The Elusive Motive Behind the Marysville, WA Shooting

Update: After this was posted, the media announced that Gia Soriano passed away at 9:30 pm Sunday evening. R.I.P. Gia.

Orignal Post:

The school shooting in Marysville, Washington is a very sad and somewhat confusing story. Jaylen Fryberg’s motive remains mysterious. (Note: This is a very long post.)

The few media outlets which have attempted to decipher the relationships between Jaylen and his cousins and friends, provide conflicting information. What we know is that two teenagers are dead: Jaylen and Zoe. Four more, Gia, Shaylee and Jaylen’s two cousins, Andrew and Nate, remain in the hospital. Gia, Shaylee and Andrew are in critical condition. Nate is in serious condition, but conscious and communicating. He was shot in the jaw and tweeted a few hours ago that this is the worst pain he has felt in his life. (Added: He has also tweeted he forgives Jaylen.) [More...]

They are all so young -- 14 and 15 years old. Their twitter feeds are filled with adolescent angst, but also show a very strong bond between this group of friends, many of whom have been friends since early childhood. They continually express support and love for each other. It is somewhat puzzling that given the despair Jaylen expressed on Twitter the past few months, his friends didn’t catch that something was really wrong.

Even more puzzling is why Jaylen targeted his cousins and good friends. No one in the community has been willing to publicly discuss specific details of Jaylen’s recent despair (which is, of course, their right.) There are only third hand accounts of a romantic rejection or entanglement, and suggestions he may have been bitter about a racial slur made to him by a a football team member that resulted his being suspended for a very short period. That’s about it. Those who might be in a position to know aren’t talking.

Jaylen’s Twitter account (@frybergj) does show he was struggling with romantic problems, mostly involving his girlfriend Shilene (@ShileneGeorgiaa). The couple had been together since at least June or July, but began having problems by early September. They have been on-again, off-again since then. It's hard to know what their status was on the day of the shootings. But Shilene goes to a different school and was not at his school the day of the shooting. So clearly, she was not a target.

The kids seated at the table in the cafeteria who he opened fire on were all his close friends. They are Jaylen’s 15 year old cousin Andrew, his 14 year old cousin Nate, Andrew’s girlfriend Zoe, and three other girls named Shaylee, Gia and Keryn. Zoe, Shaylee and Gia are 14. Keryn , according to her Twitter account, was the only person at the table not shot. Apparently, Jaylen’s gun jammed and he was reloading it when a teacher who had heard the shots from outside the cafeteria came running in and grabbed Jaylen’s arm in attempt to stop him. As he resisted, the gun went off, and a bullet hit him in the neck, killing him. Witnesses say he didn’t intend to kill himself (at least at that moment.) (Added: Jaylen's death has now officially been ruled a suicide.) It’s unknown if he would have limited his shooting to that particular table or gone on to shoot others. It does seem the teacher’s intervention at least allowed Keryn to get out of danger.

Zoe was the first to die after Jaylen. Gia and Shaylee were sent to the hospital and underwent surgery for head wounds. They may be on life support. Andrew was struck in the head and is in critical condition. As mentioned above, Nate was struck in the jaw and is now conscious and communicating but cannot yet talk.

Reconstructing events, even from their and their friends’ and siblings’ copious Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and Instagram accounts is not easy, and more than a bit ambiguous, but there are some hints. The shooting was on October 24. On Saturday, October 19, all of them were at a Homecoming dance at their school. Here is a photo with all of them except Gia, who appears below in a separate photo. (larger version here.) I filled in the key names, from information and photos on their FB and Twitter pages. (Some media articles mix a few of them up, but I’m fairly certain my identifications are correct. )

Jaylen and his (ex) girlfriend Shilene are on the top right. On the bottom right are Jaylen’s 15 year old cousin Andrew Fryberg (@fryberg1) and Zoe (@zoegalasso), age 14. On the bottom left is Jaylen’s 14 year old cousin Nate (@NateDeezy21), with his date Em (@EmilyGeneOaks). Em’s sister Carmen (@carmennn_lopezz) is in the center of the top row with her date. On the top left is Shaylee (@Shayleee56), with her date Dakota (@dakotahayes13). Keryn (@KerynFP) and her date Tim are in the center of the bottom row. The girl by herself in the front row has a twitter account at @ManiyahD.

Below is a picture of Gia Soriano (@giasoriano12) and her date Mitchell (@MitchellSawyer4).

Here's a large photo of them all seated together at the dance.

