the same.”
He texted a friend a photograph of a gun and the words “Have her call me before I do this.” Another text told a girl “to wear all black that day.”
Langman said direct warnings to others are considered “leakage — the leaking of plans to other people.” He said Fryberg’s texts appear to contain that type of warning.