Eight children were hurt, three of them critically, after a van drove through the wall of an Alberta school early Thursday morning.
The minivan hit Racette School in St. Paul, Alta., around 9:15 a.m., crashing straight through a ground-floor window, missing the school's brick walls before spinning halfway around and coming to rest in a Grade 6 classroom, pinning three of the students inside.
"It had been driving down an alley toward the school. It came to a T-intersection and continued straight through into the school," RCMP Superintendent Randy McGinnis said in an interview. "It appears it hit part of the structure and then may have spun around in the building."
He said "it took a while" to get the children out from under the minivan. Those three students, all girls, were flown to Edmonton's Stollery Children's Hospital in critical condition, RCMP said. Five other students were treated at the local hospital and released Thursday, Alberta Health Services said.
RCMP, meanwhile, arrested the driver of the van, who they said is a 46-year-old local man who had "minor" injuries after the crash. They have 24 hours to charge or release him, and aren't sure if charges will be laid. "I understand he showed signs of impairment, but there's also medical reasons or medical conditions that could show the same signs," Supt. McGinnis said.
The RCMP Criminal Crash Investigation Team is now investigating the crash, which shook the school and the town of St. Paul, a town of 5,600 located about 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
"It is having a very hard and great impact on the teachers right now, because the expectation is we all send our kids to school and they're going to be safe. And in this case here something occurred that was beyond anyone's control, except for perhaps one individual," Supt. McGinnis said.
"And the students, and I'm sure parents and staff, are all thinking, 'Why did this happen?' I'm hoping we can give an answer to that, but I don't know if we'll be able to at the end of this investigation."
The school board evacuated the school, a junior high for Grades 6 to 9, after the crash. Classes are cancelled Friday, and may resume as early as Monday.
"Our thoughts and prayers to all those who were affected by the accident," school superintendent Glen Brodziak told a news conference.
The crash rattled the school and sent students running down the halls. "There was screaming, glass flew out of the door," Grade 7 student Sydney Cross told a TV station. The school board told parents, through its website, that counselling will be available for students. The crash will also take a toll on first responders and teachers, Supt. McGinnis said.
"I know from my personal experience that any time that I go to a scene that involves children that are the ages of my own, it's heart-wrenching," he said.
"And you think of what happened, if you could have prevented it, what would you do and you think of what could have happened."