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A Regina high school was the scene of a hostage-taking Tuesday. ((CBC))

A 16-year-old male was taken into custody after police converged on Luther College High School in Regina, where a former student held a pastor at gunpoint in front of a terrified assembly of students who had gathered for chapel service.

The incident began around 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, Trista Gargol, a student at the independent school in Regina's west end, told CBC News.

About 300 students were in the gym for the regular religious service.

Gargol said a youth approached the pastor leading the service and handed him a three-page letter, demanding that it be read or he would shoot him.

Another eyewitness, Elliott Rondeau, said the entire assembly was threatened.

"He just gave Pastor [Larry] Fry a big letter that he read and he was threatening to shoot, like, everyone," Rondeau said.

School officials confirmed the suspect is a former student who was expelled in 2007.

Police said there was no warning of Tuesday's event.

"I'm not aware of any indication that something was going to occur this morning," said Elizabeth Popowich, a spokeswoman for the Regina Police Service.

Students realize incident no sketch

Student Derek Debolt told CBC News that at first students thought they were watching a skit.

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Students flee as police respond to a 911 call at Luther College High School. ((Troy Fleece/Canadian Press))

As the pastor read the letter, teachers were able to escort some of the students to safety. About 60 students could not leave.

Some of those left inside had cellphones and began phoning and sending text messages to their parents.

Kerry Cibart was at work when she got word her daughter Sarah was inside and rushed to the scene.

"It's very emotional. It was the worst 10 minutes of my life driving down the Lewvan," she told CBC News referring to the main Regina roadway she took to get to the school.

Her daughter, Sarah, described a terrifying scene inside.

"Some people were screaming and crying, especially when he waved it [the gun] towards all the kids," Sarah Cibart told CBC News.

Principal took action

Mark Anderson, the school principal, later told reporters he decided to take action after determining the threat could be managed.

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The incident ended with no injuries to students or staff, although many were visibly shaken. ((CBC))

"During the course of events, I and one or two other teachers were creeping closer to the suspect," Anderson said. "Eventually at one point I was able to get close enough that I could see that it was not the kind of firearm I thought it was. It was indeed less serious than that, so I took that opportunity to try to take the firearm away from him, or the pellet gun away from him or whatever it was."

Anderson went on to recount a brief but dramatic struggle with the youth.

"We wrestled over it for a couple minutes or a couple seconds, sorry, and at that point the SWAT team came in and took control of the situation and handled it very well."

Witnesses said a combination of police and other faculty members tackled the youth, ending the incident.

'Really sad to see'

Later, Debolt said students were clearly distressed by what happened.

"It was just really sad to see," he said. "Because nobody would have ever expected this from a school like ours.

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Mark Anderson, principal at Luther College High School, spoke to reporters about his encounter with a former student. ((Niall McKenna/CBC))

"Our school's known more as an academic, well-achieving school, and it's a private school and we were just blindsided by this," Debolt added.

By 11 a.m., police reported they had a suspect in custody and were escorting the remaining students to a safe area, including a nearby church.

Jennifer Arends, a spokesperson for the school, told CBC News that all students were safe, and by the early afternoon they were being reunited with parents and sent home.

Police later reported that they recovered a carbon dioxide pellet pistol at the scene. Students reported that the gunman was either wearing a blond wig or had bleached-blond hair.

The suspect was still in custody of Regina police late Tuesday. Police reported that their investigation was continuing and did not indicate whether or what charges would be laid.

Corrections

  • The suspect was not under a court order limiting his movement, as originally reported by the Canadian Press.
    Sep 24, 2008 9:13 AM CT