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The Rocori High School shooting
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (15)
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: September 24, 2003
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1988
Victims profile: Seth Bartell, 15, and Aaron Rollins, 17 (classmates)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Cold Spring, Minnesota, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison in August 2005. He will not be eligible for parole for over 30 years
photo gallery

The Rocori High School shooting was a school shooting that occurred in Cold Spring, Minnesota on September 24, 2003. The shooting was perpetrated by then 15-year-old Jason McLaughlin who murdered classmates Seth Bartell, 15, and Aaron Rollins, 17.

On the day of the shooting, McLaughlin brought a loaded .22-caliber pistol to school with the intention of harming Bartell. He confronted Bartell in a basement hallway and fired two shots. The first shot wounded Bartell superficially in the chest while the second shot missed and hit Rollins in the neck. McLaughlin pursued Bartell as he fled into the gym and shot him in the forehead.

At that point, physical education teacher Mark Johnson claims that McLaughlin aimed the gun at him. Johnson said he approached McLaughlin, raised his hand and shouted "No," and that McLaughlin then removed the bullets from the weapon and dropped it. Johnson then secured the gun and escorted the boy to the school office.

Rollins died on the day of the shooting while Bartell died sixteen days later.

At his murder trial, it was claimed that McLaughlin had intended only to wound Bartell, who he thought had been teasing him, by shooting Bartell in the shoulder. Rollins was supposedly not his intended target. McLaughlin was nonetheless found guilty of first and second-degree murder. In August 2005, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Jason McLaughlin is currently incarcerated at a state prison in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He will not be eligible for parole for over 30 years.


McLaughlin gets consecutive sentences in Rocori shootings

A judge has sentenced Jason McLaughlin to life in prison for a deadly 2003 school shooting in Cold Spring. The 17-year old McLaughlin faces two consecutive prison sentences for first- and second-degree murder. He won't be eligible for parole for more almost 40 years, when he's in his mid-50s. The sentencing hearing turned into an emotional affair, with testimony coming from family members of the victims and also from Jason McLaughlin's family.

St. Cloud, Minn. In a packed St. Cloud courtroom, Judge Michael Kirk asked Jason McLaughlin if he had anything to say before he was sentenced. The teenager answered with a meek "no."

Judge Kirk then told Jason he devastated the families of Seth Bartell and Aaron Rollins. This summer McLaughlin was found guilty of murdering two Rocori High School students. Kirk also told McLaughlin he'd destroyed his own future, and damaged his community's sense of safety.

Kirk sentenced McLaughlin to life in prison for first-degree murder and a another 12 years in prison for second-degree murder. With the nearly two years he's already been in custody, and time off for good behavior, the teenager won't be eligible for parole until he's over 50 years old.

After the sentencing, Rolly Bartell, the father of shooting victim Seth Bartell, said he was pleased with the sentence. But Bartell said it still doesn't heal the pain of the school shooting.

"The boys will always be gone. The only thing that would actually cure it would be to turn back time, but that won't happen," he said.

During the sentencing family members of the two shooting victims had a chance to read victim impact statements. Kim Bartell, the mother of Seth Bartell, said she thinks of her son when she goes to bed at night, and wakes up crying.

Aaron Rollins' mother, Sherri, said her heart was broken when her son was murdered. And her husband, Tom Rollins, said the murder has taken a terrible toll on his family. He described his son as a boy who lived life to the fullest. Rollins and the other family members all asked Judge Kirk to give McLaughlin the maximum sentence allowed.

Outside the courthouse, Tom Rollins said he hoped the statements made an impression on the judge.

"I hope that it did. I think he's a pretty thorough judge and I think he had his mind made up before he came here today," Rollins said.

Jason McLaughlin's mother also took the witness stand during the sentencing hearing. She cried as she read an apology to the victim's families. Then she went on to say the shooting happened in part because her son was teased at Rocori High School. She also said he's suffering from a mental illness that won't get treated in prison.

During McLaughlin's criminal trial, the judge rejected Jason's mental illness defense. Prosecutors also claimed the shooting happened because Jason was jealous of Seth, not because Jason was teased.

