School Shooting: Shock and Grief in La Loche and Clearwater River Dene Nation
Two teen brothers. A teacher and an aide. Seven critically wounded. A 17-year-old student in custody.
Those are the numbers in the tragedy in Lac La Roche, Saskatchewan, Canada, where an almost-unheard-of school shooting took place on Friday January 22 as an unnamed (by law) 17-year-old killed the two boys in a residence, then shot up his school of an afternoon.
The approximately 2,600-population town and nearby Clearwater Dene First Nation, with about 800 residents, were still reeling in shock after the shooting at La Loche Community School, which reverberated all the way to Davos, Switzerland, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was attending the World Economic Forum. Monday’s classes were canceled, the school announced on its Facebook page, so that staff could meet. La Loche Acting Mayor Kevin Janvier and Georgina Jolibois, New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament (MP) for the district that holds the affected community, called for the school building to be torn down and rebuilt, according to CBC News.
The four fatalities were Dayne Fontaine, 17, and his 13-year-old brother Drayden, who were killed first at a home before the shooter headed over to the school, where he gunned down Adam Wood, a 35-year-old teacher, and 21-year-old Marie Janvier, a teaching assistant. The call came in to Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) offices at around 1 p.m. on Friday January 22, police said. Officers arrived and quickly cornered and apprehended the 17-year-old suspect, whose identity must be withheld in accordance with Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act.
All seven injured are classified as critically wounded, according to CBC News. At least three of them were students at the high school, one a female “whose injuries were described as life-threatening,” CBC News reported. “Two others are males, who played for the school's football team.”
Wounded staff included an assistant principal and a substitute teacher, CBC News said. The victims’ families have asked for privacy, some of them via the organization representing 74 First Nations in the province.
“The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), on behalf of the families from La Loche, request the media respect the privacy of those injured in the La Loche tragedy,” the FSIN said in a statement over the weekend. “The families ask that their wishes for privacy be respected and the media not attempt to contact them or approach them at the hospital at this time.”
Tributes and condolences have streamed in from indigenous communities and leaders across Canada, as well as from other quarters. And the leaders themselves have streamed in, with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, Métis National Council President Clément Chartier among those who met with local leaders for an hour and a half on January 24, Postmedia News reported. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a statement from Davos and was scheduled to speak again upon his return.
“On this sad day the whole country grieves with the people of La Loche and of Saskatchewan,” he said.
La Loche has what The New York Times described as a “bleak history,” with periodic “waves of suicides” topping even the high rate among indigenous communities in general throughout Canada and elsewhere. In addition is a history of anger boiling over, including a 2011 incident in which enraged residents, mistakenly thinking RCMP officers had beaten a local man, barricaded police in a hospital building.
The teen shooter, who many described to Postmedia News as mercilessly bullied, has been charged with four counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder. He was due to appear in court on Monday January 25.
“It’s certainly one of the worst communities for having nothing for youth,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron told The New York Times the day after the shooting. “I was just talking to the chief and council there last night. We really have to take some dramatic means.”
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