La Loche, Sask., residents taking back their school after fatal shootings

The close-knit community of La Loche, Sask., took back the northern Saskatchewan high school this afternoon after a fatal shooting over a month ago. Hundreds of people walked from downtown, just over one kilometre away, and entered the building as one.

Hundreds join Reclaiming Our School walk

La Loche stands together as the community takes part in the Reclaiming Our School Walk. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

A voice led the group in song over a tinny-sounding PA system. 

"Let it shine all over La Loche, Lord. I'm going to let it shine."

Gathered in a common area Wednesday inside the high school in La Loche, Sask., hundreds of people joined in to sing the reworked lyrics to This Little Light of Mine. 

They were there to take back La Loche Community School. They were there to find relief. 

On Jan. 22, everything changed for the northern Saskatchewan village, when two staff members were killed and seven people were wounded in a shooting at the school. In a home nearby, two brothers were found dead.  A 17-year-old is charged in connection with the shooting.

The group of people formed lines in the common area, their backs to a temporary wall. The shooting took place behind it. 

Today was the first time students stepped foot inside the school since that horrific day. 

Tristin Janvier, a Grade 12 student at La Loche Community School, welcomed the return to classes. (William Burr/Radio Canada)
Tristin Janvier, a Grade 12 student, said it was something he had to do.  

"It was kind of difficult for me, but I took it in," he said. "If I don't go to school right away it's going to make it harder for me, so that's only way I can beat it." 

'It's part of healing' 

The afternoon began at the Village Office downtown, the starting point for the Reclaiming Our School Walk. The end point was the school's common area, just over one kilometre away, for an open house. 

Kevin Janvier, acting mayor of La Loche, said the walk was an essential part of moving forward. 

"To me, it's part of healing and it's really important," he said

Students, parents, elders and teachers joined the walk down La Loche Avenue. They were led by two people carrying a sign that read "Lets Reclaim Our High School." Some carried signs in English, while others were in Dene. 

Teachers wore matching purple sweatshirts with inspirational words on the back like "Believe," "Imagine" and "Love." 

Assistant principal Greg Hatch says it felt better to see the school full of people again. (Matthew Kruchak/CBC)
Assistant principal Greg Hatch was wearing one and walked the route with a student and another teacher. 

"It felt free out there, just walking down the street," said Hatch, who has taught in the community for 40 years.

The group passed the RCMP station, where officers from across the province came to the village last month to assist in the investigation. They passed the church the community had packed the Sunday following the shooting. 

Residents joined the walk along the route. Dozens of kids waited to join the walk on the side of the road in front of Ducharme Elementary School, which reopened Tuesday after being closed since the shooting. 

When the walk reached the parking lot of the school, residents walked past the roadside memorial that began to grow the day of the shooting. 

The walk continued past the front entrance. Like the temporary wall inside the school, the entrance will be blocked off until renovations are completed. 

"We needed to eliminate triggers before we get up and running again, and the front entrance was one of those, so also the main office," said Martha Morin, the school's administrative assistant. 

Hundreds participated in the walk to the school. (Matt Kruchak/CBC)
The group made its way through the staff entrance, which will be used for the rest of the year. They were warmly welcomed with smiles and hellos by three people at the door. 

In the hall, young and old joined hands and walked down the halls to the common area. Written in Dene, the words "Welcome" and "See You Again" stood out today. 

"Nothing went through my mind. It was just blank when I went back into the school," said the student Janvier. "It's going to be hard, though. It's going to be hard for a while, though, for all the kids here. Not just me, for everyone that goes in and out the school — it's going to be hard." 

But today is a big step, Hatch said. 

"I thought it went great," he said, standing outside of the school after the open house.  

"I felt relief."