TORONTO — A remote aboriginal community in western Canada was left reeling from the unimaginable after a gunman opened fire at a school and a home, killing four people, including a teacher, and severely wounding at least two others.
Residents placed candles and flowers in the snow in a makeshift memorial outside the grade 7-to-12 La Loche Community School in the Dene aboriginal community of La Loche in Saskatchewan Province. La Loche is a town of 3,000 where everybody seems to know each other.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Chief Supt. Maureen Levy said the gunman was arrested outside the school Friday but declined to release details about him. She said there were two crime scenes, one at a home and the other at the school. Levy said four people were killed, but declined to give their ages or sex.
The teacher killed at the school was identified by her boyfriend and father as 23-year-old Marie Janvier. Deegan Park, her boyfriend of three years, said he would have given up the rest of his life just to spend another year with her.
“I grew up not a good guy, but she turned me right,” Park told The Associated Press. “She was that much of a great person to turn me right from all the wrongdoings I used to do. … She was a fantastic person.”
“I loved her, I really did,” said Park, who remembered her smile and how she would blush when she was happy.
Her father, Kevin Janvier, said police told him the gunman first shot two of his siblings before killing his daughter, his only child.
“He shot two of his brothers at his home and made his way to the school,” he said. “I’m just so sad.”
A government official, however, said the gunman shot two boys who are related but not his brothers at a home before heading to the school. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said he had been advised of the shooting by the RCMP. He said two wounded people were in critical condition.
“Obviously, this is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Trudeau said. “The community is reeling.”
A student who was just returning from lunch when the shots were fired Friday said his friends ran past him urging him to get out.
“‘Run, bro, run!” Noel Desjarlais-Thomas, 16, recalled his friends saying to him as they fled La Loche’s junior and senior high school. “There’s a shotgun! There’s a shotgun! They were just yelling to me. And then I was hearing those shots too, so of course I started running.”
The RCMP said the first reports of shots being fired at the school came in around 1 p.m. Friday, and parents and residents were warned to stay away. A nearby elementary school was also placed on lockdown as a precaution.
“Words cannot express my shock and sorrow at the horrific events today in La Loche. My thoughts and prayers are with all the victims, their families and friends and all the people of the community,” said Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
Wall planned to visit the community on Sunday and promised to provide crisis support and counseling services.
Shootings at schools or on university campuses are rare in Canada. However, the country’s bloodiest mass shooting occurred Dec. 6, 1989, at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, when Marc Lepine entered a college classroom at the engineering school, separated the men from the women, told the men to leave and opened fire, killing 14 women before killing himself.
Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said the shooting Friday was the worst tragedy to ever hit the community of 3,000. The Dene are an aboriginal group who inhabit the northern parts of Canada.
“It’s not something you ever imagine happening here. The whole community, province and country has been affected and we will all go into mourning,” said Cameron, who attended the La Loche school’s graduation ceremony for the past few years. “Right now we’re just in a state of shock and disbelief.”
U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman offered his condolences and noted the problem of school shootings in America.
“We have experienced similar tragedies far too often in the United States and understand all too well the heartache and sadness that result,” Heyman said.