Close call for Kashechewan First Nation students during Toronto shooting

Students on a Grade 8 class trip from the northern Ontario First Nation of Kashechewan found themselves in Toronto’s Eaton Centre food court Saturday when deadly gunfire erupted, triggering mass panic in the city’s largest shopping centre.

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Students on a Grade 8 class trip from the northern Ontario First Nation of Kashechewan found themselves in Toronto’s Eaton Centre food court Saturday when deadly gunfire erupted, triggering mass panic in the city’s largest shopping centre.

None of the students were hurt in the shooting, which left one man dead and several injured.

The 18 students, aged 13 to 15, were on an annual trip to visit southern Ontario which includes tours of the CN Tower, museums and Niagara Falls.

Some of the students in the group were in the food court at the exact moment bullets began to fly, said Rosy Sutherland, director of education services for Kashechewan First Nation.

“It is surreal to have it at that time,” said Sutherland. “You can only guess that it must have been like for them.”

While none of the students were physically hurt, Sutherland said she wasn’t authorized discuss the psychological impact of the incident. Sutherland said a councillor from the Toronto Sick Kids Hospital did meet with students to make sure they were okay and help them with any emotional fallout.

Sutherland said the students were also given the option of coming back home, but none of them took the offer and they spent Tuesday at Canada’s Wonderland.

“They are probably not going to go back to the Eaton Centre,” said Sutherland.

Christopher Husbands, 23, has been charged in connection to the brazen Eaton Centre shooting which left Ahmed Hassan, 24, dead.

The trip is one of the highlights of the year for the St. Andrew’s School Grade 8 class which raises its own money to pay for the journey south.

Students spend months fundraising, selling raffle tickets for TVs and hunting equipment, holding bingos, hosting yard sales and putting in hours as volunteers.

The total cost of the trip comes to about $50,000 and students raise about 75 per cent of the amount, said Sutherland. The rest of the funding comes from the band’s education purse and other sources. The costs include a charter flight from Kashechewan to Timmins, Ont., and then a charter bus ride to Toronto.

For many of the students, this is the first time they’ve ever visited a major city, many having travelled mainly to Timmins. One of the students on this year’s trip is confined to a wheelchair.

Sutherland said there were a few anxious moments after the news hit that that students were so close to the shooting.

“I was concerned for their well being and safety. I just wanted to make sure they were safe because they are our responsibility. They are our students,” said Sutherland. “I was glad to hear they were all safe, that they are resilient enough to continue their trip.”

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Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.