WASECA, Minn. - David LaDue sat on his front stoop, sleep-deprived and fighting back sobs as he questioned himself aloud about the signs he might have missed.

It had been an agonizing nine days. His 17-year-old son, John LaDue, was in jail, charged with creating a Columbine-style plot to kill his family and massacre as many people as he could with bombs and guns at the local junior and senior high school in this small town in southern Minnesota.

The father still was struggling to make sense of the dark and violent thoughts that apparently clouded the mind of his son, an honor-roll student. He still couldn’t believe the teenager would have carried out the murderous plan.

“I understand everyone wants to know and try to make sense of it, and it’s real easy if we could ... give it a simple answer like ‘he’s a maniac.’ Or ‘his parents just bought him stuff and ignored him,’ ” LaDue said. “It would really be nice if it was that simple. ... I wish it was that simple.”

John LaDue is scheduled to appear in court again today. Prosecutors will seek to try him as an adult. His father was careful not to say too much out of fear that he might hurt his son’s case. But he agreed to an interview because he wants other parents to be aware of the darkness that exists in the world and the reality that sometimes they don’t know what’s going on inside their kids’ heads.

That’s something he and his family still are trying to grasp, he said, as they search for answers to what may have led John LaDue to the brink of

violence.

Remembering his own rebellious formative years, David LaDue said he had tried to be careful as a parent to toe the delicate line of guiding his children and not pushing them too hard.

“I don’t believe you can force opinions onto people, but you try to be an example,” he said.

It concerned him in recent months when his son came to him questioning obscure Bible verses, interpreting them to mean that God was unjust or cruel. Twice, David LaDue said, the verses he cited focused on the punishment of children. Another time, he said his son announced that he was an atheist.

The younger LaDue was arrested April 29 after a citizen saw him suspiciously enter a storage locker and called police. When authorities approached him, he told them of his plans:

He would kill his parents and sister with a .22-caliber rifle, then go to the countryside and start a fire to distract police and firefighters. He’d then go back to school with pressure cooker bombs, firearms and ammunition, setting off explosions in the cafeteria, shooting the school liaison officer and killing students. A 180-page notebook outlining his plans contained an entry dating to July 2013.

Prosecutors have charged him as a juvenile with four counts of attempted murder, two counts of first-degree damage to property and six counts of possession of a bomb.

If convicted of one count of first-degree attempted murder as an adult, he could serve up to 18 years, according to state guidelines. If convicted as a juvenile, however, he could be released from detention when he turns 21.

Authorities found seven firearms and three completed bombs there. Another three bombs, along with chemicals and other materials, were found in the storage unit. He also had 60 pounds of metal ball bearings.

Looking back, David LaDue, blue eyes peeking out from under a cap, said he feels he failed the boy by giving him more free rein than he should have:

John, a deer hunter, was allowed to keep some of his father’s guns in a safe in his own bedroom closet, partly because he was trusted to watch out for the family when his father worked overnights in the Twin Cities.

David LaDue didn’t regularly rifle through his son’s bedroom because he felt he had no reason to. John was a good student, taking pre-calculus as a junior. He had friends. He had a job at the grocery store. The family never heard of any bullying issues or fights or drinking or drugs. John was close to his sister, who is just 15 months older. He didn’t appear to be living in a shell. He was chatty about some things, though not typically about heartfelt issues. He seemed like a typical teenager.

“We’ve never had what I felt was a concrete reason to really be concerned,” David LaDue said. He said he knew of no storage locker or bomb-making materials or test blasts. He knew of no diary or shooting plan.

Community concern

As David LaDue continued to reflect, dark clouds rolled in over his neighborhood, which is not far from Waseca’s downtown. A U.S. Postal Service truck pulled up to the curb and a mail carrier jumped out, greeting the grieving father and handing him a small stack of envelopes. There were advertisements, a bill and a graduation invitation. And there was a supportive card from a local family - one of many the LaDues have gratefully received.

“It’s kind,” David LaDue said. “Considering how horrible it sounds, I’m a little amazed that people are still reaching out even though I’m sure there’s fears and concerns or maybe even misunderstandings.”

The LaDues have visited their son in a juvenile facility in Red Wing, Minn., but they haven’t asked him many questions.

 “I haven’t wanted to grill him over things. There’s going to be plenty of time for that,” David LaDue said. “As far as his thoughts and feelings, he feels very responsible for everything.”

David LaDue doesn’t think his son hated anyone or that anyone hated his son. In the end, he said, he doesn’t believe his son would be capable of doing everything he fantasized about, though he acknowledges that it seems his son wanted people to believe that he could.

The only solace in everything is knowing that no one was hurt.

“I don’t know what the proper punishment is for what he’s made it look like he was going to do,” David LaDue said. “If he ... actually intended to carry out the things that he says he intended to carry out, I don’t see how that’s forgivable.”

But, he added: “I can’t believe that he actually intended to do it. I really can’t. But I don’t expect anyone to believe that.”