MEADOW LAKE, Sask. — A judge on Tuesday sentenced a young man who shot up a school and a home in northern Saskatchewan to life in prison and bemoaned a lack of support for survivors.
The shooter, who killed four and injured seven, won't be eligible for parole for 10 years.
The young man was weeks away from his 18th birthday when he killed two teenage brothers, a teacher and a teacher's aide in La Loche, Sask. He was sentenced as an adult, but can't be named until his appeal options are exhausted.
Judge Janet McIvor called the shootings "senseless'' and "coldly horrific.''
She also said it's a travesty that some people in the northern Dene community aren't receiving the support they need and are being revictimized. Since the shooting, she said, fewer teachers are willing to work there and there has been an increase in substance abuse and suicides.
"They have been abandoned,'' McIvor told court. "They have been let down.
"More help is needed. Counselling is needed. And it's not right that that hasn't been provided.''
Phyllis Longobardi, the school's assistant principal who was injured in the shooting, praised the judge for scolding the government.
"Good for her,'' Longobardi said from her home in Amherst, N.S., after watching a livestream of the sentencing at her local courthouse.
"The government has done nothing — absolutely nothing — for the community. It's done nothing for the victims.
'When nobody's looking, they take it all away'
"It basically came out with this political line, 'Oh, we'll help you.' And then when nobody's looking, they take it all away.''
She said she's heard the same complaints from other victims, families and community members she's kept in touch with.
And she feels for those in La Loche who may see the shooter again if he returns to the community after he gets parole.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he hadn't seen the details of the judge's comments.
"When we are faced with any type of tragic occurrence here in the province of Saskatchewan, we need to work hard to do better in areas such as La Loche,'' he said.
Moe said the government has put in place a Dene teacher education program, which is training people to become educators in the community, and invested in a trades program at the high school.
"But there is more work to do, and it's not just in northern Saskatchewan,'' he said.
The La Loche shooter pleaded guilty in October 2016 to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder.
Brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine were killed in their home before the teen went to the school where he was a student and fatally shot teacher Adam Wood and teacher's aide Marie Janvier. Seven others in the building were injured.
Students and staff hid under desks in classrooms and frantically called relatives on their cellphones. The shooter eventually ran into a women's washroom and surrendered to RCMP.
McIvor said the shooter began formulating a plan as early as September 2015. He researched different kinds of guns and the damage they could do to people.
She pointed out that the night before the shootings, he did an online search asking: "What does it feel like to kill someone?''
"His months and weeks of planning were over in a matter of minutes,'' she said. "These school shootings were planned and calculated to inflict as much damage as possible.''
The young man told court he can't undo what he's done, but he would if he could.
These school shootings were planned and calculated to inflict as much damage as possible.Judge Janet McIvor
He looked back at his family in the gallery and said: "I'm sorry. I love you.''
His motive for the shooting is still unclear. His lawyer, Aaron Fox, said his client told him: "I ask myself that every day.'''
The young man has been imprisoned at a provincial correctional centre in Prince Albert, Sask., where Fox said he reads, plays cards and speaks primarily to the chaplain. The killer will serve his sentence in a federal penitentiary.
But Fox said his client, who is now 20, could spend some of his sentence at a psychiatric centre so he can receive much-needed help.
"He knows he committed a horrendous act and he's going to have to pay for it and is prepared to do so,'' he said.
"This young man was lacking services and assistance long before this offence took place. Even the judge's comments about what's gone on in the community since ... everybody's gone home is pathetic.''
McIvor said she took the shooter's apology into account, as well as his guilty pleas which spared the victims' families the pain of a trial. She told court she can't dictate where he can serve his sentence and it will be up to the parole board to decide when, or if, he can be reintegrated into society.
He has a "very, very, very long road ahead of him,'' she said.
With files from Chris Purdy in Edmonton