La Loche, Sask., students return to school after shootings

Amid heightened security and comforting by family, students returned to Ducharme Elementary School in La Loche today following the shootings that killed two employees at a nearby high school and devastated the northern Saskatchewan community.

School staff 'are ready for your return,' says Facebook message to students

'The smiles on kids' faces is what we needed and that's what we've been all waiting for this month,' says Leanne Gailey, vice-principal of Ducharme Elementary School.

Smiling, laughing children filled the halls of the elementary school in La Loche, Sask., today for the first time in a month. 

Classes were cancelled after two adults were fatally shot and seven others wounded on Jan. 22 at the neighbouring high school in the northern Saskatchewan village.

Leanne Gailey, vice-principal of Ducharme Elementary School, said it was one of the best days they've had for weeks. 

"The smiles on kids' faces is what we needed and that's what we've been all waiting for this month," she said, standing in front of the school she attended as a child. "We've finally got to a point where this is where we need to be."

Education Minister Don Morgan, who has visited the community four times since the tragedy took place, was at the school today. 

"You have no idea how nice it was to go into this school and hear kids running and laughing, it was really good to see that," he said. 

​Clara, Peter and Keiden Janvier, left to right, are happy that Ducharme Elementary School in La Loche, Sask., has reopened as the community overcomes the deadly shootings a month ago. (William Burr/CBC )

Keiden Janvier, 7, is one of the children who couldn't wait to be back at school. "It's because school, you can colour, and play outside and do work to learn," he said. 

Teachers in the village, about 605 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, gathered Monday for meetings at the elementary school and at the high school, La Loche Community School, where teaching assistant Marie Janvier, 21, and teacher Adam Wood, 35, were killed, and seven other people were wounded. Brothers Dayne, 17, and Drayden Fontaine, 13, were found dead in a home near the school.

The 17-year-old charged in connection with the shooting deaths made his second court appearance on Monday.

A photo posted to a school Facebook page Monday shows staff wearing matching sweatshirts, arms over shoulders, with a message that said, "Our staff are ready for your return." 

The post also included information for the open house and cultural event for students, parents and community members that took place Tuesday afternoon.

Government officials travel to La Loche

Along with Morgan, the Saskatchewan education minister, Justice Minister Gord Wyant and Advanced Education Minister Scott Moe met with town council, teachers and victim services today, and attended the open house and cultural event. 

High school students in the village of about 3,000 people are scheduled to return to classes on Friday. 

The kindergarten to Grade 6 elementary school, with about 500 students, will have security guards in the building throughout the day, a precaution that made Souk Seum Daongam feel better about sending his son, Tyler, back to kindergarten. 

"As a parent, very concerned, but because of all of the help from the province and the leaders in town, I mean a lot has been done in terms of security," the owner of a local grocery store said. "So I feel confident we'll get through this, and I'm very confident that as a community we won't let this happen again." 

The value of an education trumps fear and anxiety for some in the community — including Keiden's grandfather, Peter Janvier, who is glad to see his grandson eagerly return to school. 

Security guards were in place Tuesday as students returned to Ducharme Elementary School. (Matthew Kruchak/CBC )

"For him, with the competition that's rising for jobs in the future, education is very important for him," said Janvier, who describes himself as "one of the lucky ones" in his generation. He dropped out of school, but was able to find steady work for close to 30 years. 

Wilinda Sylvester was also happy to see her 12-year-old daughter return to school.

"They're not going to get anywhere staying at home," she said. "That's not an option for them." 

Sylvester said her daughter isn't scared, but she told her child she would take time from her workday to sit with her at school if she needs support. 

"As a parent, I'm going to force them to go back to get their education, and them being scared, or them thinking that something's going to go wrong, I'm going to guide them to not think that way and pray."