As the Montreal Police Homicide Unit takes over the investigation into body parts mailed to two Vancouver schools, students at the targeted public school are getting a chance to discuss their fears.
Staff at False Creek elementary school opened a parcel containing a hand shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday. An hour later, staff at St. George’s Junior School found a package containing a human foot.
The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed that the hand and foot were human after specialists from the Coroners Service Identification and Disaster Response Unit (IDRU) and a forensic pathologist conducted a preliminary examination at Vancouver General Hospital late Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday night Vancouver police homicide investigators also noted the packaging and addresses on the boxes was similar to those discovered in eastern Canada relating to the murder and dismemberment of Chinese national Jun Lin.
Police arrested Luka Rocco Magnotta in Berlin Monday in connection with Lin’s murder. Lin’s right foot, right leg and head were missing, while Magnotta allegedly mailed a foot to Conservative Party headquarters in Ottawa and another body part to the federal Liberal Party.
“The disturbing contents [sent to Vancouver schools], a right hand and right foot from an as yet unidentified victim, will be sent to Montreal today for further forensic examination,” the Vancouver Police Department stated in a press release Wednesday morning.
The Globe and Mail reported online Wednesday that the remains sent to the schools came from Montreal, the packages contained notes and that police believe the body parts are linked to Lin’s murder. But further DNA testing is required for confirmation.
A half dozen members of the Vancouver School Board’s crisis team, including superintendent Steve Cardwell, media spokesperson Kurt Heinrich and counsellors, were at False Creek elementary Wednesday morning to handle students’ and staff’s questions and concerns.
Board chair Patti Bacchus said it’s important to have specialized staff on the scene to provide support or offer advice.
“It’s disturbing for all of us that something like this has occurred—it’s very unusual and we’re dealing with a school with kids from five to 12, 13 years old,” she said. “They’re all different. Some kids are going to be more sensitive or have other anxiety issues that [the incident] might exacerbate. The key is to be prepared and to provide support when and where it’s needed, not expecting that all kids will need it.”
Bacchus said the VSB’s goal is to be consistent and get the school back to “business as usual as quickly as possible.”
Some might consider sending in a crisis team excessive considering no children saw the package, but Bacchus disagrees.
“It sounds dramatic to say you’re sending a crisis team but it’s very discrete. It’s extra support at the school. If someone feels the need to talk to someone, it’s ensuring there’s support so you don’t have a situation where a teacher with a group of 28 kids and someone really needs some one-to-one response,” she said, adding, “It’s not so much what actually occurred during the school day, it’s the massive media coverage and what kids are hearing. There’s a lot of discussion, a lot of speculation. We know it’s front page of every newspaper and as that buzz gets going it’s important to minimize, particularly for younger children, their exposure to some of the media coverage that’s running constantly.”
Parents are being given information sheets with tips on how to deal with the situation. Suggestions include reassuring children they’re safe, taking time to talk, limiting television and Internet exposure—especially for younger children, accepting children’s emotional response, maintaining normal routines and providing additional support if needed.
Heinrich couldn’t go into details about the package or whom it was addressed to because of the active police investigation.
“We are concerned about the possibility of other packages. We’ve informed our principals to be vigilant with regard to suspicious packages and to report any particular concerns they might have to senior staff immediately,” he told the Courier via an email Tuesday evening.
Wednesday morning, Heinrich said False Creek elementary staff were “rock solid” and “inspiring.” Office staff that witnessed the opening of the package showed up for work.
“As far as I know, everyone came back to school today,” Heinrich said, although they were offered time off.
The crisis team met with teachers for 10 or 15 minutes before class to offer advice on how to deal with different grade levels. Like Bacchus, Heinrich noted the main issue is the massive media attention the case has attracted.
Counsellors will remain at the school for as long as needed.
Bacchus noted even adults might have difficulty absorbing the grisly incident.
“It’s a tough one for sure,” she said. “No one saw this coming.”