‘Get out of here!’ The story from inside the La Loche school shooting

The untold stories of the La Loche school shooting

Phyllis Longobardi remembers hearing two blasts before she saw the gun.

The assistant principal at the La Loche high school in northern Saskatchewan remembers that the lunch bell had rung on Jan. 22, 2016, and she was coaxing students to get to class.

Then several teens ran by terrified. She wondered what was up.

“Bang!”

Longobardi spun around and saw two boys standing in the front porch of the school.

One dropped to the floor.

She started walking toward them, thinking she was going to have to break up a fight. The boy who was still standing, the hood of a grey sweatshirt pulled over his head, turned.

She saw a shotgun or maybe it was a toy gun?

Longobardi watched as he fired another shot near the boot racks, where several girls were standing.

“Oh God, it’s real! This is real,” Longobardi remembers thinking.

“It’s sinking in that I’ve got to get the kids out. I’m yelling, ‘Get out of here! Get out of here!'”

Four people would die in a mass shooting that happened a year ago in the remote Dene community. Two teenage brothers were first killed in a home before the school became the target. Two staff died. Seven people were wounded.

A student, who was 17 at the time and cannot be identified, has pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and attempted murder. He is to be sentenced in the spring.

Details of the case have yet to be revealed in court and while some have said the shooter was the victim of bullying, no official motive has emerged.

Longobardi vividly recalls the terror she faced.

As panicked students and staff ran, Longobardi staggered back and wondered what to do. The boy had run further inside the school and fired again near the office area.

He was standing a few metres in front of her. She looked down the barrel of his gun and decided to stay put.

If he fired, she remembers thinking, she would try to outrun the blast.

At 58, Longobardi had been a physical education teacher in La Loche since she moved from Nova Scotia in the 1980s and had coached many school sports teams. Single with no children, she thought of the 500 students at the school as her kids.

And they were in danger.

Longobardi remembers locking eyes with the shooter. It wasn’t for long, maybe only a few seconds, she says, but it gave others a chance to run.

When he squeezed the trigger, she bolted into the nearest classroom, locked the door and pulled a computer cart in front of it. She was bleeding, but didn’t really realize she’d been hurt — pellets had struck her in the wrist, arm and abdomen.

She found six frightened students inside and told them to get under a teacher’s desk. She and another teacher laid down on the floor. They told the students to stay quiet and reassured them.

Soon after, two more blasts came from the office next door.

Longobardi worried about an adjoining door between the rooms.

“If he knows that the door between the office and this classroom isn’t locked, we’re going to have more bodies in here,” she recalls thinking.

She was certain someone in the office had been killed. She would later find out it was Adam Wood, 35, a friendly new teacher from Ontario.

Longobardi repeatedly tried calling RCMP and school officials on her cellphone. She heard students calling their own families. The kids were crying and saying things such as, “Hama, (the Dene word for mother and grandmother) I’m scared.”

At one point, Longobardi yelled an expletive as her hand, growing numb, misdialed a number. The students gasped.

“Ms. L just swore,” one of them said.

It was a brief moment of levity as they sat and waited.

At the other end of the school, substitute teacher Charlene Klyne was expecting a quiet afternoon. One student in the science class had showed up to study for upcoming finals, and a tutor, Marie Janvier, was there to help.

As Klyne, 55, sat at her desk, another teacher ran up to the classroom, yelled, “Stay in!” and slammed the door, she says.

Klyne remembers not having much time to question what was going on. A boy was soon at her door, staring through the window.

“I saw him raise a gun. It was almost like he had a smirk on his face.”

There was a sudden bang.

She couldn’t see.

She felt as if her face and chest were on fire.

She struggled to breathe.

Because her ears were ringing, or maybe because she passed out, Klyne didn’t hear the blast that followed.

She next remembers the student in her class telling her that Janvier had ran to get help. When she did, she was shot dead.

Klyne threw herself out of her chair and onto the floor. She couldn’t believe Janvier — the sweetest young woman, a former student who had been hired that year as a tutor — was gone.

She quickly focused on the student who was with her, a 17-year-old boy.

“I said, ‘If you think it’s safe, you can crawl to me and we’ll hide behind the desk.'”

The student pulled Klyne’s coat from her chair, placed it under her head and laid down beside her. She asked him to use his cellphone to call 911, as well as her husband, Ralph, a vice-principal at the school.

She worried he had been shot too.

Her husband answered and was relieved to know Klyne was alive.

But he quickly whispered he had to go. He was hiding in another classroom and there was someone outside his door.

Klyne tried to remain calm.

She fell in and out of consciousness as they waited.

Mounties soon announced over the school’s intercom that they had arrested a shooter. Classrooms were evacuated and the wounded — Longobardi, Klyne, another staff member and four students — were taken to hospital.

At the same time, officers were called to a nearby home, where they found brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine, 17 and 13, also dead.

The passage of time has not healed the hurt from that day.

“Most days, I hate life,” says Klyne, who was blinded.

Pellets drilled into her face, neck and chest and destroyed the lenses in both her eyes. One pellet is still lodged near the lining of her heart. Another sits under a tooth and constantly aches. She can feel more tiny pebbles rising up under the skin on her shoulder.

Her hair is falling out.

Klyne now lives in Saskatoon and gets workers’ compensation benefits. Her husband has taken a leave to care for her, along with an adult son with special needs. Another son is attending university.

But the city doesn’t feel like home, she says. The family loved life in the north.

Klyne’s not sure she wants to return, but her husband does.

“He misses the kids.”

Longobardi hasn’t been back to work.

“Can I go back and work in the school where that all happened? I know some people have, and good for them. But I’m not one of them,” she says from Amherst, N.S., where she is living while on sick leave.

Longobardi had surgery on her wrist, and it’s getting better. But two months after the shooting, she suffered a mild stroke. Then came shingles, a painful rash that can be caused, in part, by stress.

She’s been told she has post-traumatic stress disorder. She’s getting counselling, but the nightmares still come.

Sometimes she sees the barrel of a gun.

“Lately, I’ve been seeing the light â€” the spark that goes off when you shoot a gun. That’s the one that wakes me up.”

There’s also fear when she’s awake, she says, especially when she hears kids running.

“My last memory of kids running is in terror.”

Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press

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