Jason McLaughlin is now incarcerated at a state prison in St. Cloud. The judge said he may be moved to another facility, possible even out of state, at a later date.


Court views McLaughlin video statement

Ninety minutes after the September 2003 school shooting at Rocori High School, Jason McLaughlin spoke with investigators. Prosecutor attorneys played a video of that conversation as his murder trial continued in St. Cloud Monday. Both sides say the statement is a key piece in the case.

St. Cloud, Minn. At the beginning of the video, Jason McLaughlin sits alone in a tiny room.

McLaughlin fidgets in his chair, looking uncomfortable, his hands are in cuffs behind his back. He mutters to himself occasionally, saying he's thirsty. Several times he puts his head down on a table.

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Agent Ken McDonald comes into the room. After asking a deputy to take off McLaughlin's cuffs, McDonald sits down across the table from the teen.

The only thing McDonald supposedly knows is that there was a shooting at Rocori High School that day. He asks Jason if he did it, and the teenager replies "Yeah,"

McLaughlin tells agent McDonald he smuggled a gun to school that morning, in a gym bag.

"What was your plan?" McDonald asks.

"I was going to shoot some people," McLaughlin replies.

"You were going to shoot some people?"

"They were teasing me all the time."

McLaughlin goes on to say that Seth Bartell, a fellow freshman, had been picking on him for two or three years . During testimony, several Rocori students have said that Bartell may have teased McLaughlin occasionally, but claim it was nothing serious.

McLaughlin says he wanted to hurt Seth Bartell, for making fun of his acne.

"How were they teasing you?" McDonald asks.

"Basically about my zits."

"About your zits? What was your intention?"

"I just wanted to hurt them."

"Did you want to kill them?" the investigator asks. "I don't know if they're dead or not to tell you the truth, but that wasn't your intention?"

"No," McLaughlin says

McLaughlin is fairly calm at this point. He explains to McDonald that he shot Bartell in the back in the school basement, then followed him up some stairs to a gym, and shot him a second time in the shoulder.

That second bullet actually hit Seth Bartell in the head. He died two weeks later.

Aaron Rollins was killed in the basement. The defense claims he was killed by a stray bullet meant for Bartell.

Agent McDonald leaves the room to get more information from other investigators about what happened at Rocori, and returns to tell McLaughlin what he's found out.

McLaughlin slams his fist on the table, hits his head on a nearby wall, and then breaks down sobbing.

McLaughlin acts bewildered at the news. He says he's never heard of someone called Aaron Rollins.

McDonald goes over the question again of what he'd planned that day.

"Did you have intentions of killing anybody?"


"Did you plan to kill anybody?"


"You planned to hurt somebody?"

"Just hurt them," McLaughlin answers

The prosecution says this video shows that Jason McLaughlin knew what he was doing that day. And that since he shot Seth Bartell in the head, he meant to kill him, not just wound him.

McLaughlin's attorney says the tape proves McLaughlin never meant to kill anyone, and the killing of both students was a mistake. McLaughlin's attorney says he also plans a mental health defense in the case, claiming an emerging mental illness clouded his client's judgement that day.

Also on Monday, McLaughlin's father took the witness stand. David McLaughlin, who described his relationship with his son as close, is a sargent with the Stearns County Sheriff's Department.

He testified he'd taken his son to several shooting ranges over the years. And he said he had 20 guns in his home, one of those guns is the one Jason McLaughlin is accused of using in the school shooting. David McLaughlin said when he found out his son was playing violent first-person shooter video games, he told Jason to get rid of them.

The state is expected to rest it's case today. A verdict could come from Judge Michael Kirk in coming days. That will bring an end to the first phase of the trial. The second phase, which starts July 18th, will examine Jason McLaughlin's mental state at the time of the shooting.


Two boys shot at central Minnesota high school, one dies; suspect in custody

Churches in the central Minnesota town of Cold Spring held special services last night to mark the end of a tragic day. A 15-year-old boy shot two of his classmates at Rocori High School around noon. One of the students died, another is in critical condition. Students and teachers in Cold Spring now begin the work of trying to recover.

Cold Spring, Minn. About an hour after Wednesday's shooting in Cold Spring, students wandered out of school still trying to figure out what had happened.

