A group of Manitoba students has returned early from a trip to the Dominican Republic, after some of them witnessed a violent break-in and shooting that sent a Canadian man to hospital in the Caribbean country.

Dominican police confirmed Saturday that Les Lehmann, 64, a Canadian who has permanent residency in the country, was shot during a violent break-in on Thursday night, a day after the students had arrived to help out at a local orphanage.

Capt. José Callado told CBC News that Lehmann owns a block of four apartments in Puerto Plata, where the students were staying. 

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Lisa Desilets's daughter was among a group of Manitoba students who went to the orphanage last year. Despite the recent shooting, she said she would go back again. (Supplied by Lisa Desilets)

He said Lehmann was shot at least four times, has a number of injuries and is in critical but stable condition.

Police are looking for two suspects.

Alain Laberge, superintendent of the Franco-Manitoban School Division, was not on the trip, but told CBC News on Saturday that two people tried to force their way into one of the apartments where three or four students were sleeping, and Lehmann followed.

Laberge said the thieves were after cameras and other items.

There was no security system in the building.

Emotional return for students

In Winnipeg, there were tears and relief as the 18 high school students from St. Jean Baptiste and Ste. Anne students returned home around 5 a.m. Saturday.

They had arrived in the Dominican on Jan. 30 and were supposed to stay until Feb. 7, but that changed after the shooting incident. 

ALain laberge saturday

School board spokesman Alain Laberge said a handful of students were there when two thieves broke into an apartment and shot the landlord when he tried to intervene. (CBC)

Laberge was at Winnipeg's James Richardson International Airport to welcome the travellers home.

He said the students and their eight chaperones are fine, but it was an emotional return. 

Laberge said the school division has been organizing humanitarian trips for the last three to four years and it's unclear at this point whether that will continue.

"You could go to an outing here in Winnipeg and something like this could happen," he said on Saturday. "You never know. So we never want to say we'll never do that again, but we have to see what happens."

dominican republic orphanage

Students from the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine visited the the Casa Albergue de Martina orphanage last year. It's unclear if the school board will organize another trip to the area. (itzone.nolitours.com)

Leberge said grief counsellors would be at the schools on Monday to speak with the students.

'Not surprised, but would go back'

Lisa Desilets is a mother who went to the same place last year with her daughter, Renee Manahan, who was 16 at the time.

Desilets said she's saddened to hear what happened to Lehmann.

She said she is not surprised his property was targeted by thieves, even though it is protected by a gate and there was a security guard when she was there.

She suspects people in the community were watching for the arrival of Canadians with goods and cash.

Having said that, though, she said she wouldn't hesitate to go back.​

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  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the compound owner's name as Lef Welehmann, based on information provided by authorities in the Dominican Republic. His name is actually Les Lehmann, his family confirmed.
    Feb 06, 2014 2:09 PM CT