This is part of my ongoing series on Canadian Mass Murders.
On April 28, 1999, just eight days after the Littleton, Colorado, school massacre that horrified the world, a 14-year-old high school dropout saw the Columbine killers as some deranged idols to emulate.
He took his father’s .22 calibre rifle, sawed off the barrel, grabbed hundreds of rounds of ammunition and headed to his former school.
Wearing a blue trenchcoat to mimic the Columbine killers, the young man entered the main hallway of the school.
He reportedly pointed the rifle at a teacher, who told him she didn’t think his stunt was funny. The boy continued down the hallway and confronted two 17-year-old students late for their after-lunch class.
It was the wrong day to be late for class.
The boy fired four shots at the pair, hitting them both once.
Jason Lang, son of Anglican Pastor Dale Lang, was mortally wounded and died later at the hospital.
Shane Christmas, 17, was hit in the stomach. He survived.
Nobody understands why these two young men were shot while other students were spared. Neither Lang nor Christmas had any connection to the murderer.
“I asked the kid with the gun what he was doing and he told me to get lost so I ran away to my classroom, crying and screaming for help,” said Raegan Valgardson, a grade 9 student.
“He pointed the gun at my head and then at my stomach and said, ‘Get out of here’,” said Colby Cannady, another grade 9 student.
Gym coach Cheyno Finnie tackled the young killer to the ground and disarmed him.
Then, as we’ve seen in Nova Scotia this week, the killer’s life was pried open and examined under a media microscope. What they discovered was a socially awkward boy who was bullied his whole life.
Crown prosecutors attempted to have the young offender charged and tried as an adult, but their attempt to elevate the case failed.
Before the youth could be tried, however, a medical exam revealed a pre-existing condition requiring open heart surgery. During surgery he suffered a stroke that left him with trouble eating, speaking and thinking coherently.
The case was suspended until the boy could recover from his medical issues. He was later declared fit to stand trial and in September 2006 he pleaded guilty to all charges.
For killing one young man and severely injuring another, the young offender was sentenced to three years in prison, followed by seven years of probation.
In 2005 he escaped from the Toronto halfway home where he was living. He turned himself in the following day and received no punishment for his escape.
The maximum sentence a young offender can receive is 10 years, a point I discuss in my article about the Richardson Family Murders, which occurred in 2006 in Medicine Hat, just an hour northeast of Taber.
Deep Scars Remain
The Alberta school shooting, like all these tragedies, left its scars on those closest to it.
Dale Lang is no longer an Anglican minister. First, he campaigned against the bullying some say led to his son’s murder. After a decade of working to end bullying in schools, Lang quit his advocacy work and his pastoral ministry. He now drives a handicap-accessible bus.
“Faith has always been strong and it never really left me,” Lang said last year, the 20th anniversary of his son’s murder.
“I pray every day and I read scripture every day. And I ask God what’s going on in the world and what I should be doing.”
“There really has never been words that could express to someone the blackness, the emptiness, the absolute pain of that moment,” he said.
“You’re supposed to feel safe in school,” said Jessica Robinson, a Grade 10 student nervously knitting her fingers on her lap. “But now it’s like the worst place you would ever want to be.”
Although you can easily find the name of the Taber school shooter online from non-Canadian sources, the publication ban in Section 24 of Alberta’s Youth Justice Act and Section 110 of Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act prevents me from including his name in this column.
Youth Criminal Justice Act Publication Restrictions
- 110(1) Subject to this section, no person shall publish the name of a young person, or any other information related to a young person, if it would identify the young person as a young person dealt with under this Act.