Francophone students from Ste. Anne and St. Jean Baptiste made a hasty retreat from the Dominican Republic after they saw a man shot in front of them.
Four or five students were in their room late at night when robbers burst in and demanded money and possessions such as their cameras.
"The landlord heard noises and interrupted the thing. He got into a fight with them and they shot him," said Alain Laberge, superintendent of the Division Scolaire Franco-Maintobaine.
Laberge said Saturday that the students and teachers arrived safely back in Winnipeg at 5 a.m. today, and are asking for privacy this weekend to be with their families.
Three or four shots were fired. It's not known if all of them struck the landlord. He is in hospital in critical but stable condition.
None of the 18 students, plus eight teachers and adult chaperones, was injured.
Laberge ordered the school group to return home immediately. They were in New York Friday night, where they shared a cellphone for two hours to call home and talk to their parents.
The high school students from École régionale Saint-Jean-Baptiste and École Pointe-Des-Chênes were on a week-long humanitarian mission in the Dominican Republic. They had just arrived in Puerto Plata, where they were to work until Feb. 6 on a project to help an orphanage and school for girls aged five to 17.
Thugs forced their way into the compound at 1 a.m. on Friday.
The building was like a large home broken into suites, with four or five students per suite, plus chaperones. There was security, but somehow the thieves got past it.
Teachers immediately contacted their principals back home, who called Laberge.
The schools have been going to the same location the past four years, and their visits date back at least 10 years, Laberge said.
"We knew them. We had security," he said. Local police escorted the students to the airport, he said.
Most students did not see the shooting but heard the gunfire and yells and screams. Laberge said psychologists will be on hand for the students, teachers and chaperones.
"We think this is something really big. We don't want to let students down," he said. "They witnessed things no one wants to see."
The principals for the two schools, Daniel Faucher of the Saint-Jean- Baptiste regional school, and Raymond Lafleche of Pointe des Chênes school in Ste-Anne, broke the news to parents over the phone.
"As parents, of course, it's hard to hear. Your children are far away," Laberge said.
"The message was the same. We don't want to lie. We told them what happened," he said.
"Some parents don't handle it the same as others. They want to have their children in their hands. They want to hug them," said Laberge.