Teacher slain in shooting remembered for prayer
Monday, March 28, 2005
BEMIDJI, Minn. -- English teacher Neva Rogers finally had found a place where she felt needed, where she could give opportunities to poverty-stricken children who struggled with teen pregnancies, drugs and alcohol.
That place was Red Lake High School, where she died in a school shooting last week. While students crouched under their desks in a corner, Rogers stood out in the open and began to pray.
"God be with us. God help us," 15-year-old Ashley Lajeunesse heard Rogers say after she told students to hide as gunman Jeff Weise fired through a window and marched into the room.
"He walked up to that teacher with the shotgun, and he pulled the trigger, but it didn't fire," said Chongai'la Morris, 14. "Then he pulled out his pistol, and he shot her three times in the side and once in the face."
Rogers, 62, was the only teacher killed by Weise, a teenager who last week shot his grandfather and his grandfather's girlfriend, then went to the high school and shot Rogers, a security guard and five students before turning the gun on himself.
Rogers' adult children were not surprised by their mother's actions.
"There wasn't anything she wouldn't do for her students," said her son, Vern Kembitskey, 34, recalling that she gave scarves and gloves to needy children and helped help raise money for students who wanted to take field trips to Washington, D.C.
"I think she was good at what she did," Kembitskey said. "I think she actually wanted those kids to learn."
Rogers, who was not of American Indian descent, felt she was needed at Red Lake, a place where truancy is common and teens face poverty, pregnancy and violence.
She had a soft spot for teens who had lost their parents or became parents at a young age, said her daughters, Cindy Anderson and Kim Kvam.
But she also expected a lot from her students and would stay late to help them.
"One of the things she admired most were people who came from absolutely nothing and made something of themselves," Kembitskey said.
In a state survey conducted last year of 56 Red Lake ninth-graders, nearly half the girls said they had attempted to kill themselves. Twenty percent of boys said the same -- numbers about triple the rate statewide.
"She said you have to just give them hope and keep encouraging and try to get them to keep coming [to school]," said her half-sister, Doris Berndt. Rogers, she said, believed "by getting an education they are going to have a better life."
Rogers began teaching at Red Lake after attending Bemidji State University. She left teaching in the early 1980s to work in the insurance industry but returned to Red Lake about six years ago.
The blond woman stood out among the American Indians, but she felt at home on the reservation. Her children said she considered her students to be like family.
"I think one of the things that she liked the best about it was there's such a sense of community," said Anderson. "My mom was the type of person that likes to know [about] other people's lives."
Berndt said that Rogers never worried about school safety.
"She just had a desire to do something, go somewhere where she could really make a big difference in a child's life," Berndt said.