Police cordoned off Mother Teresa School while fire officials and the HazMat team investigated the blast site

Student dies after explosion at Ottawa high school

  • May 26, 2011

OTTAWA - An explosion ripped through an auto shop at Ottawa's Mother Teresa Catholic High School May 26, killing Grade 12 student Eric Leighton, 18, and injuring five others.

Police reported the students had been cutting through metal making barbecues when residue in a 55-gallon drum exploded.

Leighton was found "without vital signs" at the scene but paramedics "initiated advance resuscitative measures" and by the time he reached hospital, he had regained a pulse.  Leighton, however, died in hospital later in the day, according to police.

Paramedics assessed four other students and a 33-year old teacher at the scene.  They were sent to hospital for monitoring of possible concussive injuries.

The Ottawa District Catholic School Board sent out a news release asking media to respect "the community's need to grieve" and pull news crews away from the school.

"We ask for your discretion now to allow the students and staff to see the school as a safe place for them to grieve," said the statement.

Grade 12 student Jonathan Morales, 18, described Leighton as "an amazing guy," "fun, a jokester," someone who "always kept the class motivated and on task."

"It's really sad what happened to him," Morales said outside the school when there was still hope he might live. "We're holding on to faith right now. Because he needs to pull this through.  He was about to graduate and I know he would have made it.  Right now faith is basically about all we got."

His cousin, Felipe Garcia-Sales Vidal, 16, agreed.  

"Whenever there's a really bad moment I really turn to God. I've done that a lot and it's worked out for me," said Vidal.

"I may not be the best Catholic, but I do have a strong faith in Him. I believe if we all hold onto God we'll all be okay."

The 911 call went out at 10:40 a.m. bringing out ambulances, fire trucks and the Hazardous Materials Response Team to the relatively new high school in the rapidly growing Barrhaven district in Ottawa's south.

Ottawa Catholic School Board communications officer Mardi de Kemp speaks to reporters outside Mother Teresa High School.At first students were locked down in their classrooms, but soon the school was evacuated and students and teachers gathered at nearby Longfields Davidson Heights High School (LDHHS), about a five-minute walk across a park from Mother Teresa.

Frantic parents, alerted to the explosion by phone calls and text messages, tried to contact their children. Fear mounted with early reports a student had been killed. Parents lined up at LDHHS in a line that snaked around the school to collect their children, who had been brought to the high school's gym.

Dawn Carter received a message from a friend who had heard about the blast from her co-worker's daughter.

"I called him right away and he answered. Thank God!" Carter said.  

Carter said all the older students were crying.  Her son Michael's friend Tyler Smith recalled that the previous year a 12th grade student had died in a car accident.

"Life is precious and one bad decision can lead to the end of someone's life," she said. "We have to reiterate to these kids, be careful what you're doing."

She said she hoped the school board would have plenty of counsellors to help students deal with the crisis.

"I hope the kids can appreciate they are in a Catholic environment and their faith can get them through this very tragic time," she said.

The board's Critical Incident Team of psychologists, chaplains, counsellors and staff set up at LDHHS and will provide support to students and staff now and in the days ahead.

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