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Would-be Minnesota school bomber seeking education, work after serving sentence

WASECA, Minn. -- John LaDue's hope for "greatness" has radically changed. More than two years since law enforcement discovered LaDue's stockpile of bomb-making supplies in a Waseca storage shed, the teenager who told investigators of his plans to...

WASECA, Minn. -- John LaDue’s hope for “greatness” has radically changed.

More than two years since law enforcement discovered LaDue’s stockpile of bomb-making supplies in a Waseca storage shed, the teenager who told investigators of his plans to kill his parents and hundreds at school simply wants to move forward.

He’s not certain whether the residents of Waseca will accept those steps.

“I’m just trying to fit in schooling and trying to get work,” LaDue said last week in an interview with the Waseca County News.

Schooling means welding classes. Future work, LaDue hopes, will be as a pipe-fitter in St. Paul.

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But LaDue has deeply reflected on his past decisions.

“That was a very bad decision,” he said of his warehousing of bomb-making materials.

At the time, he saw carrying out an elaborate plot to first kill his family, starting a fire as a distraction for first responders then setting off bombs and shooting students at Waseca Junior-Senior High School as a path to "greatness." It's a view he now rejects.

Today, LaDue agrees with the most recent therapists’ evaluation: the 19-year-old suffers from a major depression disorder, is narcissistic and has an “unspecified” obsessive, compulsive disorder. But while agreeing with the assessment, LaDue disagrees with recommendations. He refuses medication.

Still, LaDue respects those who have talked to him, evaluated him and tried to discover what was inside his head as he was moved from facility to facility, through jail cells and courtrooms.

”Every therapist I’ve met has been a very agreeable person,” said LaDue, but he's decided to discontinue seeking professional help. “I don’t doubt their credentials at all, but I think they’re wrong. I think I know what’s in my best interests.”

While LaDue understands how initial assessments claimed he suffered from a rare form of late onset autism with a fixation on violence, he now agrees his mental illness and depression are a “genetic disorder.”

Evaluators changed LaDue's diagnosis when he was taken to a state facility last fall after sentencing on one count of possessing explosives. That led to LaDue's release to his family on probation and ultimately his rejection of probation last month as he had served his full 21-month sentence, either in a juvenile treatment facility or the Waseca County Jail.

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In a submitted letter about his current state, LaDue stressed the importance of community and how individual traits fit into it. And he concluded he was gravely wrong and “irresponsible,” saying that “at the time, I was pretty naive on the issue of mental illness.”

“It boils down to two factors,” LaDue wrote. “Intellect and community. I had intellect, but I was incorrect in believing that having a sense of community, such as caring for others, was a bad thing.”

LaDue also understands the Waseca community’s reaction to the discovery of his “plan.” Fear gripped Waseca when the plot was revealed. LaDue had been a secretive and meticulous planner, stockpiling materials and testing small explosives in areas around town, including on a Hartley Elementary School playground.

That fear has, in some cases, turned to anger, especially at news of LaDue serving probation at home and then his full release based on time served.

“I don’t really criticize people ‘cause they have the right to their opinions,” he said. “And maybe I go overboard sometimes in my thoughts. I’m not trying to win the hearts of everyone.”

Nor is LaDue focused on it.

“That’s more of their burden,” he said. ‘I’m sure there are plenty of people who would disagree with that. But I’m not too worried about that. I don’t really know people here so I don’t give a crap whether they like me or not.

“I don’t know them. I don’t.”

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‘Bad decision’ thwarted by tip, police LaDue’s behavior and struggle to enter that warehouse unit in April 2014 prompted a tip to law enforcement, which responded and found the Waseca teenager and his bomb-making supplies, and quickly learned of his plan. It was LaDue’s own words within minutes of sitting down with investigators which caused tremendous alarm, with law enforcement and the public.

LaDue said he had spent upward of $4,000 on materials, some from a local hardware store, most from online purchases. He was 17 at the time of his April 29, 2014 arrest.

