Saturday, March 26, 2005

Bush Breaks Silence on School Shooting

The New York Times
March 25, 2005
Bush Breaks Silence on School Shooting

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President Bush offered federal help and personal prayers on Friday to the Red Lake Indian reservation in northern Minnesota after being criticized for remaining silent for days about the deadliest U.S. school shooting in six years.

Bush, on vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, spoke for five minutes to Floyd Jourdain, chairman of the Red Lake Chippewa tribe, about Monday's rampage in which a 16-year-old killed nine people and himself.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush sent his condolences to the ``entire Red Lake community,'' and ``pledged continued help from the federal government.''

``The president ended the call by saying he is praying for the victims and the families,'' Perino said, adding that Bush would discuss the shooting publicly in his weekly radio address on Saturday.

While White House spokesman Scott McClellan spoke briefly about the shooting on Tuesday, Bush steered clear of the incident in public remarks, focusing instead on the fate of brain-damaged Florida woman Terri Schiavo.

Bush's silence drew fire from some American Indians, including Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement in Red Lake.

``It's kind of late,'' Bellecourt said of Bush's call to Jourdain. ``He should have been the first one to reach out to the Red Lake Indian community.''

Bellecourt cited Bush's decision to rush back to the White House from his Texas ranch last weekend to sign unprecedented emergency legislation allowing Schiavo's case to be reviewed in federal courts.

``He does not have any problems flying in to restore the feeding tube to Terri Schiavo. I'm sure if this happened in some school in Texas and a bunch of white kids were shot down, he would have been there too,'' Bellecourt said.

Perino said the president had tried calling Jourdain on Thursday, but got voice mail instead.

The White House said the FBI has jurisdiction in the case and has responded by sending 10 victim specialists to Red Lake.

Perino said FBI specialists were now in Minnesota doing a ``needs assessment.'' The FBI could provide funds to help victims with grief counseling and funeral arrangements.

Monday's rampage by Jeff Weise was the worst U.S. school shooting since the Columbine massacre in 1999 killed 15.

Weise identified himself as an ``angel of death'' and a ``NativeNazi'' in online material.