In the wake of a shooting tragedy at La Loche, Sask., that left four people dead, a call for healing and support has been embraced by the mother of two of the victims and the mother of the alleged shooter.
The mother of two teenage brothers killed on Jan. 22 and the mother of the alleged teenaged killer have been supporting each other, Archbishop Murray Chatlain of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas said in an interview.
“As incredible as that is,” Chatlain said. “I was very touched by their care for each other.”
Chatlain was present when the mothers met. He also spent time with the family of the alleged shooter, who appeared in court Jan. 25 facing four counts of first degree murder, seven counts of attempted murder and unauthorized possession of a firearm.
Chatlain called the teenager’s family “good people,” and said that blame for the alleged actions should not fall on their shoulders.
“We’re not blaming them,” said Chatlain. “It’s just this has happened and now how do we bring healing and support and try to find ways for our young people to have more hope.”
In the early afternoon on Jan. 22 a 17-year-old, who’s identity is protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is alleged to have killed two brothers, aged 17 and 13, at their home and then spent about eight minutes terrorizing staff and students at nearby La Loche Community School with a firearm believed to be a shotgun. The youth was apprehended by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after 11 people had been shot.
Two staff members hired earlier this school year, 21-year-old teaching assistant Marie Janvier of La Loche and 35-year-old teacher Adam Wood of Uxbridge, Ont., were also killed.
Although Chatlain spoke of resisting the urge to place blame, he was not without criticism, particularly of an education system which cut funding for extra-curricular programs at the school over recent years.
“It is impossible to draw complete correlations but there is a need for the young people to have more support and programs,” Chatlain said.
At a mass celebrated at Our Lady of the Visitation in La Loche, a largely Catholic town, Chatlain urged the congregation to focus on healing and support rather than placing blame.
“Anger is a very natural response,” he said. “There are no easy words to make sense of this or take this pain away. There is need for great sympathy as the community tries to heal.”
The Woods family expressed similar sentiments.
“It is in these moments, when tragedy strikes, that we are able to stop and consider life,” reads the message from the Woods family. “We feel sadness and remorse but rarely do we use that to fuel change. (So) rather than looking for someone to blame or coming up with outside opinions of reasons why this occurred, we must stop and listen.”
Chatlain travelled to La Loche, a northern community of fewer than 3,000, soon after hearing of the shooting.
“It is the church’s role to accompany wherever there is suffering and storms,” he said. “We have that responsibility to try to be present when there is the biggest need.”
About 90 per cent of the residents of La Loche self-identify as Aboriginal. Unemployment is estimated to be about 22.3 per cent and about 38 per cent of homes are deemed unsuitable by the National Occupancy Standard. The town’s suicide rate is three times the provincial average, according to a 2007-2008 health study.
Possible solutions to these issues were explored in a meeting following the mass. Among those who attended were First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, a Saskatchewan MP, and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
Wall said the province will help fund additional counselling services in the community as well as assist with costs for those travelling to be with the victims.
“You’re going to need the supports and you will have them,” said Wall. “You will not be walking through this alone. We just need to make sure (the resources are) not just there for the short-term but as long as necessary.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited La Loche one week after the shootings, meeting with the injured, with family members of the dead, and with community leaders. He also had a town hall meeting with about 700 community residents.
“All Canadians mourn, continue to mourn, with the people of La Loche and the people of Saskatchewan,” Trudeau said.
“We will and we must work together to address the deeper issues facing our country that have yet again been highlighted by tragedy and heartbreak one week ago.”