LA LOCHE, Sask. — A student who was just returning from lunch when shots were fired at a northern Saskatchewan school 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.”
A solemn Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed from Davos, Switzerland, that five people were killed and two critically injured in the remote Dene community.
Trudeau said the alleged shooter was in custody.
Shots were fired at the school building around 1 p.m., but it wasn’t clear whether all the victims were from the school.
RCMP said they had investigators at the building and at a second location in the town.
Trudeau said the commissioner of the RCMP advised him of the situation.
“Obviously this is every parent’s worst nightmare,” the prime minister said. “We all grieve with and stand with the community of La Loche and all of Saskatchewan on this terrible, tragic day.”
Desjarlais-Thomas, a Grade 10 student, said he believes one of his friends might be among the dead.
“I saw him fall down. That’s when I started running.” he told The Canadian Press.
“I didn’t want to look back.”
Kevin Janvier, acting mayor of La Loche, told CKBI radio that his daughter, Marie, was one of the victims, though it wasn’t immediately clear if she had died or was injured.
Premier Brad Wall issued a statement expressing shock and sorrow at what he called “the horrific events.”
Bruce Heyman, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, sent a message of condolence.
“We have experienced similar tragedies far too often in the United States and understand all too well the heartache and sadness that result from such a horrific event,” he said.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims and their families, the community of La Loche, the residents of Saskatchewan, and all Canadians during this most difficult time.”
The school’s high school building, which houses students from Grades 7 to 12, was put in lockdown. The Ducharme Elementary School a few blocks away was also locked down as a precaution.
Mounties asked parents and residents to stay away.
School co-ordinator Norma Janvier said she was in her office when she heard gunshots.
“I didn’t know what was going on … I thought the kids were just playing around or something, like a locker slamming and stuff,” she told The Canadian Press.
She was going to check on the noise, but a teacher closed her office door, so Janvier stayed inside until she was told it was safe to leave.
“All I heard was cops running around in the school.”
Wall promised that necessary crisis support and counselling services would be provided to the school and the community.
La Loche is a remote Dene community of about 3,000 people on the eastern shore of Lac La Loche in the northern boreal forest. About 900 students attend the two schools in the town, about 600 kilometres north of Saskatoon. Many residents hunt and fish to support their families.
The area’s NDP MP, who attended the same school, was setting up a constituency office in the community when the shooting occurred.
“We’re fairly shaken up. It’s a sad day,” said Georgina Jolibois, who was mayor of La Loche until she was elected federally last fall.
“My own nieces and nephews were inside the school.”
Jolibois said she went to the school and spoke with some of her family members, who were unharmed.
The Canadian Press