Share story

Jaylen Fryberg, like many Native American children, lived with a foot in each of two worlds.

There was the hormone-fueled community of a suburban high-school freshman, where the polite, fun-loving chatterbox played football and video games and shared every nuance of adolescent social longing on Twitter.

And there was the tight-knit world of his Tulalip Tribes, where much of life was steeped in history and tradition and where virtually everyone he knew was family in some way.

But a day after Jaylen walked into the Marysville-Pilchuck High School cafeteria and shot two of his cousins and three other students — most of them also Native American — before killing himself, those who knew him were struggling to understand where Jaylen got lost navigating these universes.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

“It’s just so devastating,” said Deborah Parker, a Tulalip board member and national expert on violence against American Indian women. “We just don’t know how it all adds up.”

While many school shootings involve social outcasts or loners, Jaylen was a polite, well-liked son of a former school-board member and recently was named a homecoming prince.

And while poverty, joblessness and other social ills have helped push Native American youth suicide rates to more than double the national average, the Tulalips are among the country’s most financially successful, sophisticated and best-run tribes. The tribes’ casino and retail developments help drive Snohomish County’s economy, and its government has won awards from Harvard University.

But no amount of success can shield an Indian community from the same vulnerabilities facing all U.S. kids.

In fact, while the circumstances leading to the shooting remain murky, there’s little to suggest that Jaylen’s cultural heritage was in any way a driving factor. Friends and Jaylen’s postings on social media suggest instead he was worked up over a girl.

“This seems like it’s more centered around being a young person and being under those kind of pressures, but we just don’t have those answers,” said Parker.

Still, surviving the complexities of being a modern American teenager can also be more challenging for Native American kids.

“When you celebrate your rich culture and go to school where it’s completely different, that’s always going to be an added pressure,” Parker said.

That’s why the school district employs people like Matt Remle, a Native youth counselor in the school district who met regularly with Jaylen and three of his victims.

But because they were freshmen, Remle had only known them about a month.

“None of us can really say what led him to that,” Remle said. “But you could say that when you’re part of another culture, that’s just an added stress on top of what is already a very stressful time in every kid’s life.”

He added, “They’re very family-oriented. All of them come from big families that love and support each other. That’s what makes a lot of it unreal, I guess.”

“Everyone’s mourning”

On Saturday, tribal members walked with candles and drums through the rain, mourning Jaylen and his victims.

The Tulalip community is small and private, different from the “outside.” Go back a few generations and there’s likely a link among each of the roughly 2,700 members living on the 22,000-acre reservation. Another 1,700 live off the reservation.

Many residents would speak to reporters but not give their names for fear they would upset someone they know. One called the shooting “internally devastating.”

“You never imagine it’s going to happen here,” another said.

Residents knew through whispers shortly after the shooting that the perpetrator and his victims were tribal members. Word travels quickly here and everyone recognized the last names.

“If you didn’t know them personally, your neighbor knows them, or someone you fish with knows them,” said Bryndon Carson, 25.

It’s that closeness that has helped with the grieving process, residents said.

“Any time you lose a prominent tribal member it’s traumatic and you try to pull together,” said State Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, and a member of the Tulalip Tribes.

In the past, tribal members have seen early death, usually in fishing accidents. But never anything like this.

Even so, at a time when sadness can easily turn toward anger, tribal members aren’t expressing animosity toward Jaylen’s family, residents said, just mourning. The same held true for many at the high school.

“He really never was a bad kid,” said student Dylen Boomer. “People loved him. He was very respectful.

Among Tulalip teens, Jaylen was more steeped in tribal culture than most. He chanted and played Native American drums, hunted and fished with his dad and participated regularly in Indian ceremonies.

“He was a really good drummer and singer,” said Killian Page, who was a few years older, but had been wrestling with Jaylen since he was 11. “Everyone thought he was going to be big in the tribe.”

Page, whose father is a member of the Tulalip Tribes, said Jaylen seemed not to struggle too much being part of two worlds. And Page and Boomer agreed that kids at school were for the most part quite racially tolerant.

Boomer recently walked out of the school weight-training room in time to see another student’s face bloodied. Jaylen, who wore his hair long and in a ponytail, had gotten in a fight after the other kid allegedly used racial slurs. But neither teen saw any link to Friday’s shooting.

“He had a short fuse, but he was a really good kid,” Page said. “I talked to him the day before and he seemed just fine.”

Times staff reporter Daniel Beekman contributed to this report.Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or cwelch@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @craigawelch