By Eric M. Johnson and Victoria Cavaliere
MARYSVILLE, Wash. (Reuters) - Members of the Tulalip Tribes community in Washington state say they are trying to comprehend how a life-long friendship among sports-loving cousins ended with one of them gunning down the other two, along with three female friends, in their high school cafeteria.
The shooter and one girl, identified by a family friend as Zoe Galasso, were killed while the other freshmen students were gravely wounded in Friday's morning rampage at Marysville-Pilchuck High School north of Seattle.
While police have not officially identified the gunman or discussed possible motives, family members told Reuters 14-year-old Jaylen Fryberg was the shooter, and the two male victims were his cousins, Nate Hatch and Andrew Fryberg, ages 14 and 15.
Hatch was in serious condition with a gunshot to the jaw while Andrew Fryberg was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, hospital officials said.
Female victims Shaylee Chuckulnaskit and Gia Soriano, both 14, remained in critical condition at a different hospital, officials said. The shooter carried a .40 caliber handgun which he fatally turned on himself.
Family and tribal members recalled that the boys, especially Jaylen and Hatch, acted like best friends and had grown up just doors away from each other on Native American land near Marysville.
The trio rode four-wheelers along backroads near the Puget Sound a matter of months ago, attended the ceremonial First Salmon festival in June, went to movies and other social events and played basketball and football together, family members said.
On the Saturday before the shooting Fryberg and all the victims went to a high school dance together.
Formally attired, they went out for dinner and posed for photos near the swimming pool at a tribe casino, said Don Hatch, Nate's grandfather.
"You would think there was some animosity that caused it but they were the best of friends, they were like brothers," he told Reuters. "All of us wonder why, but we are trying to pray together and heal and forge on."
The shootings sent shock waves through the Tulalip Tribes, a native American organization which operates two casinos and an outlet mall, and beyond to Marysville, a town of about 63,000.
SEARCH FOR ANSWERS
According to the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, a school employee tried to stop the shooting, the latest in a string of such incidents that has prompted national debate about school safety and gun laws.
On Sunday the high school was set to host staff members, parents, and students "to hold each other, to talk, and to get some questions answered, perhaps," Superintendent Becky Berg said. "Even though I agree some of these questions won't ever have answers."
More than 150 people gathered at a prayer vigil at a Tulalip gymnasium late Saturday, praying, singing and hugging in between speeches by tribal and community leaders. Mourners also contributed nearly $900 for the victims' families.
Jaylen, from a prominent Tulalip Indian Reservation family, was described by classmates and parents as a popular member of the football team who was also homecoming prince.
"Jaylen was always outgoing, an athlete," Brandon Hatch, 26, the boys' cousin, said. "He was a funny guy at times, too, a jokester."
"Nate and Jaylen and Andrew grew up together. They'd go over to each other's houses on the weekend, after school and play (video) games, play sports together," Hatch said.
He said there was no indication of trouble between the cousins before the incident.
Others saw some troubling signs. Classmates and parents said Fryberg had recently been in a fight with another high school football player over a disparaging remark made during practice.
And Fryberg himself hinted on social media at a disappointment of some sort, with messages suggesting heartbreak and anger.
Bella Panjeli, a friend of one of the female victims, said "I heard he asked her out and she rebuffed him and was with his cousin." A school official who requested anonymity and a friend of a female victim also said Fryberg had recently been rejected.
"There is a disconnect," said Jay Napeahi, executive director of Tulalip Housing. "We're trying to make sense of it."
(Editing by Chris Michaud and Jason Neely)