Senior Matt Hesse says around lunchtime students were told there was a shooting and they should stay in their rooms.

"We had to go up against the wall and stay away from all the windows and doors and we were just shocked," he said. "People kind of started crying a little bit, and they were just really, really worried. Is this a drill? What's going on? And I asked my teacher if he says code red, is that a drill? He said, 'No, that's the real deal.' We were just, like, 'Oh wow, what's going on?'"

The victims

Aaron Rollins was a senior who enjoyed the outdoors. He was gregarious, athletic and often had a pleasant word for passing teachers or classmates. He worked at the local Subway sandwich shop.

Seth Bartell was a freshman who liked to skateboard and snowboard, quiet but a good kid according to those who knew him.

About the only thing Rollins and Bartell had in common was that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time at Rocori High School on Wednesday.

Officials and teachers said there was no indication that they and John Jason McLaughlin, the 15-year-old suspected of shooting them, were any more than passing acquaintances.

Rollins was walking with other members of a senior physical education class on their way to the gym to play badminton. Bartell was with a freshman class already in the gym.

Rollins was shot in neck while in the locker room. He died a short time later.

Bartell was shot in the gymnasium. He was clinging to life at St. Cloud Hospital after several hours of surgery. Officials said he was shot in the head and chest. A bullet passed through the front of his brain.

Rocori Superintendent Scott Staska said McLaughlin did have some disciplinary problems at school, but nothing that made teachers think something was about to happen.

Greg Roth, a senior, saw Rollins just before Rollins left for his gym class. "I wish I'd known what would happen. I would've told him I love him or something," Roth said. "He's one of those guys who always had a smile on his face. If something was going wrong, he was the first guy who'd talk to you or ask you what he could do to help you."

"Aaron was a very outgoing kid; always had a smile on his face, always had a comment for you," said Brian Athman, who teaches health and phy-ed.

Rollins has a twin brother, Adam, Athman said. "Anywhere you saw one of them, you saw both of them," Athman said. They went to basketball camp. Baseball and football were big with them, but boating, hunting and fishing on Big Lake in Richmond were their passions.

"He always made something out to be funny," said Justin Hansen, 18, a senior who said he spoke with Rollins Wednesday morning before the shooting.

"I just talked to him this morning about snowmobiling in Michigan," Hansen said. The trip had become tradition for Rollins and his group of friends - this winter's trip would have marked the third consecutive time the friends would head for Michigan's Upper Peninsula to snowmobile. Hansen said Rollins was so excited about the trip he was making plans for the group to go twice before their senior year ended.

Amanda Theel, 17, a senior, recalled taking a two-week trip with Rollins to the Boundary Waters area the summer after seventh grade. She remembered him looking after her and being protective on the trip.

"He taught me how to fish," Theel said. "He was a great guy."

Chris Butala, 17, said he and Rollins met each other 30 minutes before the shooting.

"We were talking in the hallway, joking," Butala said. "I feel terrible right now. I can't even explain it, it's the worst feeling in the world. I just lost one of my best friends. I am never going to see him again."

Kati Brink taught both victims when they were eighth-graders.

Rollins, she said, "would be the one I could count on to get the soccer balls out for me. He was a helping hand, and he was always there."

Bartell, she said, was also a well-liked boy who had many friends. He was just more quiet, a little more reserved.

His friends said he had a passion for sports such as skateboarding at the skate park in town, snowboarding at Powder Ridge Ski Area in Kimball and BMX biking.

"He's basically good at every extreme sport. He's just built for it," said Jared Nordstrom, a freshman.

The alleged shooter

Neighbors who knew John Jason McLaughlin said the 15-year-old seemed like a decent kid. He did yard work for his parents without complaint and liked hanging out and playing video games.

WCCO-TV reported that the suspect sent a short e-mail to a classmate before the shootings. It didn't specify what he planned, but he asked her not to tell anyone and it closed by saying, "So I guess this is goodbye my love." The station said it was withholding her identity at the request of her parents and authorities.

"He just seemed really normal," Brianna Sullivan told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. Sullivan, an eighth-grader who grew up across the street from the McLaughlin family, said she chatted with him by phone almost daily.

