Cooper Nemeth memorial event put on hold after fight, arrest at River East Collegiate
'It's not a good day for the students and they need their time to grieve,' Nemeth's uncle says
Plans to put up a commemorative display for slain 17-year-old Cooper Nemeth at River East Collegiate were put on hold today after a knife was pulled on someone in front of the school.
Winnipeg police were called to the school Tuesday morning after two males, one with a knife, got into a fight. A 16-year-old was arrested and charged with possession of a weapon. No one was injured, police added.
Kelsey Schneider and a group of Nemeth's other closest friends were involved in the fight. The group was outdoors in front of the building when two teenage boys and one teenage girl stared them down and approached, according to Schneider.
"We kind of knew they were walking towards us to do something," he said, adding one of the boys attended River East, but the other didn't.
"It made no sense to us. When they first came up to us and started beaking us, we were so confused because we've never seen this girl in our lives," he said.
"As [the teachers] came running out, the kid whipped out a knife. [One friend] saw the knife, took off his backpack and started charging the kid."
A teacher got involved and stopped the fight from escalating until police arrived, Schneider said, adding the incident seemed like a blur to him and his friends.
"Honestly, we've been so numb from the past week, it didn't really scare us. It was just kind of like a shock afterwards when we finally came to our senses," Schneider said.
"We've been through so much and we've seen the damage other people can do to one another."
Memorial wall postponed
Students Without Borders planned to erect a wall where students at the high school could place photos and letters to Nemeth, who was a senior at the school. But school administration decided to postpone the event due to the fight.
Nemeth's aunt and uncle were invited by the group to help set up the wall, but they didn't learn the memorial event had been rescheduled until they arrived at the school.
"It's not a good day for the students and they need their time to grieve and deal with it how they want," Nemeth's uncle Brent Sayles said.
"We'll respect the wishes of the school; they've been phenomenal, the support's been unbelievable."
Tensions running high
Tensions are high between some students at the school over the circumstances surrounding Nemeth's death, River East Collegiate principal Diana Posthumus confirmed, adding staff are doing their best to keep everyone calm.
Nemeth went missing Feb. 14 and his body was found in a trash bin outside a home on Bayne Crescent Saturday evening. Nicholas Bell-Wright, 22, has been charged with second-degree murder in the case and remains in custody.
- Nicholas Bell-Wright, 22, arrested in Cooper Nemeth death
- Cooper Nemeth's accused killer, Nicholas Bell-Wright, was on probation at time of arrest
Kiara Stevenson, a Grade 10 student at the school, said some students are acting out in the wake of Nemeth's death.
"It's just hard for other people to hear and see his face everywhere when they're trying to mourn, because people have different ways of mourning," Stevenson said.
"You can't put all these things on kids and expect them to be able to deal with it in positive ways."
The outpouring of public sympathy during the search and after Nemeth's body was discovered Saturday night has hit students hard, Stevenson said.
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"Everyone is just sad; no one has a smile on their face. You can feel the tension as soon as you walk in. It's just not a happy school right now. Everyone's just trying to get over him, trying just, even just for five minutes, to forget. But you can't."
Stevenson was acquaintances with Cooper, who recalls he had a positive presence at the school.
"First thing you saw in him was his smile," she said. "That's all he did; he would walk down the hall and smile and make jokes."
'We think life is a game until we're 18'
She said it's tragic Nemeth's life was cut short.
"That's the thing that flabbergasts me, is that this is over drugs — something that can kill you. You're fighting over something that's illegal, something that can harm you and everyone else around you," she said.
"We think life is all a game until we're 18, but it's not and Cooper showed us that. This is not a joke…. Drugs and everything is not a joke. People can seriously get hurt with these things. There's no point."
Steven said she also knows the people who were involved in the knife incident and wants her peers at River East to stop feeding the rumours that are floating around right now.
"The cops are doing an amazing job in their investigation and I don't think there's anything more I could ask for," she said.
The 16-year-old arrested Tuesday in connection with the knife incident has been released on a promise to appear in court.
With files from CBC's Erin Brohman