Here are some photos just of the couples:

Here's another photo of Jaylen and Shileen:

The media has presented two versions of Jaylen’s despondency over a love interest. One version maintains he was angry at one of his cousins who had tried to take his ex-girlfriend from him. Again, his ex-girlfriend is Shilene who goes to a different school and was not in the cafeteria. Also, Jaylen and Shilene attended the Homecoming dance together on October 19, five days before the shooting, so it doesn't appear he lost her to one of his cousins.

While on September 18, Jaylen tweeted to someone he thought of as a brother that the person was interfering with his girlfriend, it's not at all clear it was directed to one of these cousins. Cousin Andrew has been together with Zoe since last summer and according to their Twitter accounts, they are still going strong.

It appears to me the source of the information may have been another jealous female. Here's an exchange between Shaylee and Jaylen on September 20.

Three days after that, Shilene and Jaylen were reconfirming their love for each other. And on October 6, Shilene tweeted that she wanted to go to the same school as her boyfriend, presumably meaning Jaylen.

Another indicator that his cousins didn't try to steal Shilene may be this this tweet to Shilene on Oct. 21, that he should have listened to her, which could be a reference to her having denied the accusation back in September.

Also, it's unlikely Shaylee was referring to Shilene in her tweet to Jaylen as Shaylee and Shilene are friends. On October 21, they had this complimentary exchange. Clearly, there was no rivalry or jealousy between them.

I think it's unlikely Shilene was involved with cousin Nate even though it appears Nate was not romantically involved with someone else when Jaylen made the Sept. 20 tweets. While Nate took Em to the dance on October 19, she was visiting family from out of town, and it does not seem they had been romantically involved. Here's Em and her sister Carmen.

Also, Shilene is older than Nate. She's a sophomore and close to getting her driver's license. Nate is 14. I think the difference matters at that age. Even if Nate made some clumsy attempt to woo Shilene, thinking she and Jaylen were no longer together, I can't see her having accepted.

Bottom line: I think the ex-girlfriend jealousy motive doesn't hold up. It seems the concerns and anger he expressed about Shilene on September 18 - 20 had been put to rest as unfounded days before the shootings.

A second theory floating in the media is that Jaylen wanted to date one of the other girls in the group, and that she rejected him in favor of one of his cousins. I don’t know who this girl would be, but again, it’s unlikely to be Zoe, since Zoe and Andrew have been together since last summer and according to their Twitter accounts, are still going strong.

He could have been rejected by Shaylee. Shaylee was upset about something the night before the shooting, and one of her tweets says, “I didn’t mean to lead you on, Bruh.” Two days earlier she tweeted that it was hard to put guys in the "friend zone." But Shaylee wasn’t dating either of his cousins. So she's unlikely to be a person who rejected him in favor of one of his cousins. If Nate and Shaylee were going to hook up, it’s more logical they would have gone to the dance together on Oct. 19, instead of Nate taking Em and Shaylee going with Dakota. Shaylee and Dakota have portrayed themselves as just long-time friends and Dakota and Jaylen are not cousins.

Nor is Gia's date, Mitchell, a cousin of Jaylen's.

Yet another motive promoted by the media is that Jaylen was “bullied” and upset about having been suspended from the football team. He was not a “bullied” kid. He was suspended from the team around October 13, when another team member reportedly made a racial slur about him and Jaylen broke his nose. Cousin Nate stuck up for him, sending him a tweet saying the guy had it coming and the team needed him back. Racial taunts are rare at this school, and Jaylen was a popular, outgoing kid. He was also back at school the Thursday before the dance (October 17). He is in a video at a homecoming ceremony where he’s wearing a ribbon that says “Homecoming Royalty.” Curiously, on the night of the dance, it is Gia’s date Mitchell, not Jaylen, who is wearing the homecoming royalty ribbon. Did Jaylen lose his title, or was there more than one Homecoming Prince? I have no idea. But I don’t see anything about the change that would cause him to be angry at his cousins or the girls.

One note about Jaylen and guns. Jaylen was not particularly enamored of guns. He, like many in the community, enjoyed hunting with his family. He was thrilled when his parents bought him a hunting rifle for his birthday. There are photos of him with animals from hunting excursions, but he has also written that his real love of hunting is the opportunity to be outdoors and with his family, not guns or shooting the animals. Also, the gun he used at the school was a 40 caliber pistol or revolver, not a rifle. The gun was also lawfully acquired by the owner (i.e., this was not a stolen gun.) From his FB page in February:

And... The thing is, is I don't always just go out an shoot something. It's not my favorite part about hunting. My favorite part about it is about just being in the woods. Just me my dad an my brother. An even if I'm sitting in the passenger seat sleeping it doesn't matter. I like to be in the woods an that's it....

