Everyday Hero: Jeff May | Reader's Digest

Everyday Hero: Jeff May

High school student Jeff May managed to tackle a school shooter and save the lives of his fellow students.

By John Rosengren from Reader's Digest | September 2005

The ninth-graders in Missy Dodds’s seventh-period study hall were restless that Monday afternoon, March 21, 2005. It was the last period of the day. All eyes were on the big clock on the front wall of the classroom — just minutes until the final bell.

Jeff May sat alone at a table calculating algebra problems. If he cranked through his schoolwork now, he figured, he could meet up with a buddy that afternoon to shoot baskets in his aunt’s driveway.

Everyday Hero: Jeff MayPhotographed by Layne KennedyWhen a troubled student started shooting, Jeff May tackled him.

May was nearly a full-blooded Ojibwe, like many of the students and teachers at Red Lake Senior High School in northern Minnesota. The 15-year-old didn’t mind studying, but he much preferred playing basketball.

Suddenly there was frantic pounding on the door. Neva Rogers, one of the teachers, rushed into the classroom, breathless. “Somebody’s shooting out there!” Rogers said.

Just a few minutes earlier, a young man in a black trench coat, his hair spiked into thorns, had walked into the building carrying three guns. One of the security guards stationed at the main entrance, Derrick Brun, confronted him. Even though the guard was unarmed, the gunman shot him twice, killing him.

Then he fired another shot down the hallway, narrowly missing Rogers, a 62-year-old English teacher. Dodds quickly locked the door and snapped off the lights. “Get in back!” she told the students. “Hide!”

May flipped a table up on its side, spilling his math book and papers to the floor as he knelt behind the makeshift bunker. Nearby crouched his best friend, Dewayne Lewis, and another classmate, Alicia White. For months, May had had a crush on White, but he hadn’t mustered the courage to ask her out.

The classroom was absolutely silent. Suddenly there were shots in the hallway outside — loud booms that sounded like textbooks slammed to the floor. As seconds ticked by, the shots boomed louder, closer.

An instant later, the window beside the locked door was shattered by a shotgun blast. A burly figure in a trench coat and combat boots climbed through the two-foot- wide opening. May recognized Jeff Weise. Although the two boys both lived on the reservation, they had never spoken.

Other students sometimes picked on the troubled boy. For the past few months, Weise had been tutored at home. He was depressed and being treated for suicidal tendencies. Doctors had prescribed Prozac to try to get him into a better balance. But today Weise carried a 12-gauge
shotgun, a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol and a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol. On his face was a frightening smile.

“God save us,” said Mrs. Rogers.

Weise looked over at her. He leveled his .40-caliber and fired. The bullet struck her in the head, and she slumped to the floor, dead. He then turned to the students huddled in the back of the room. “Do you guys believe in God?” he asked.

“No,” answered one boy, Chon Gai’ la Morris. May said nothing.

Weise pointed his gun and opened fire. Boom. May watched his best friend Dewayne slump. Boom. Alicia White, May’s crush, crumpled. Boom. Boom. Boom. Chanelle Rosebear, Chase Lussier and Thurlene Stillday lay fatally wounded.

The killer aimed his gun at Dodds and squeezed the trigger. Click. It was empty. He reached to reload.

As soon as Weise started shooting, Jeff May thought, Somebody’s got
to stop this guy. At six-foot-three and 300 pounds, he realized he was one of the few kids who might
have a chance against the gunman, who stood six feet tall and weighed about 250.

May was a varsity football player, but he was no tough guy. Still, he thought, if I can slow him down, maybe I can save some lives. At least he might buy a little time until police arrived. May figured his best chance was to surprise Weise, take him down. Glancing around for a weapon, he saw nothing. Then he realized he was still clutching the pencil he’d used to calculate his
algebra problems.

In one motion, May lunged at the shooter and jabbed the pencil hard into his side. But something deflected the blow. It turned out Weise was wearing a bulletproof vest swiped from his police officer grandfather, Daryl Lussier.

Earlier that afternoon, Weise had stopped at Lussier’s house, where he shot and killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend, Michelle Sigana. Then Weise had grabbed
the keys to Lussier’s patrol car and drove to the school.

No one knows what set Weise off that day. But he was clearly determined to kill as many people as he could.

May tried to wrestle him to the ground, but Weise stubbornly held his own. Then he managed to raise his reloaded pistol and fire right at May’s face.

May saw a bright flash of light and collapsed hard on the floor. The bullet had entered his right cheek, fractured his jaw and lodged in his neck, near his vertebrae. Blood splattered Weise’s black boots.

The two had grappled for just enough time, witnesses estimate, to spare the lives of the remaining dozen people in the classroom. In total, Weise spent less than ten minutes at the high school, but left eight people dead and another seven wounded in the deadliest school shooting since Columbine.

Four Red Lake police officers arrived and exchanged gunfire with Weise in the hallway outside Mrs. Dodds’s classroom. One officer shot him three times. The troubled boy staggered back into the classroom and fatally shot himself in the head.
Speaking for herself and the other survivors, Dodds says Jeff May saved their lives when he jumped at the killer. His brave action did not surprise her. “I totally would expect that of him,” she says.

May was airlifted to MeritCare Hospital, 105 miles away in Fargo, North Dakota. He suffered a stroke that immobilized his left side and required surgery to remove the
bullet. For many tense hours, his family members feared they would lose him. He is recovering, slowly, with two daily hourlong sessions each of physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Still, lying in his hospital bed two months after the shooting, May says if he had to relive that day, he would once again abandon the shelter of the overturned table and try to stop the shooter. Why?

“To make sure so many people don’t die,” he says.