The community of La Loche held a walk Wednesday to mark the re-opening of the Dene High School building, one month after a mass shooting.
Both the high school and the nearby Ducharme elementary school were closed on Jan. 22, when two boys were killed in a home, and two educators were killed in the school. Seven others were wounded in the shooting. A 17-year-old boy is now facing murder and attempted murder charges.
Ducharme elementary welcomed students back to class on Wednesday. Vice-principal Erin Trotechaud said it was good to see things getting back to normal.
“It’s something about the building on Monday before they got there where there was still a heavy presence, if I could say that. It didn’t feel like a school. And then its amazing how when you fill it with children and there’s laughter and there’s smiles, it just kind of washes it away,” she said.
Greg Hatch, assistant principal at Dene High School, said he overcame some initial worries about returning to the building during a walkthrough two weeks ago.
Hatch said the focus now will be on helping students get back into the groove of regular classes. Beyond that, he said educators and community members will be turning their attention to long term goals.
“There’s been a real concern that after about a week, two weeks from now, everybody’s gonna leave and we’re back right where we were. Our job is to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s going to take everyone in the community to take this on,” he said.
Northern Lights School Division superintendent Ken Ladouceur noted that students will be returning to different environments. Entrances at both schools will be changed in an effort to make them safer. Both schools will also have security, and the RCMP will be adding a resource officer at the high school.
Following a press conference, hundreds of people gathered in front of the La Loche village office to take part in the “Reclaiming Our School” walk. Many carried signs bearing messages like “Courage” and “Love One Another.”
Throughout the roughly 20 minute walk to the high school, many people recited prayers in Dene as they ran rosary beads through their fingers.
The walk ended at the high school, where people were invited inside to join hands and sing renditions of “Lean on Me” and “This Little Light of Mine” as a way to mark a new beginning for the building.
La Loche’s Robert St. Pierre, who graduated from the high school many years ago, was among those who took part in the walk. He expressed pride in his community for pulling together in the wake of the tragedy.
“You can see the unity that we have in this community and how much strength there is. Regardless of what occurred, we still have the strength to move forward,” he said.