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Waseca residents stress safety, vigilance in wake of foiled terror plot

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"These last few days have been really difficult for lots of us," says Waseca School District Superintendent Tom Lee, in a video to parents. "Yet at the same time it hasn't been tragic."

Maybe not tragic, no. But things aren't quite the same as they were just five days ago; before police said they uncovered a plot by 17-year-old John LaDue to kill his family, then head to the Junior/Senior High School to set off bombs and gun down students.

The Waseca School District held a community meeting Friday night, to address security concerns –and the path forward.

A Community Effort

The Waseca County News describes the meeting as a brainstorming session. Lee intended to talk about revamped security plans (some of which had long been scheduled to be installed this summer), the paper reports. A more modern phone system, a review of lockdown procedures, and a push to download an emergency notification phone application have all been in the work.

The meeting instead turned into a community call to action, the paper reports. Everyone must be vigilant about reporting suspicious activity to the police, attendees said, in order to prevent future plots of violence – whether it's a young student or adult citizen.

That kind of vigilance paid off this past week. The Pioneer Press says LaDue was only arrested Tuesday night because of two wary residents. Chelsie Schellhas and Katie Harty saw someone cut through their backyard, then head into a locked storage locker. They thought he looked suspicious, the paper says, so they called police.

LaDue was arrested at the storage facility, and police say soon admitted to planning a massacre.

According to KEYC, there were discussions at Friday's meeting about additional measures: more security officers, metal detectors, even the school's layout. But "most parents" there agreed none of those could fully protect students – community members instead have to rely on one another.

Criticism

There was criticism for the school district however. KEYC says some people "expressed displeasure" about how the situation was handled, starting from the discovery of small explosives on the Hartley Elementary School playground.

The Waseca School District made robocalls to families days later, which stressed that there was never a danger to the students. But that came after most parents learned about the devices online, which had them upset. Police issued a statement that weekend after receiving a wave of phone calls from parents, stressing the devices never posed a danger to students.

The County News reports Lee admitted Friday the school district could have better communicated the playground explosives situation to parents. He also asked that anyone with suggestions to help foster a safer environment send those ideas his ways. One community member suggested an online forum, the paper reports, which Lee said would be added right away.

In the video recap posted by the district, Lee stressed educators' role as well. Knowing kids, and letting the kids know staff, is "so critical to ensuring student safety," Lee says.

According to WCCO, Lee assured parents there's no immediate danger at this point.

“While some might say it was blind luck, I think God was looking over us,” he said, according to the station.

KARE reports there was also a prayer vigil Friday night, at the local church. A few dozen people gathered there to pray, the station reports. Friday was a previously scheduled day off for students.

The district provided a guide for parents on how to talk to their children about incidents like the one the Waseca community is now dealing with.

LaDue has been charged with four counts of attempted first-degree murder, six counts of possessing explosive or incendiary devices and two counts of criminal damage to property. KSTP reports county prosecutors Friday filed a motion to have the teen be charged as an adult. A hearing is set for May 12.

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