So it’s all very murky. It’s not clear whether he was targeting his cousins or the girls or both. It’s not at all clear why he would be angry at any of them.

All of their twitter feeds are filled with typical teen-aged angst. Shilene’s angst was not just over Jaylen, but also about her mother. She was frustrated because she couldn’t go to the same school as Jaylen. One of Jaylen’s cousin’s twitter feed is filled with talk and photos about drugs and getting high. So are some of the other boys’ accounts, although to a lesser extent. All of them tweet a lot about sex, and some about waking up with their boyfriends/girlfriends, which I assume means they spend nights together. Considering these kids are mostly 14, and a few are 15, it's tempting to ask where is the parental supervision.

But these kids are not flunking out of school and all seem to play varsity sports, attend school functions and socialize well with each other. None appear anti-social. They not only treat each other with respect, they frequently express their love for each other (as friends) and provide a great deal of support to each other. So even if they are raising themselves, they seem to be doing a pretty good job. However, this also makes it all the more puzzling that none of them noticed how far Jaylen had slid into despair and sought help for him.

The community itself seems remarkable. From the moment this happened, they have individually and collectively refused to cast blame on Jaylen. They believe he and his family are victims, just like those he injured and killed. Jaylen’s family is very large and several are prominent tribal leaders. They are devastated by Jaylen’s actions, and the community is supporting them. They say this is not the Jaylen they knew. The Jaylen they knew was a positive, upbeat kid, very popular and outgoing. They all say they will miss him. I think their reaction is quite admirable. But considering no other community has responded this way to a teen who has shot and killed other teens at their local school, it does add another layer of mystery.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of haters in the public who are commenting negatively on social media about Jaylen and his friends. Some have tweeted rabid anti-Native American comments directly to these kids. And the media has been relentlessly hounding the kids for interviews.

I think what distinguishes this shooting from previous ones is the willingness and determination of the community to make something positive come from the tragedy. It would be nice if the media just reported the facts, let the kids grieve in peace and expressed admiration for the way this community has come together to support each other as they go through the healing process.

Whatever Jaylen’s motive, which likely will never be known, this appears to be a single act of aberrant behavior by an individual with an otherwise unblemished life. Good people sometimes do bad things. There doesn’t appear to be any grand message that can be taken and applied to prevent other shootings. It’s just a very sad story.

My condolences to the families of Jaylen and Zoe, may they rest in peace. I’m sending good thoughts to Shaylee, Gia, Andrew and Nate and their families, with hopes for a full recovery, and to the other kids in the community who have been traumatized by the event. The school is providing counseling, and many individuals in the community have expressed that their homes and phone lines are open if any of them want to talk. I hope the kids take advantage of it

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  • Display: Sort:
    Thank you for the update-Wow! (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by BarnBabe on Sun Oct 26, 2014 at 11:18:20 PM EST
    It was interesting and so informative for me. I did have to keep scrolling back and forth between the pictures of the students and their part in the events. They all seem like such nice looking and confident kids. I am sorry for the loss of their friends and for the traumatic memories of this horrible day that they will carry for the rest of their lives.

    Elusive Motive Behind the Marysville Shooting (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by satyagraha18 on Sun Oct 26, 2014 at 11:48:26 PM EST
    Jaylen Fryberg's Twitter entries reveal a young teenager suffering from an inability to manage a seemingly intense and emotionally frought relationship with his girlfriend.  When the relationship finally did reach an end as revealed by Ms. Shilene George's tweets on October 21, Mr. Fryberg appears to have experienced an emotional/psychic breakdown as he wrote "It breaks me... It actually does... I know it seems like I'm sweating it off... But I'm not.. And I never will be able to...".

    Regarding a motive, the definition of "motive" by Merriam-Webster is as follows:  "something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act".  My view is that Mr. Fryberg was filled with uncontrollable rage and pain caused by the loss of his girlfriend and possible related betrayal by an older cousin.  His tragic motive seems to have been nothing more than to destroy...to murder...in order to exact a toll on the people around him.  Irrational & senseless?  Absolutely.

    tjhis morning I heard one of the Marysville (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by ruffian on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 10:44:59 AM EST
    authorities talking about what a string community they are, and how they are going to recover, or words to that effect, and I was thinking to myself that I don't even know what that means in this context. It is not like a natural disaster where there is rebuilding to do. I guess recovery means at some point teenagers will be smiling again and have football games, school, dances, etc. Basically go on again in spite of this...what else can they do?  

