LA LOCHE, SASK. — “It’s scary, you know?” said Paula Montgrand as she served customers behind the counter at a fried chicken restaurant as a fine, wet snow fell on this tiny northern community. “You only see this stuff happening out there — you don’t think of it happening in a small town.”
As the sun began to sink into the leaden sky late Saturday afternoon, RCMP officers were still present at a yellow clapboard house on Dene Crescent, its white picket fence draped in yellow police tape.
Through a shattered front window, a member of the police forensic identification team could be seen moving through the house wearing a protective white suit.
The horror that rocked La Loche to the core on Friday came to a “surreal” climax Saturday as a 17-year-old suspect, who can’t be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was officially charged with four counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder.
According to the RCMP, Dayne Fontaine, 17, and Drayden Fontaine, 13, were found dead in the house on Dene Crescent. Two others, teacher Adam Wood, 35, and teaching assistant Marie Janvier, 21, died of wounds suffered in the shooting spree that followed nearby, in the Dene building of La Loche Community School, the single school in the town of fewer than 3,000 people.
Montgrand, 25, said the town, which she described as predominantly Catholic, is “a small community where people do things together.” Most people in La Loche know each other, and even share the same handful of family names. Montgrand said residents would respond to the violence by coming together in prayer.
Wood was a former resident of Uxbridge who had just moved to La Loche to begin a teaching career last September.
“Our family, Adam’s partner, friends and community are devastated by the news that Adam Wood was a victim in the La Loche shooting,” his family said in a statement reflecting on a man who “lived each day joyously.”
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the other victims, the community of La Loche and everyone who is affected by this tragedy.”
At a news conference, RCMP Supt. Grant St. Germaine said, “There has never been a (secondary) school shooting of this magnitude in this country.” He said police have no indication of the shooter’s motive.
The tragedy at the school unfolded quickly, in the space of about eight minutes, according to the RCMP. As panicked phone calls from students and teachers began coming in, police arrived to find the main doors blasted with holes.
Nine people had been shot. One, Janvier, was already dead. Wood died later in hospital.
One officer quickly spotted a youth with a gun and chased him through the building as other officers continued a tactical search of the school, the RCMP said. He surrendered within a few minutes, without a fight.
A 16-year-old student later forwarded to The Canadian Press a screenshot of a chilling exchange that had taken place on social media just before the shooting: “Just killed 2 ppl,” a young man wrote to his friends. “Bout to shoot ip the school.”
The Toronto Star could not confirm that the post was from the shooter.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, in a Saturday news conference, praised the RCMP’s swift action to stop the carnage. “To have the lives and the futures of these students and staff cut short by this unspeakably horrible event is really unimaginable,” he said, calling it even more “surreal” in Saskatchewan.
No one in the town was left untouched.
“Sitting here . . . thinking why why why my heart is broken in millions of pieces,” Laurie Janvier wrote on Facebook.
“I’ll always remember you and the good times we had at the old road!” Shelly Piche wrote on her Facebook wall about Dayne Fontaine. “You would always mention it, whenever you see me. Such a nice, good friend you were. Until we all meet again!”
James Janvier told the Star he’d spoken to Marie Janvier’s grief-stricken father, Kevin, shortly after he learned his beloved 21-year-old daughter was among the victims. “He didn’t say anything. He just looked down.”
Sandy Herman, a friend of Marie Janvier, described her as “kind-hearted and always smiling. “Everybody knew her; everybody loved her.”
Brittney Lemaigre remembered her friend Dayne Fontaine as a caring person. “I just started to know Dayne a couple weeks ago, I felt like I’ve known him a lifetime,” Lemaigre wrote in a Facebook conversation with The Canadian Press. “He was such a caring person, so thoughtful, he was the kind of person who put himself before anyone. He had a heart of gold. Made anyone around him laugh. His time on earth is cut too short.”
Alicia Fontaine, mother to both Dayne and Drayden, posted about her grief on Facebook: “My heart shattered into a million pieces,” she wrote. “So sad I don’t have no more babies.”
NDP MP Georgina Jolibois, who hails from the town, arrived on Thursday only to find herself in the midst of a local tragedy with a national scope.
A graduate of La Loche Community School who served as the town’s mayor before heading to Ottawa, Jolibois said she is grieving alongside the community.
“What people are experiencing right now is heartbreak,” she said. The only way to get through it, she said, is together. “People are coming together, praying together, giving each other support.”
Four of the injured were airlifted to the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, according to St. Germaine, with three others being treated at the local community hospital and expected to be airlifted when the weather improved.
Sara Kelly, co-ordinator of the sustainable agriculture co-op program at Fleming College in Lindsay, Ont., teacher Adam Wood’s alma mater, said everyone at the school was feeling the loss.
“Adam was a wonderful person and he really was a leader,” Kelly said.
“The Fleming community as a whole is really saddened by this news. He was an excellent student who had already been teaching before he came to the college. I really want people to know that Adam was quite an incredible person.”
Keith Shewchuk said the violence may be a symptom of longstanding problems facing young people in the largely Dene aboriginal community.
“I’d like to say, if I could, that we’re a community with a lot of issues. A lot of economic and social issues,” he said.
Shewchuk, a former town councillor who now works at the post office, said government authorities had struggled to provide even basic services for young people, and had yet to complete a youth centre that has been in the works for years. Jobs and other opportunities are scarce, he said, and there is little for young people to do.
“Our youth are dying. There is a high, high suicide rate in our community. Our youth are crying out for help.”
Shelley Janvier, a former resident and teacher in the community who now lives in Burnaby, B.C., started a GoFundMe fundraising campaign for victims of the La Loche shooting, to help pay funeral expenses and help families who need to be with loved ones recovering in Saskatoon.
In this community, “When tragedy hits, the people always come together,” she wrote on the web page, pointing out that just making funeral arrangements requires a four-hour, one-way trip from La Loche. “Any time someone passes away, the people of La Loche help to raise funds for funeral arrangements by holding community auctions. . . If we were able to help lift this burden for the people of La Loche, they can concentrate and focus on dealing with this tragedy.”
– With files from Oliver Sachgau, Henry Stancu and The Canadian Press