But lately, those who know McLaughlin said, he began to change. He seemed more withdrawn and didn't want to come out to play. Some described him as intensely shy and self-conscious about his severe acne.

"It really was this summer that things seemed different," Jess Phillips, 12, who lives about a block away, told the Star Tribune.

Neil Wackwitz, 15, who was perhaps his closest friend in the neighborhood, also told the newspaper said McLaughlin seemed to withdraw this summer.

Sullivan said she noticed lately that he didn't seem to have many other friends. She wondered whether his small size or his acne played a role.

"Kids would tease him about that," she said.

Wackwitz said he and McLaughlin used to play video or computer games or hang out. But lately, McLaughlin usually said he didn't want to. He also started walking home after school instead of riding the bus.

Wackwitz said he felt bad but didn't think anything was seriously wrong. He said McLaughlin never mentioned that anything or anyone was bugging him. In particular, he said, McLaughlin never complained to him that kids at school were picking on him.

Sullivan said that McLaughlin had mentioned to her that people were picking on him but that he didn't seem too concerned about it.

But she said there were signs that something was amiss. During one of their long chats, she recalled, McLaughlin told her that he was being tested this summer for a split-personality disorder. She said he never mentioned it again.

Teacher Pete Spengler, who had McLaughlin in his science class at Rocori Middle School, told the Star Tribune that he never would have thought the youngster would be involved in something like this.

"When I look back, in my mind's eye, I see an ordinary kid - always smiling, always happy, always playing around," he said. "In class, he always had a lab partner. He never had a problem matching up with someone."

While many students didn't even know him as of Wednesday morning, everyone was talking about McLaughlin by afternoon

"He kept to himself in class," freshman Kelsey Lintgen told the St. Cloud Times.

"He never talked," freshman Shayna Wander told the newspaper. "It didn't seem like he was there."

"I never even heard of him even though he grew up in Cold Spring," junior Katie Kremer said.

But after the shooting Kremer noticed a photo of him in Tuesday's edition of the Cold Spring Record. A picture of him as a toddler tipping out of his stroller appeared at the bottom of the weekly newspaper's front page as part of its "Way back when..." feature.

"It's an unbelievable coincidence," said Mike Austreng, editor and publisher of the Record. "That picture was picked on Friday ... from a file of boxes strictly at random."

Austreng said the Record has literally thousands of pictures to choose for the feature each week.

Whether the photo could have prompted the shootings in any way crossed Austreng's mind, but he said he quickly discarded the notion.

"The paper comes out Tuesday, and most people read it at night," Austreng said. "There's no way that from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning this could have played a role."

Prepared the worst

Superintendent Staska says the school was prepared for such an emergency as what unfolded on Wednesday. For they past three years Rocori has held drills to deal with a shooting, the last one was a few weeks ago.

"Quite honestly when we ran the practice drills a couple of weeks ago it didn't go as well as we would like. So it gave us an opportunity to go through the issues and remind everyone of the importance of it and unfortunately we had to play it out today," he said.

Minnesota's education commissioner says staff and students at Rocori handled the situation well. Cheri Pierson Yecke says Minnesota schools are required by law to have plans in place to deal with such an emergency.

"We know that 100 percent of the school districts in this state submitted assurances that they do have such plans in place, and I think that the quick action of the school personnel and students at Rocori High School shows that they have a plan, they were prepared to take action in a difficult situation and they knew just what to do," she said.

Figuring out what to do next is going to be the toughest part for teachers and students at Rocori High School. Superintendent Scott Staska is encouraging high school students to come back to school today. Staska says they'll hold a two-hour couseling session for students and their parents. He says they don't want students at home alone dealing with the aftermath of the shooting.

"If we can bring them in have them in a safe setting we believe we can talk through it, debrief the situation, give them the support resources and then allow them to deal with it at that point."

Staska expects that Rocori will be back to a full day of classes by Friday.

Meanwhile the investigation into the shooting will continue today. Officials from the Cold Spring police, along with the Stearns County sheriff, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension the FBI and the ATF are all working on the case.


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