VANCOUVER — Students returning Monday to a B.C. high school where a Grade 9 girl was stabbed to death will need long-term support to prevent further tragedies years from now, says a mother whose son was killed at a school in Alberta.
Abbotsford Senior Secondary was closed last Tuesday, when 13-year-old Letisha Reimer and her 14-year-old friend, who survived the double stabbing, were heard screaming in the rotunda after an assailant walked in with a knife.
A video of the stabbing means the violence has been viewed online thousands of times despite pleas by police and the school district for people to stop sharing it.
Gabriel Klein, 21, has been charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault and is scheduled to be back in court Monday, the same day counsellors will be at the school to support students and staff.
Diane Lang, whose son was shot and killed at school in Taber, Alta., on April 28, 1999, said the long-term impact on students will depend on how the trauma is dealt with adults, whose best tactic will be to listen to teens’ concerns while helping them return to normal routines.
“Something like this changes your life forever,” said Lang, whose 17-year-old son Jason Lang was shot in the hallway of his high school while another boy, also 17, was wounded. The shooter was a 14-year-old student.
“You can’t go back and change what happened,” Lang said. “And if you’re not able to move forward it leaves you in not a very healthy space, and that affects your health physically as well as mentally and emotionally.”
Lang said the shooting at W.R. Myers High School occurred on a Wednesday afternoon, and the school was closed until the following Tuesday.
When it reopened that morning, Lang and her husband Dale Lang decided they had to be there to help students deal with what had happened.
So the couple stood at the spot where their son was shot — a hallway near the cafeteria — and talked to students.
“I think that helped, that we were there because they could say that if we weren’t afraid to be at that spot, that it would help them to be there as well.”
She said the couple found the strength to forgive the shooter after learning his actions were prompted by years of bullying and that Jason and the injured student were random victims.
“Dale was able to talk to the students, and the staff, and just say they were not being targeted, that this was a hurting person who took our son’s life,” Lang said, adding the Abbotsford students’ healing will also come from choosing not to hold any bitterness toward the attacker.
Abbotsford police have said the attack on the two girls appeared to be random.
Lang said the girl who was wounded in the Abbotsford stabbing will need ongoing support because she is likely to feel guilty that she survived and her friend did not.
The wounded teen in the Taber shooting has “really struggled,” she said.
“I saw him, actually, just recently, but I know it’s been really tough for him. And his mom had even said to me that she felt he hadn’t been able to move beyond the emotional state that he was in because he was only 17 at the time as well.”
Lang said the injured boy’s father died years ago, his mother passed away three months ago and that he was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Langs’ daughter Jennifer was seven when her brother died and seemed to handle the tragedy well, but that changed when she turned 17 and was attending the same school, seeing the spot where her brother died.
“She kind of went through a grieving process at that point, and this was 10 years later. All of a sudden she realized what the kids must have been feeling and thinking who were there at the time.”
Theresa Campbell, president of Safer Schools Together, which provides counsellors and mental-health clinicians, said the company has been working with other experts dealing with the fatal stabbing at the Abbotsford school.
The company modelled its approach after the school shooting in Taber
Campbell said school officials in Abbotsford will need to pay particular attention to students already known to be dealing with anxiety or past traumatic experiences.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
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