10 years after Taber; father of school shooting victim says he needs a rest

TABER — Dale Lang is a tired man.

Rev. Dale Lang

TABER — Dale Lang is a tired man.

Ten years after his son Jason, a popular 17-year-old student at W.R. Myers High School, was gunned down by an angry former classmate, Lang is looking for a bit of peace.

It’s not that he’s shunning the spotlight that has shone on his family since the tragedy. In fact, for almost a decade he has been a tireless crusader against the sort of bullying and school violence that led to his son’s death.

It’s just that reliving that day again and again has been hard.

“It’s been difficult because I’ve had to talk about it 1,500 times, so … it’s hard to keep a talk fresh when you do that,” sighs Lang, 58, sinking into an oversized sofa at his family home.

“There’s a lot of memories and emotions attached when you do that, too, so it’s been quite a different journey.”

Taber and W. R. Myers became inextricably linked to school violence on April 28, 1999.

A 14-year-old youth, the victim of bullying by former classmates, entered the building and pulled out a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle.

He fired four rounds.

Jason Lang was killed.

Shane Christmas, also 17 at the time, was seriously wounded.

The shooter, who can’t be named by law, was arrested by an unarmed school resource officer.

The event devastated residents of Taber, an agricultural community of about 8,000 in the heart of Alberta’s Bible Belt which had been best known for sweet, juicy corn sold across the Prairies.

It was just eight days after the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

The media attention was international and intense.

“It’s one of those events where you hear of those sorts of things happening elsewhere,” remembers Taber Mayor Ray Bryant, who was an elementary school principal at the time.

“You hope it never happens in your community, but it did.”

In the months that followed, the young gunman was convicted of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. He is now serving his sentence at a halfway house in Ontario where he has lived since 2005.

A scholarship fund was created in Jason Lang’s honour and a Safe and Caring Schools program was put in place in Alberta schools. It focuses on eliminating bullying and promotes good social behaviour. Staff also received threat assessment training and all schools developed safety plans.

Insp. Graham Abela, the lead investigator for the Taber Police Service on the shooting, has shared his experiences across the country with other police forces and school boards.

He says Taber police learned the importance of being prepared for large-scale emergencies. The size of the force has doubled since the shooting and the town seems to take the issue of policing a lot more seriously.

“I don’t think there’s a need to relive the gory details or speak about the crisis and the day in question,” says Abela. “It’s really important that they learn from the lessons that we learned the hard way here in Taber.” There’s little sign of the tragedy in the school’s halls today — other than a plaque featuring a smiling photo of Jason Lang and a copy of the eulogy delivered by his father at a memorial at the school on May 3, 1999.

“One boy was seriously hurt and one boy died,” reads the plaque. “And that’s not your will, God. Evil entered here and it must be gotten rid of.”

The anniversary will come and go with nothing official planned to mark the date.

“The kids here were between five and seven when it happened and it wouldn’t be fair to bring it up now,” says one teacher.

Nor will there be a memorial service commemorating the event in town. Bryant says there were memorials for three years after the shooting and attendance waned.

“I think that was the signal from the community that three years have gone by and it’s time to move on.”

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