‘Red Lake’ documentary focuses on recovery
BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Many people who meet Missy Dodds want to hear about one thing: what happened to her on March 21, 2005. That was the day a 16-year-old Red Lake High School student entered her classroom and killed a teacher and three students, le...
BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Many people who meet Missy Dodds want to hear about one thing: what happened to her on March 21, 2005.
That was the day a 16-year-old Red Lake High School student entered her classroom and killed a teacher and three students, leaving Dodds alive but traumatized. In all, 10 people died in the shootings, including five students and the shooter.
When Dodds met documentary filmmaker Billy Luther, however, she knew he was different.
“He just wanted to know how I am right now,” Dodds said. “I don’t even know that I’ve ever told Billy my -- quote -- story of what happened that day.”
Dodds, who taught math at Red Lake High School at the time of the shooting, is one of three survivors who spent about a year working with Luther to create the documentary “Red Lake,” which chronicles her recovery process, along with that of two of her students, Jeff May and Ashley Lajeunesse. The film premiered earlier this month at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Luther’s interest in the Red Lake shooting stemmed from what he saw as a lack of long-term focus on the incident.
“Years after this tragedy happened I never heard of it again,” Luther said. “I really believe that the fact that since this happened on a reservation it’s kind of been forgotten and just kind of pushed aside. Where had it been an upper-class white community I think it would have been… much more emphasis than I remember in this tragedy.”
Luther also hoped to provide a different type of coverage than is typically seen in the wake of mass shootings. As Dodds noticed, Luther chose to focus on the journeys of the survivors, rather than the story of the shooter.
“Usually when these things happen we always remember the shooter, we remember the details, and I really wanted to know and hear from the survivors,” he said. “How have these survivors, you know, healed. If they’ve healed. What are their lives like now?”
Dodds’ life has changed dramatically since that day in 2005. Though she loved teaching math at Red Lake High School, she has not returned to teaching and instead stays at home with her three young children, a 5-year-old girl and 3-year-old twin boys. Before she began working with Luther, she had not returned to Red Lake since the shooting.
The stay-at-home mom has spent the past decade dealing with her post-traumatic stress disorder. About five months after the shooting she attended a five-week inpatient treatment program in Arizona, and has been in therapy since. Dodds has spent her time learning how to handle anxiety and panic attacks, and has worked to give her children as normal a life as possible.
“I used to walk around Walmart with bacon in front of me, like holding it, because that way it would stop a bullet,” Dodds said. “I don’t know why, but that was my logic...I can’t tell you how hard it was to drop my daughter off the first day of preschool.”
Luther hoped “Red Lake” would function as a platform that allowed the shooting’s survivors to reclaim their voices and continue to heal.
“A lot of these students don’t have the resources or the support of therapy that other people have and I think they were left to deal with it on their own,” Luther said. “It was challenging but I think as...I did more trips up to Minnesota they became more comfortable and a little bit more open, and I think that they really felt their stories could actually help other survivors.”
After seeing the documentary at its California premiere, Dodds feels the film gave her both a voice and an opportunity to help others.
“I have a voice now,” she said. “Billy gave me a voice. He let me tell my story.”
Luther hopes that viewers take a message of hope away from the film.
“It’s not like 30 minutes of just tragedy,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful film about healing and resilience, and that’s what I think is really kind of exciting to watch on the screen.”
“Red Lake” has not been shown in Minnesota, though Luther hopes to bring it to the Red Lake community this summer. The tribe chose to reserve comment on the movie until representatives are able to watch it.