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Students, Parents Meet After Shooting

September 25, 2003

COLD SPRING, Minn. (AP) _ Emotional parents hugged each other as they escorted their children to an information session at a middle school Thursday, a day after a 15-year-old boy opened fire at the nearby high school, killing one student and critically wounding another.

School officials said Thursday’s meeting was organized to provide a forum to talk about the shootings and to let shaken students and parents know about counseling services available when classes at Rocori High School resume, possibly on Friday.

A freshman is in police custody as a suspect in the shooting, but authorities have refused to identify him. Authorities have said he is cooperating with the investigation and a motive has not been determined.

Several media outlets and students identified the suspect as John Jason McLaughlin, a freshman whose father is a sheriff’s deputy.

Sherry Newell-Opitz, the mother of a freshman who was among many students locked down as authorities raced to the shooting scene in the school gym Wednesday, said her daughter has no fear about returning to school.

``I think her comfort level can be attributed to how well the school handled things,″ Newell-Opitz said.

Matt Toren, a student at Rocori High School, said it would be helpful to get back to school and talk about what happened. ``If kids had problems they’ll have counselors there to help them,″ he said.

Sheriff John Sanner said about 30 students witnessed the shootings and investigators had interviewed them.

One student was in a weight room when he was shot, and the other was shot in the gym, both shortly after 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, police said.

Aaron Rollins, a senior, died at a hospital Wednesday. He was shot in the neck. Seth Bartell, a freshman, remained in critical condition Thursday with gunshot wounds to the chest and head.

Several students described McLaughlin as an intensely shy, quiet boy who kept to himself.

``He really didn’t associate with people,″ said Scott Eisenschenk, a freshman who was in class with McLaughlin just prior to the shooting. He said that McLaughlin wasn’t acting any different than normal on Wednesday.

Others said he was self-conscious about his severe acne, which some kids teased him about.

School Superintendent Scott Staska said there was no reason to expect an incident like this from McLaughlin. ``There were some typical issues in the past, but nothing that would lead us to something like this,″ he said. He declined to elaborate.

Hundreds of people came together Wednesday evening at St. Boniface Catholic Church to grieve.

``In the space of a minute our whole world is turned upside down. Nothing can prepare us for something like this,″ the Rev. Cletus Connors told them.

Mike McMahon, who graduated from Rocori a year ago, said he knew one of the victims, Aaron Rollins, from playing childhood sports together.

``Aaron was one of the nicest kids,″ McMahon said.

Marie Lego, a senior, agreed. ``He pretty much got along with everybody,″ she said.

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