Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shooting won't deter foreign trips

But superintendent says more caution needed

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The horrific Dominican Republic shooting shouldn't stop Manitoba high school students from taking foreign trips -- but don't let word get around you're coming.

Students from the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine are adamant the violent robbery that abruptly ended their humanitarian trip last month should not deter high school students from going to other countries, superintendent Alain Laberge said Thursday.

But, said Laberge, students and teachers can become targets if the wrong people know they're coming, and that can happen when you go to the same place at the same time every year.

The group included 18 students and eight teachers and parent-chaperones from ecole Pointe-des-Chênes in Ste. Anne and ecole régionale Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

They were making what had become an annual humanitarian trip to help a nearby orphanage and school. They had barely arrived in rural Dominican Republic in late January when gunmen broke into their apartment compound.

A teacher and four girls were briefly held at gunpoint. The compound's manager, Les Lehmann of Winnipeg, intervened and was shot nine times before the robbers fled.

Lehmann is still recovering. His family could not be reached.

Laberge said some students and teachers are still having flashbacks, and some are probably seeing counsellors provided confidentially by the school division.

"I can't say they're completely over it -- they're doing better," Laberge said.

None has expressed any desire to go back there this year, he said, but "the students have told us they don't want this incident stopping other international field trips."

Laberge, who only joined the division in January, wasn't part of planning the trip, and is still conducting a review of what happened.

He's concerned the DSFM students went to the same place at the same time for five years.

"Going to the same place year in and year out, you become known, you become a target," he said. Word gets around, and "all of a sudden, half the country knows you're there."

Laberge said Canadian Foreign Affairs had listed the Dominican Republic as a place where visitors should be careful.

"It was gated. These people broke in, they had chainsaws," Laberge said.

"Private security was supposed to be there -- it's not clear if they were."

So far, the DSFM has not heard if Dominican police have made any arrests, and students and teachers have not received requests to return to testify in court.

Everyone has to remember 18 of the people who went through this experience are children, Laberge said. "You relive it through all the people who ask you about it."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2014 A9

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