MARYSVILLE — Three months before Friday’s shooting, Jaylen Fryberg celebrated his birthday by posing with a hunting rifle that he called “the best present ever.”
“i just love my parents!!!” he posted in an online message.
An adored child from a prominent Tulalip Tribes family, Fryberg loved life with his girlfriend, classmates, teammates and hobbies. A week before the shooting, he was crowned freshman homecoming prince. A day before the shooting, he danced joyfully through football practice.
One tribal resident called Fryberg “a golden boy.” Another thought he was a potential future tribal leader.
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Despite his promising life trajectory, conflict at school had left Fryberg stewing, friends said.
Authorities say Fryberg walked into the Marysville-Pilchuck High School cafeteria Friday and fired a handgun at classmates who were sitting at a table, killing one and injuring four others. Friends and family members said two of the surviving victims were Fryberg’s cousins.
Fryberg died after turning the gun on himself.
The shooting baffled a Tulalip community that is filled with Fryberg’s immediate and extended family members. Fryberg’s grandfather is director of fish and wildlife for the Tulalip Tribes — one of many family members involved in government.
While some said a dispute between students preceded the shooting, many expressed bewilderment at the lengths Fryberg went to settle a score.
“He was well-liked,” said Richard Young, who knows the Fryberg family and has a son at the high school. “It’s just a big shock to everybody.”
At the homecoming announcement last week, Fryberg stood before his peers with a royalty sash, black vest, button-up shirt and tie. He shyly watched the ground while an announcer used a microphone to tout his activities to the crowd sitting before them.
One of those activities was football.
Brandon Carr, 15, a fellow freshman, said he saw Fryberg on Thursday at the team practice and felt he was in good spirits.
“He was all happy, dancing around and listening to music. I don’t know what happened today,” Carr said.
Another student, Nathan Heckendorf, said Fryberg was temporarily suspended from the football team last week for getting into a fight with a peer who used a racial slur toward him. Some students described a romantic problem he was upset about.
But Heckendorf, a junior who lives on the reservation and knows the shooter and victims, said he talked to Fryberg on Friday morning and thought he seemed fine.
“He seemed like any other average kid coming to school on a Friday,” Heckendorf said. “I saw nothing that struck me that anything was wrong.”
Another student, 14-year-old Kobe Baumann, saw a different side of Fryberg on Friday. He said the two shared fourth-period English class right before the shooting occurred. Baumann said Fryberg seemed kind of nervous.
“He sits right up in the front,” Baumann said. “He got called on, but he just kept his head down and didn’t really say anything.”
State Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, represents the area and said there was some sort of dispute between two or three kids that preceded the shooting.
McCoy didn’t know the origins of the dispute, but said it apparently festered.
McCoy said Fryberg was a rising star in his prominent family, a kid involved in tribal culture and extracurricular school activities who had a bright future.
“One tribal leader today said he was on track to be a future leader of the tribe,” McCoy said. “There’s a lot of disappointment.”
Austin Joyner, a student and football player at the school, said on Twitter that he saw Fryberg come into the cafeteria, walk over to a table, pull out a gun and shoot students who were sitting there.
Zach Yarbrough, a junior, said he saw Fryberg “extend his arm across a round table and fire his gun three to four times.”
In his recent postings on Twitter, Fryberg showed a mix of adolescent lust and angst, with his most recent posting on Thursday morning saying, “It won’t last…. It’ll never last….”
“I should have listened…. You were right,” he wrote in another message earlier in the week.
Other images on social media showed him joyful, playing sports and spending time with his girlfriend. One image shows him proudly holding the antlers of a deer.