Jaylen Fryberg shot 5, killing 1, at his Washington high school before killing himself
Fellow students express surprise, describing him as a well-liked and good person
He was suspended after a fight, after "racist" words were directed at him, student says
"I would have never expected it would have been him," another classmate says
One week ago, Jaylen Fryberg stood tall as part of his high school’s homecoming court, spurring his fellow students to cheer.
On Friday, he brought them to tears.
There’s a jarring disparity between the celebratory scene on the sidelines of Marysville-Pilchuck High School’s football field and the horrific, later one inside the Washington state school’s cafeteria. Fryberg was center of attention both times: first as one of his school’s most popular students, then as a student who eyewitnesses said shot his peers, killing one of them, before turning his gun on himself.
As classmate Jordan Luton, among others, said: “Nobody would have expected it from him.”
For some, high school can be a hard place to be widely embraced. But not for Fryberg, according to students there.
The scene at halftime of Marysville-Pilchuck High School’s October 17 football game with Arlington High School is testament.
There stood Fryberg, looking dapper in a tie, vest and sneakers, with his long hair tied up tightly. A schoolmate noted Fryberg played football and planned to try out soon for wrestling; then people in the stands applauded him, with enthusiastic whistles and yells of admiration thrown in for good measure.
The occasion was Fryberg being named the freshmen’s “Homecoming Prince,” joining others in Marysville-Pilchuck High School’s royal court. Friend and fellow student Nate Heckendorf explained that this honor means “a lot of people had good hopes for him and thought the best of him.”
“That (title) means … teachers like you. Your peers like you,” said Rachel Heichel, another freshman. “You’re a person that everyone likes and a good person.”
All those applied to Fryberg, according to Heichel.
“He was a people person,” she said. “… He was just a really nice kid and all-around good person.”
An avid outdoorsman
Fryberg was more than a beloved student or talented athlete.
He was a proud Native American. According to his social media accounts, he belonged to the Tulalip tribe, which runs a resort casino in Marysville, a city of 60,000 located 30 miles north of Seattle.
A fellow tribe member and local CrossFit coach told CNN affiliate KIRO that the teenager was not only “very nice,” but ambitious – such that he might have one day become a tribal leader.
Fryberg was an avid outdoorsman who liked to go hunting and had guns. Just three months ago, he posted a picture to Instagram of himself holding a rifle, along with the words: “Probably the best BirthDay present ever! I just love my parents!!!”
Schoolmates and his social media accounts suggest that all was not happy with Fryberg, especially soon before the shooting.
Luton said that, a few weeks ago, Fryberg got into a fight with someone who “said something racist to him.”
Heckendorf elaborated “there was bullying involved and a couple words said towards him that he obviously didn’t like,” noting that Fryberg got suspended after the fight. A federal law enforcement source also said he’d been suspended.
That’s not to say, as Heckendorf and others stressed, that this altercation necessarily had anything to do with what happened Friday. Police have not formally identified the attacker.
Looking to social media for possible clues
Other potential clues might lie in Fryberg’s Twitter feed, which hints at a breakup with a girlfriend in recent months. It also includes a post from Tuesday saying, “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.”
His final Tweet, on Thursday, was much shorter: “It won’t last…. It’ll never last….”
That same day, Luton said he talked to Fryberg at football practice “and he was all fine.”
And Heckendorf chatted with him even more recently, on Friday morning, asking Fryberg how he was doing and offering him his ear whenever needed.
“And he said, ‘OK, thank you,’” Heckendorf said. “We did a little handshake, and he was off. He looked pretty content with life.”
All these impressions, all these interactions made what happened later that morning in Marysville-Pilchuck High School cafeteria more shocking.
Heichel was there when Fryberg apparently went up to a spot a few tables away and fired his gun. When she heard more shots, she turned around and “saw him standing there … the gun in his hand.”
“When I saw him, I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Jaylen,’” she said. “I would have never expected it would have been him, out of all people.
“It was really heartbreaking for me to see that.”
CNN’s Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.