(AP) - Many allegations made in a wrongful death lawsuit arising out of the Rocori High School shootings are wrong, an attorney for the school district said Tuesday.
Shamus O'Meara, who represents the district and former principal, said much of the "information referenced about the school district is inaccurate and false ... and that criminal investigative agencies have determined to be baseless."
Jason McLaughlin was 15 when he brought a .22-caliber pistol that belonged to his father to school Sept. 24, 2003 and killed Seth Bartell, 14, and Aaron Rollins, 17. He was sentenced last year to life in prison, but could be paroled after 30 years.
The lawsuit filed by the parents of Rollins and Bartell claims, among other things, that the district and the principal were told a week before the shootings that "an unidentified other student planned to bring a gun to Rocori for the purpose of carrying out a shooting at Rocori High School the week of the eventual actual shooting."
O'Meara said he couldn't be more specific about what parts of the lawsuit he was calling inaccurate. But when asked if one of them involved the alleged alert, he said: "That's an example of one of them."
The district believes its crisis management and response plans in place at the time of the shooting were sound, O'Meara said.
The lawsuit names the district, former principal Doug Standke, McLaughlin, and his father, David McLaughlin, a Stearns County sheriff's deputy.
Rollins' father, Tom Rollins, said filing it was one of the toughest decisions they've had to make.
"It took us (the Rollins and Bartells) two years to decide to do it," he said. "It's not about the money. It's about getting the truth out."
He said he knows some in the community don't agree with their decision.
But, he said, "We'd all like to know if there were things that could have been done to prevent it. Any concerned parent would say if there were indications there was a threat, what was done?"
O'Meara said the district was surprised to receive the lawsuit. There had been no communication between the district and the families about any potential lawsuit or intent to pursue claims, he said.
O'Meara also represented the Red Lake district, which agreed in July to pay $1 million to 21 families of those killed or injured in the March 2005 shootings at Red Lake High School that left 10 dead. In that settlement, he said, there was no formal lawsuit from the families.
He cautioned against drawing any comparisons between the Rocori and Red Lake cases. "The only thing they have in common is that they were school shootings," he said.
In the Rocori lawsuit, the families also allege that the district and its employees did not enforce rules prohibiting duffle-type bags like the one in which McLaughlin concealed his weapon. It also alleges that McLaughlin's father provided his son with easy access to the gun and ammunition used in the shooting.
Joseph Daly, a Hamline University law professor, said the key question is whether the school knew or should have known that McLaughlin was dangerous. He said this is the kind of case defendants often want to settle because there is so much emotion and risk of a large jury award.
After the 1999 Columbine shootings in Colorado, 13 families of the victims split a $285,000 settlement.
Daniel Eller, who was John Jason McLaughlin's defense attorney, said this lawsuit comes as a surprise.
"Things have been quiet in the Cold Spring area for some time, but it's not out of the minds of the parties," Eller said.
The defendants have until Oct. 11 to respond to the allegations, O'Meara said.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)