LA LOCHE, SASK. — If there is a soundtrack to this northern town’s attempts to recover from the inexplicable violence inflicted on it last week, it is CHPN 89.9, “the Dene Voice of La Loche.”
For the past four days a special broadcast from the station’s tiny office above the local hockey arena could be heard coming through car radios and over the speakers in the local grocery store.
It’s the sound of an auction to raise money for the families affected by the Jan. 22 shooting that left four people dead and seven others wounded.
In between the country music and Christian pop that is the station’s regular fare, amateur auctioneers described items donated by local residents and businesses, while volunteers took bids over the phone.
“We’re going to keep going until everything is gone,” said Justina Kilsoyl, as she looked around a room filled to overflowing with donations, which so far have included everything from boxes of cereal and to big screen TVs and an all-terrain vehicle.
According to Kilsoyl, a town councillor who is helping take care of the auction’s proceeds, more than $30,000 has been raised for the victims’ families since Sunday.
“This just shows what the community is all about,” she said.
One of the auctioneers on Wednesday was Jamie Harknett, a 29-year-old Toronto native who teaches at the elementary school in town. Although Friday’s shooting took place at the La Loche Community School’s other building down the road, his Grade 4 class at was also placed on lockdown.
“I’ve never been more scared in my life,” Harknett said of the chaos that day. He said he’s still coming to grips with the traumatizing experience.
Asked what he thinks the auction says about the generosity of residents of town of about 3,000 people, he said: “maybe we in the big cities have a lot to learn.”
It’s not clear yet when the school will reopen. The Northern Lights School Division has told parents that classes won’t resume for seven to 10 days, Donna Johnson of the Education Ministry said Wednesday.
The division is willing to put security in the school, she said, but first wants to discuss details with the community and the RCMP.
The radio auction is just one way that locals are showing solidarity in the wake of last week’s shooting. Overnight on Wednesday, residents of communities across this part of northern Saskatchewan waited to pay their respects to Marie Janvier, the 21-year-old teacher’s aide who was killed in the attack.
In Buffalo Narrows, a village of just over 1,000 people about 100 km south of La Loche, people holding candles lined Highway 155 as they waited for the convoy of vehicles carrying Janvier’s body back from Saskatoon to pass.
“You could travel the world and never meet another person like her,” said an obituary for Janvier published Wednesday, which described the young woman as a gifted storyteller who loved animals.
Janvier’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday in La Loche. The bodies of two other victims, brothers Dayne Fontaine, 17, and Drayden Fontaine, 13, are expected to start the six-hour journey from Saskatoon by hearse on Friday at 9 a.m., according to an announcement made on CHPN. Their funerals will be held on Tuesday.
The family of the fourth victim, Adam Wood, a 35-year-old teacher from Uxbridge, Ont., has yet to publicize his funeral arrangements.
As the town mourns, there were signs this week that La Loche was struggling under the glare of the international attention suddenly turned on the remote community. Many residents are unhappy with what they say is the media’s unfair coverage of the town, much of which has focused on its high suicide rate and residents’ struggles with addiction.
A sign posted on the doors of the local meeting hall on Tuesday told journalists to stay away.
CBC Radio reported Wednesday that La Loche’s acting mayor, Kevin Janvier, had asked reporters to leave town altogether. Mayor Janvier did not return the Star’s calls requesting clarification, but in an emailed statement said: “As we continue to grieve, we ask the media to please respect our privacy.”
Although the media presence in the town has waned significantly since the days immediately following the shooting, it is about to balloon again — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau us expected to visit the area soon.
Chief Teddy Clarke of the neighbouring Clearwater River Dene Nation said that while he thought some stories had been overly negative, he hoped the media attention would shine a light on the area’s lack of social services, including mental health counsellors, which he said may have played a role in Friday’s attack. A 17-year-old has been arrested for the alleged crime and charged with four counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder.
“If we can get the message across to the government that we are lacking resources, yes, let’s do that,” Clarke said.
– With files from The Canadian Press