LA LOCHE, Sask. — A student who was just returning from lunch when shots were fired at a northern Saskatchewan school Friday said his friends ran past him urging him to get out.
“Run, bro, run!” Noel Desjarlais-Thomas, 16, recalled his friends saying to him as they fled La Loche’s junior and senior high school.
“There’s a shotgun! There’s a shotgun! They were just yelling to me. And then I was hearing those shots, too, so of course I started running.”
RCMP Chief Supt. Maureen Levy revised initial reports of the number of people killed Friday evening. She told a news conference in Regina that four people were killed and “a number” of others injured.
She offered no details.
“I can’t give any information about their sex or their ages. We are in the early onset of the investigation and we want to ensure the integrity of the investigation.”
A solemn Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said earlier from Davos, Switzerland, that five people were dead and two critically injured in the remote Dene community.
RCMP did not offer an explanation for the discrepancy.
Obviously this is every parent’s worst nightmare,“ the prime minister said. ”We all grieve with and stand with the community of La Loche and all of Saskatchewan on this terrible, tragic day.“
Levy said one male was in custody and added that police had confiscated a firearm. There was no risk to public safety, she said.
She said lockdowns at two schools had been lifted, students moved to a safe location and specialized police personnel were at the La Loche high school and at another location in town.
Desjarlais-Thomas, a Grade 10 student, said he believed one of his friends might be among the dead.
“I saw him fall down. That’s when I started running,” he told The Canadian Press.
“I didn’t want to look back.”
Kevin Janvier, acting mayor of La Loche, told CKBI radio that his daughter was one of the victims.
Premier Brad Wall issued a statement expressing shock and sorrow at what he called “the horrific events.”
Bruce Heyman, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, sent a message of condolence.
“We have experienced similar tragedies far too often in the United States and understand all too well the heartache and sadness that result from such a horrific event,” he said.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims and their families, the community of La Loche, the residents of Saskatchewan, and all Canadians during this most difficult time.”
Mounties warned parents and residents to stay away after reports of shots being fired about 1 p.m. at the high school building. Ducharme Elementary School a few blocks away was also locked down for a time as a precaution.
School co-ordinator Norma Janvier said she was in her office when she heard gunshots.
“I didn’t know what was going on … I thought the kids were just playing around or something, like a locker slamming and stuff,” she told The Canadian Press.
She was going to check on the noise, but a teacher closed her office door, so Janvier stayed inside until she was told it was safe to leave.
“All I heard was cops running around in the school.”
Wall promised that necessary crisis support and counselling services would be provided to the school and the community.
La Loche is a community of about 3,000 people on the eastern shore of Lac La Loche in the northern boreal forest. About 900 students attend the two schools in the town, about 600 kilometres north of Saskatoon. Many residents hunt and fish to support their families.
The area’s NDP MP, who attended the same school, was setting up a constituency office in the community when the shooting occurred.
“We’re fairly shaken up. It’s a sad day,” said Georgina Jolibois, who was mayor of La Loche until she was elected federally last fall.
“My own nieces and nephews were inside the school.”
Jolibois said she went to the school and spoke with some of her family members, who were unharmed.