“That was my work space, you could call it,” LaDue said of the storage unit. And while he wouldn’t say how close he might have been to putting together his plan, he noted he was $300 to $400 short of buying the remaining supplies.

“There were still things that I needed to get.”

It wasn’t difficult finding or purchasing materials needed for bomb-making. Two pressure cooker bombs had been a part of LaDue’s plan, he had told police investigators.

“I got a lot of it on the internet, the stuff you could find at Wal-Mart and the little (hardware) store,” recalled LaDue.

He told investigators at the time he wasn’t going to be a “wimp” like other mass murderers, that he wanted to be killed by police. Officer Tim Schroeder asked LaDue, “Why is this place so bad?”

“I don’t know,” LaDue replied, almost emotionless. “I just don’t care for it.”

He had picked April, then his favorite month of the year, because it was the month when “all the bad tragedies happen: Titanic, Columbine, Oklahoma City bombing, Boston (Marathon) bombing.”

LaDue says he’s in a much different mental state of mind today. He’s confident of that, hoping to move forward, gain more schooling and find employment. LaDue, who would have graduated in 2015 at Waseca High School, earned his high school diploma within months of being jailed.

While he said he had minor problems during his days in the Waseca school district, “I wasn’t one of the drug users or going to Wal-Mart and stealing things.”

Father's support David LaDue, John's father, has remained a staunch supporter of his son throughout the past two plus years. Growing up in south Minneapolis before moving to Waseca, he commutes into the metropolitan area for work.

David has not shied away from commenting on his son's case, the criminal justice process and how it has changed his son and family. But he stressed news of his son’s arrest and potential plans were “extremely shocking” and he was “very disappointed.”

“But also I was proud to note that he completely owned up to everything,” David stressed, adding his son was “completely honest and truthful” throughout the entire ordeal. “John said, ‘There’s no excuse for what I’ve done.’"

David LaDue watched his son grow and change little, calling him “pragmatic” and said “he seems to be processing things all the time.”

“John has always been this way,” David said. “It’s always who he’s been. That’s why it was so hard for me to hear of John’s potential plans.”

But despite the struggles and LaDue’s journey through the judicial system, therapy, almost two years in confinement and conflicting assessments, “he’s kind of glad he’s gone through this.”

“He’s matured a lot,” David said. "It kind of forced him out of his shell. It's not all bad."

But the LaDue family has not denied “what was a very ugly state of affairs.”

David LaDue says “we’re now doing great,” although his wife, a regional drug dependency counselor, has had a more difficult time with all the news. His daughter, then a WHS senior, “went back to school two days after this happened.”

For him, David LaDue believes speaking up, and being honest about his son’s incident and current journey are important.

“I wanted people to learn from this,” he stressed.

Return to a better state of being John LaDue said his time in a cell and particularly his time in a Red Wing, Minn., juvenile detention facility changed him. It was “gradual,” but a definite change.

His only brief break of emotion during an interview last week was when asked about the possibility of him carrying through with the bombing of the Waseca school building, the possibility his sister might have been among the fatalities.

Today, even back when he was in a Waseca classroom, the thought of carrying through his plan was “nerve-wracking.”

He’s bounced into former teachers during his infrequent times out and about in the Waseca community. Those who’ve greeted him have been cordial, and it means a great deal to him, he acknowledged.

“I don’t have any resentment toward the community,” said LaDue. “I can’t think of any incidents that I’ve been wronged by people.

“The whole thing is gradual,” LaDue said of his journey back. “You can’t point to one thing or another and wish it was different. It was, of course, ridiculous and unpleasant. Yep, I’ve wasted a lot of time and money. And yes, if I had my options to do it over, I would not have it happen.”

But it did. And LaDue says he’s taken full responsibility for his actions. In his eyes, he’s a better person today and he’s on a simple path.

“My main priority is to just get on and have a successful future,” he said. For the Waseca community, LaDue understands, it may not be so simple.

“Forgiveness is generally a good thing to do,” said LaDue.

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