    Maybe a close community like this can lead the way in finding a solution to getting kids an outlet fort their frustrations and anger? Maybe it finally happened in the right place and these young lives are not lost to no purpose whatsoever? I wish I knew.

    The family, and even friends (none / 0) (#9)
    by ZtoA on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 12:30:06 PM EST
    won't recover. It will be a part of their lives for generations. Over time it may not be such an overwhelming part of their lives, but it will always be there. It's such a tragedy.

    That is what I think too (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by ruffian on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 01:18:53 PM EST
    No one directly involved is going to really recover. I don't want to come hard on this guy for that statement since I know he is upset too, and it was more a statement of bravado than reality, but it struck me the wrong way.

    Can We Blame it on Twitter? (2.00 / 1) (#7)
    by RickyJim on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 10:42:43 AM EST
    I looked at his tweets and saw nothing more than a potty mouthed nothing expressing his drivel to his friends. Was there anything about what school is supposed to about?  And apparently they all thought he was cool; we read that he won a popularity contest.  I'm afraid that Twitter helps empower those who tendencies should be repressed, not magnified.

    Not sure the motive (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jack203 on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 09:19:33 AM EST
    But typically, the combination of mental illness and guns do not need a motive.

    I haven't looked into this tragedy in depth.  But it seems he may not have been delusional, but just have major anger issues.  I am sure either could have been treated if he had gotten help instead of picked up a gun.

    If guns were as widely spread 30 years ago... (none / 0) (#4)
    by Dadler on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 10:18:47 AM EST
    ...at lest five phucked up dudes I knew in high school would've gunned down girls who broke up with them.

    Sick society with a sick relationship to firearms, both domestically and abroad.

    I was wondering the same thing.... (none / 0) (#5)
    by ruffian on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 10:31:15 AM EST
    what is it that makes a kid like this turn to this 'solution' to his problems? I wish he had lived so we would have more of a chance at understanding. Something is horribly wrong, that is all that is clear.

    Has the name of the owner of the gun (none / 0) (#6)
    by ruffian on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 10:35:18 AM EST
    been made public? Wondering how Jaylen got it.

    Can't remember where I read it, (none / 0) (#12)
    by vml68 on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 04:46:25 PM EST
    but I read that the gun belonged to Jaylen's father.

    Anger, guns, supervision, mental illness (none / 0) (#10)
    by ZtoA on Mon Oct 27, 2014 at 12:45:03 PM EST
    Many teens experience their emotions very strongly! When they're angry they are angry, when they are bored they are bored, when in love they are in LOVE.  I think it would be difficult to really tease out this kid's anger issues as 'abnormal' or even the motive for the shooting.

    Mental illness, like schizophrenia, usually present a little older than 14. But sometimes when a mental illness presents it does so violently and suddenly.

    regarding supervision and sex...with teens where there is a strong will, there is a way. In those cases the parents are not absent, just outsmarted and maybe clueless. Sometimes parents can only see if their kid(s) grades are OK, they play sports, they have friends, they know the families of their kids friends, and their kid(s) seem to be basically healthy.

    I am for sensible (stronger) gun control, but in this case it would make no difference. Believe me, if a gun was not available other ways of inflicting harm and death would be found.

    My heart goes out to the family and community and to the spirits of the dead kids. Thank you J for your insightful and researched post on this.

    Exceptional Research and Summary (none / 0) (#13)
    by BeDazzled on Thu Oct 30, 2014 at 08:21:24 PM EST
    Thank you, Jeralyn, for all that information and research.

    The community is strong. I don't know how many of you are personally familiar with reservations, but I have spent a great deal of time with Native Americans, have friends in the Tulalip, Lummi, Apache and Yavapai tribes and worked on reservations.

    I don't have any idea what Jaylen meant in his tweets, but I know what crossed my mind as I read them based on how difficult it is for tribal members to find a future off the reservations. He was at a point in puberty that explains the intensity on girl/boy relationships.

    Without him explaining what happened to put that gun in his hand and make the attempt to end the lives of those who were so close to him, it's impossible to know for sure what he was dealing with emotionally.

    (I thought his royalty court banner was simply being used as a comical photo op by his friend. Jaylen was the Freshman Prince.)