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'No One Has Been Paying Attention': School Shooting Is the Latest Tragedy for La Loche

The community in northern Canada has been plagued for years by high youth suicide rates, depression, substance abuse, and poverty.

by Rachel Browne
Jan 23 2016, 8:20pm

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The far northern community of La Loche, devastated by Canada's worst school shooting in a decade, has been "crying out for help" for years as it grapples with a mental health and poverty crisis.

"No one has been paying attention to this community," says Kelly Patrick, who served as director of health for the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan.

Friday's shooting rampage left four people dead and others severely wounded.

"Compare this type of tragedy to the number of youth suicides in the area, everything needs to be put into perspective. Very little has been done," added Patrick, who developed a youth suicide prevention for La Loche and surrounding communities in 2010.

"When you look at this tragic shooting in the context of the number of youth suicides in the area, it puts everything into perspective. And it just goes to show that the access to social services is completely inadequate," said Patrick.

Related: Four Dead After Saskatchewan School Shooting

"Now you have politicians and outsiders describing it as shocking, and the most upsetting thing is that it's not. It was just waiting to happen."

Canada's federal public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, acknowledged the situation facing the community in an interview with CKOM radio station on Friday, calling the shootings a "horribly painful wakeup call that there are circumstances that absolutely need to be fixed."

La Loche, a tight knit town with a population of around 3,000 people, located more than 300 miles from Saskatoon, has been plagued by high youth suicide rates, depression, substance abuse, and poverty.

Residents told the StarPhoenix last May that suicide numbers began to rise a decade ago. And many people who live there went to the government and church-run residential school system — a network of schools rampant with sexual, physical, and psychological abuse — or had relatives who did.

On Friday night after the attacks, more than 100 people from La Loche gathered that night for a candlelight vigil to grieve over what happened.

By Saturday, Marie Janvier, Adam Wood, and brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine were identified as the four people who died in the attacks that took place at the local school and a nearby home.

Police have confirmed that the accused shooter is 17 years old, and thus won't release his identity, as he is a minor. Reports suggest that the suspect, who now faces four counts of first-degree murder, was related to the two Fontaines.

Related: Aboriginal Chiefs Plead for Help in Canada After Children Commit Suicide

Janvier worked at the 900-student La Loche Community School, and was the 21-year-old daughter, and only child, of the town's interim mayor, Kevin Janvier. Relatives describe her as a sweet and caring person whose smile will "light up the room on the darkest day."

The family of Adam Wood, a teacher from Ontario, said in a statement that he had started working in the community in September and "had a passion for life, and would often make you laugh until your stomach hurt."

Little information has been released about the Fontaine brothers. News reports say the shooter, an unidentified male who remains in police custody, shot and killed two of his family members before heading to the school.

A spokesperson for the RCMP, Canada's federal police force, told reporters at a press conference Friday night that investigations were ongoing and a number of law enforcement officials had been called in for extra support. The Meadow Lake Tribal Council has sent out a team of elders and healthcare professionals to help the community.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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