High school students from St. Jean Baptiste and Ste. Anne, Man., are on their way home after spending a tense night in the Dominican Republic, where they witnessed a violent robbery attempt and shooting.
The students were on a weeklong humanitarian project at an orphanage in Puerto Plata when burglars stormed the compound where the students, teachers and some parents were staying.
Alain Laberge, superintendent of the Division Scolaire Franco-Maintobaine, said it happened at around 1 a.m. Thursday, a day after the students had arrived.
He said the compound's owner got into a fight with the burglars and several shots were fired. The owner was badly injured and is currently in hospital, he added.
Laberge said some of the students were shaken after witnessing the violent altercation.
"They are shocked," he said. "Because something like this … it could have happened here in Winnipeg. It could have happened anywhere."
Upon learning of what happened, school board officials had to make a swift decision to get the students home, Laberge said.
"We went straight to phone the embassy, phoned the police, phoned the airport trying to find tickets … mostly phoning the parents one by one to let them know what was going on," he said.
Students to be offered counselling
Laberge said no one among the 26 people from Manitoba was injured, but the 18 students will be offered help upon their return home.
"We will have people waiting for the students' arrival to see if they need any help. Next week we will have counsellors and psychologists in our schools as well."
The students are in New York on Friday evening and have flights booked to return to Winnipeg on Saturday night, but Laberge said the school division is working on getting the group on earlier flights home.
He said the students are "under shock, really, but they're happy that they're coming home. They're anxious to meet their parents. They're OK."
The schools have organized humanitarian trips to the Dominican Republic for the past three to four years, Laberge said.