Brad Wall visits La Loche, pledges support for grieving community

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall promised to provide support to the grief-stricken village of La Loche for "as long as necessary," as it mourns four residents who were killed in a mass shooting.

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Wall met with community leaders in La Loche on Sunday, along with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde.

The Saskatchewan premier said the meeting touched on a range of issues, including infrastructure, education and mental health.

"We don't know the specifics around the tragedy, but I can say, in the general sense that the link is hope," said Wall. "And I think a lot of mental health issues stem from a lack of hope."

Wall said that the provincial government will continue to "offer support," such as counselling, done through the local school division and health region, as well as financial services to help those who have been forced to travel to Saskatoon to visit the victims of the shooting at Dene High School on Friday.

"We just need to make sure (the resources are) not just there for the short-term, but as long as necessary," said Wall.

Wall said that he hopes to address the region's long-term issues in "partnership" with the federal government.

Police say a gunman shot and killed four people and injured seven others on Friday at two different locations in La Loche, a remote community of about 3,000 people.

Officers responded to reports of a shooter at a local high school at about 1:15 p.m. on Friday.

The gunman was active for about eight minutes, before police chased him through the school, arrested him and took him into custody, police said.

In those eight minutes, two victims were fatally shot.

Marie Janvier, a 21-year-old tutor, was found dead at the school, and Adam Wood, a 35-year-old teacher, was rushed to hospital and later pronounced dead.

Police then went to a nearby home, where they found Dayne Fontaine, 17, and Drayden Fontaine, 13, dead.

Seven other victims from the school were taken to the La Loche Health Centre and Hospital with injuries. Four were then airlifted to the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.

On Saturday, RCMP announced that they had charged a 17-year-old suspect with four counts of first-degree murder in the case.

The teen, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, also faces seven counts of attempted murder and one count of an unauthorized possession of a firearm.

The suspect is expected to appear in the Meadow Lake Provincial Court on Monday.

The high school where the shooting took place remained closed on Sunday as police continued their investigation on the grounds.

The school district superintendent said it is unclear when students will be able to return to classes, and that grief counsellors and social workers were on hand to speak with anybody affected by the event.

Fundraiser set up

About 250 mourners gathered in a Roman Catholic church in the community on Sunday, where Archbishop Murray Chatlain offered encouraging words to attendees.

Chatlain said he wanted to remind residents that the village is made up of "tremendously generous people."

"When something tragic like this happens, it's often the only time people hear about a community like La Loche and it's only in bad news, and the people here are very faithful and good people," he said.

Chatlain added that he has met with the victims' families, as well as the family of the 17-year-old suspect. He said that he wanted to offer the suspect's family support during this "nightmare experience."

"We're not blaming them. ... It's just, this has happened and now how do we bring healing and support and try find ways for our young people to have more hope," he said.

In a new statement released on Sunday, Wood's family said they were "devastated," but hoped that the incident could create an opportunity to enact "lasting systemic change."

"It is in these moments we are given the opportunity to examine ourselves and, hopefully, come out better and stronger as a community and a nation," Wood’s family said.

"Rather than looking for someone to blame, or coming up with outsider opinions of reasons why this occurred, we must stop and listen to the voices of La Loche. The leaders and members of the community know what types of support and changes are needed."

A former La Loche teacher, who now lives in Burnaby, B.C., has set up an online fundraiser for the victims of the shooting.

According to the fundraising website, the money is intended to help pay for funerals and supporting those who were injured. Any excess funds will go towards the La Loche Community School.

With files from CTV Saskatoon and The Canadian Press



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