McLaughlin's Parents Grieve Losses
Of Victims, Son

Jason McLaughlin
Sep 25, 2005 10:33 pm US/Central

(AP) Cold Spring, Minn.

When Jason McLaughlin was sentenced to life in prison for shooting and killing two students at Rocori High School, the victims' families told the judge they were living a nightmare that will never end.

McLaughlin's parents, David and Mary McLaughlin, feel they share the same grim fate.

The McLaughlins, speaking publicly about the shooting for the first time, told the Star Tribune their waking moments are consumed by grief for the boys their son killed -- Aaron Rollins and Seth Bartell -- and for the life their son will never live.

Jason McLaughlin, after a trial before a judge, was sentenced last month to life in prison for the Sept. 24, 2003, slayings.

"We just see what he's taken from these families and there's no way to make it right," said David McLaughlin, 48.

Mary McLaughlin, 45, said, "Every day we wake up, it's Sept. 24, 2003. It's the first thing you think about every morning. It's the last thing you think about when you go to sleep. Most of the time, it's what you dream about. It never goes away."

It took almost two years before David and Mary McLaughlin felt they could sit and talk publicly about the only child of their marriage, the youngest of their blended families.

In Cold Spring and nearby St. Cloud, where David McLaughlin works as a deputy for the Stearns County Sheriff's Department, there have been more helping hands than blame, the couple said.

Hundreds of cards, sent mostly by supportive strangers, fill two boxes.

On Mary McLaughlin's wrist is a bracelet of silver and red beads inscribed with Jason's initials.

Capt. Pam Jensen of the Stearns County Sheriff's Department made it for Mary. "So I could have Jason with me every day," Mary McLaughlin said.

The couple still have the same jobs they held before the shooting -- Mary works at a nearby Gold'n Plump plant -- and have found solace in work and from colleagues. They haven't considered moving.

"If it wasn't for all the support we've gotten from our neighbors and the rest of our family and the people in the community, I don't know how we'd ever gotten through this," David McLaughlin said.

After the shooting, David McLaughlin searched Jason's room, going through anything he could find that might have provided a clue. He found two notes he believes Jason wrote.

One mentions strange voices Jason heard. Another note said, "Help! I need help now before I take my anger out on someone else. I try so hard but nothing seems to go right."

David McLaughlin still agonizes over what he found. "I'm his dad and I should have seen this whole thing coming. And I never saw a thing," he said.

The McLaughlins continue to believe their son suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

Many medical experts independently reached that conclusion, they said. One psychologist hired by the state even came to their house on his own to tell them how sick Jason was.

During Jason's trial, testimony revealed that he said he heard voices and that a presence, a tough guy named "Jake," often appeared to him.

Prosecutors raised doubts about an initial mental illness diagnoses for Jason, now 17, and called experts who testified the boy was faking.

The couple said they've seen alarming changes in their son, who is imprisoned in St. Cloud. He is withdrawn, and when he does talk, he says little. He doesn't ask about family or the pet Doberman he loved and talks of prison life in a manner that his father doesn't believe.

"He'll be talking about something that may have happened in one of the jails, and you just know that it's not true," said David McLaughlin, who heads the county's drug task force.

"He's just disappeared into his own little world," said Mary McLaughlin, who fears Jason will not survive the decades ahead in prison. He will be 53 at the earliest point he could be released.

The couple does not understand why there is no place to treat a mentally ill juvenile in Minnesota's corrections system -- an issue the state raised in arguing that Jason should be tried as an adult. They are angry that when it helped prosecutors, the state's experts then said Jason was faking.

They are resolute that bullying played a role -- not by one child, but by many -- and believe that bullying still isn't taken seriously at Rocori or other schools.

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