Politicians in Ottawa paid their respects Monday to the shooting victims of La Loche

Politicians in Ottawa paid their respects Monday to the shooting victims of La Loche

FEELING WHOLE AGAIN: How La Loche recovered from its own tragedy

Leaders in the rural Saskatchewan community offer advice to Abbotsford on healing, following the 2016 school shooting.

Feeling Whole Again is a series on how an Abbotsford school and community work through issues of healing and security in the aftermath of fatal violence, ahead of a public meeting on Jan. 25. Click here for a list of the stories in the series.

On Jan. 22, 2016, the small northern Saskatchewan town of La Loche was the site of stunning violence that made headlines across the country.

Two teenaged brothers – Dayne, 17, and Drayden, 13 – were shot to death before the gunman continued on to the local high school and killed a teacher and a teacher’s aide, and injured seven.

The boys’ mother, Alicia Fontaine, took to Facebook to express her grief, writing that her “heart shattered into a million pieces.”

The shocking tragedy struck hard into the heart of the small Dene First Nation community, according to Leonard Montgrand, executive director of La Loche Friendship Centre.

“Everybody was sort of in a daze because it just didn’t seem real. Everybody was in a sort of chaotic state. Nobody really knew what was going on at times. There was a lot of miscommunication because no one had ever been in a position like this before, in a crisis mode.”

It took about three months for that chaos to settle down and La Loche residents were able to regain some sense of normalcy, Montgrand said.

Around the same time, Fontaine again wrote on Facebook: “I’m just trying to put on a smile but deep down inside, how I cry every second of every minute of every day. Missing my babies so much.”

Eventually, the community began to see positive changes taking shape, including a new building for the friendship centre, allowing it to do more hands-on outreach and support work.

There was an influx of mental health workers and the community came together to support each another through the pain of loss and trauma.

Looking back, nearly a year after the event, Montgrand said much progress has been made.

His advice for leaders in Abbotsford, as it heals from its own traumatic event – the Nov. 1, 2016 school stabbing that killed one and injured another – and reviews its school security systems is to consult those most affected by any potential changes.

“Talk to the kids before you talk to the adults or the parents… because they’re the ones that are in the school system,” he said. “Same with the teachers and see what their needs and wants are, what their concerns are.”

Montgrand also said it’s important for a healing community to work together, with open communication.

“You have to put aside your differences and your attitudes and your egos and you have to check them at the door and try to work to a common solution,” he said.

La Loche has made it through a tough year, with a lot of focus put on educating children more and reaching out to those with mental health problems to prevent another similar tragedy, Montgrand said.

“We live in different times now,” he said. “We don’t live in days of old, when we never worried about stuff like this.

“We’re a tough community.”