Grief and healing as La Loche comes together for winter festival

Nearly one month after a deadly shooting upended their small town, the residents of La Loche, Sask. are working to heal.

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The community gathered to celebrate the winter season and find comfort at their annual winter festival this week.

Inside the local ice rink, young hockey players strapped on their skates, and outside, children ran back and forth over the snow, racing to pile wood, hammer nails into logs and carry sacks of flour as part of the festival games .

"A lot of kids are getting together, talking, laughing, crying together," Farris Lemaigre, an employee at the La Loche Friendship Centre, told CTV Regina. "Everybody's growing."

Beyond the festival games, however, signs of grief remain scattered around the community.

Flowers and other tributes poke through a layer of snow outside the La Loche Community School Dene Building, where a gunman shot and killed a teacher and young teaching assistant on Jan. 22. The shooter also killed two teens at a nearby home earlier that day.

A suspect, who cannot be named because he was 17-years-old at the time of the incident, now faces four counts of first-degree murder.

On Wednesday, the school's vice president said students and staff plan to march through town to the site of the shooting, where they will symbolically reclaim the space.

"We have to move on," community elder Pauline Fontaine said. "And the kids, they have to (move on) too."

Student activity has already restarted in the school. The boys' volleyball team is back to practising in the gym and students are invited to sign up for counselling.

There are also plans to increase security at the school.

Ken Ladouceur, the director of education at the Northern Lights School District, said the district aims to provide security from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., while classes are in session, as well as in the evening when there are other activities in the building.

The RCMP is also providing a school resource officer, Ladouceur said.

More efforts are also planned to help the community honour the shooting victims and cope with their grief.

As the winter festival comes to a close this weekend, artist Douglas Lingelbach is scheduled to carve an ice sculpture in memory of the four victims who died in the attack. And the festival will wrap up with a comedy show entitled "Healing with Laughter."

With files from CTV Regina


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