'Moments of healing' five years after La Loche shooting

·3 min read

Five years later, reminders of a tragedy linger in La Loche.

On Jan. 22, 2016, violence unfolded at a community home and in Dene High School as a 17-year-old shot and killed four people, and injured seven others.

As La Loche observes the fifth anniversary of that horrible day, Mayor Georgina Jolibois says "moments of healing" and grief remain in the community.

"No doubt today is a heavy day," she says. "Not only for myself, but for many in the community and educators across Canada who were here that horrible day.”

The first people to die five years ago were teenage brothers. Seventeen-year-old Dayne Fontaine and 13-year-old Drayden Fontaine were shot at their home by their cousin, Randan Dakota Fontaine. Randan then went to Dene High School, where he killed teacher’s aide Marie Janvier and teacher Adam Wood.

La Loche began the difficult task of healing from the tragedy as Randan's case wound through the courts. More than two years later, in February 2018, he was sentenced as an adult for two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder.

The court gave him a life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 years, which is the maximum for a youth sentenced as an adult. In 2019, a Saskatchewan Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal.

Jolibois says La Loche is "rebuilding and learning from this horrible experience."

Community members were expected to attend a virtual mass Friday, after which they would receive a prepared supper in their vehicles and later be able to tune into a local broadcast of a gospel performance.

In a prepared statement, Premier Scott Moe praised the "strength and resiliency of the people of La Loche" who he said would be "a beacon of hope for future generations across Saskatchewan.”

During a time of grief, he said "we also saw great courage, we saw compassion, we saw a community united and determined to recover and rebuild in the face of adversity that most of us could never imagine."

In a video recorded for Dene High School, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he mourned with the community over the "senseless act of violence" five years ago and promised more supports.

"This terrible loss will never be forgotten. Together, we will remember, together, we will heal," he said.

Also in the video, local students shared their positive experiences at Dene High School and in their community. One noted the success of a modular farm, a wellness centre, some outdoor education programming and the availability of elders for students.

Another simply thanked her teachers and expressed her pride in being from La Loche.

As Jolibois prepared for the day, she said there was more left to do. She says the community still needs more support in areas like mental health and addictions and pledged to build on the progress of the last five years.

"There were moments of healing and giving together, rebuilding families and friendships, refocusing the community," she said.

"We just have to keep going with those positive moments and build on that."

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix