1.5 million attained in personal injury recoveries for victims of the Red Lake shooting

By Amy Forliti Associated Press Writer

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Victims' family members and survivors of the Red Lake High School shooting will split $1.5 million under a settlement reached with a company hired to come up with a crisis plan for the school.

During a hearing Tuesday, Hennepin County Judge Lloyd Zimmerman said he will decide how to split the money - and he will work on moving the case to Red Lake so the affected families won't have to continue making the drive to the Twin Cities.

Bemidji attorney Mark Rodgers, who represented nine of the 21 clients, said the hearing will be held in January.

The Red Lake School District also paid a settlement of $1 million in 2006 to some of the individuals involved, Rodgers said. He said he also is handling the workers compensation cases for staff affected by the March 21, 2005, shooting.

"It's a historic settlement for one of these school shooting tragedies," Rodgers said. "We're just happy we could get the best settlement possible for these 21 families."

The settlement with Mac-Neil Environmental Inc. was reached last month, but the amount wasn't disclosed until Tuesday's hearing. As part of the settlement, Mac-Neil did not admit liability.

MacNeil had been hired to provide a crisis management plan, train school officials and evaluate the school's security weaknesses.

Seven people at the school were killed and several others were injured March 21, 2005, when 16-year-old Jeffrey Weise carried out the attack, which ended when Weise killed himself. Before he went to the school, Weise killed his grandfather and his grandfather's girlfriend on the Indian reservation in northwestern Minnesota.

"It's been a long wait for them," said Gregory McEwen, an attorney for injured student Jeffrey May and other plaintiffs. "They've been living with this for a long time."

May, who charged Weise during the rampage and is credited with saving the lives of other students, has a brain injury, speech problems and walks with a cane.

The other severely injured student, Steven Cobenais, also has a brain injury and a glass eye.

Both May and Cobenais will require ongoing care for the rest of their lives, their attorneys said.

"They're catastrophically injured," said Richard Ruohonen, Cobenais' attorney. The attorneys said their clients' share of the $1.5 million won't begin to cover the cost of lifelong care, but it will help.

Philip Sieff, an attorney representing many of the families whose loved ones were killed in the shooting, said the judge is in the best position to decide how the settlement money should be divided.

"That's what we had requested, so we're thrilled that the judge was willing to take on that difficult task," Sieff said. Pioneer Editor Molly Miron contributed to this story.