Brampton Centennial Secondary School (BCSS) is something of a relic in Brampton. The site of the first secondary school in Brampton, BCSS has seen a lot of history.
BCSS was once Brampton High School in the late 1800s, and became Brampton Centennial Secondary School in 1967, marking 100 years since Canada’s confederation. BCSS had to be reconstructed after a fire in 1977, and was the site of the second high school shooting in Canada in 1975.
BCSS was also my high school, and I know it’s near and dear to many, including myself.
With BCSS’s 50 year reunion having passed on May 27, 2017, which all graduating classes, teachers and staff, and anyone who has set foot inside of the school was invited to, the school had a lot to celebrate. Moreover, it had a lot to commemorate.
May 28, 2017, marks 42 years since the school shooting at BCSS, which took place on May 28, 1975.
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On that unfortunate day, 16-year-old Michael Slobodian killed a classmate, a teacher, and himself, and injured 13 others.
The day of the shooting began as a normal spring day for students at BCSS – classes, friends, lunch.
Slobodian attended his first two classes for the day, and skipped the third. His English teacher, 25-year-old Margaret Wright, called home to let his parents know he had skipped class.
He returned to school around 11:30 a.m., carrying his guitar case which, unknown to anyone, was packing a .444 calibre rifle and a .22 calibre rifle. These were licensed rifles which Slobodian and his father used for hunting.
In a bathroom in the art hallway, Slobodian unpacked his weapons. Not long after is when he started firing.
Slobodian immediately fired on Michael Gibeault, 19, shot in the stomach and the arm, Richard Shadrach, 16, shot in the chest, and John Slinger, 17, who was shot fatally.
Upon exiting the bathroom, Slobodian opened fire at random and continued the bloodshed, injuring several other students.
Some in classes or outside thought the shooting noises were fireworks, and most could not comprehend what was going on.
Of the seriously injured were Jennifer Mather, 17, who was shot seriously in the leg, and Ernie Nicholls, 19, who was shot in the abdomen.
Slobodian then killed Wright, his English teacher, who had called his parents earlier for skipping class.
Finally, ending the carnage but not the trauma, Slobodian turned the gun on himself and shot himself in the head.
The scene has been described as absolute chaos. Everyone was screaming, seeking cover and refuge, emergency vehicles surrounded the building after Principal William Springle alerted the police about five minutes after the shooting began, and former students are scarred to this day.
Reports say the shooting only lasted for two or three minutes.
The trauma that followed still plagues the school, and 42 years later, former students and teachers are still healing.
Now, the sad truth is that school shootings are more common, and one-word references set off facts in our brains – Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Colombine, to name a few.
The BCSS shooting, at a time when shootings were less common, is one that definitely sparked changes to gun laws, and hopefully sparked changes to mental health support.
While any shooting is awful enough, in 1975, no counselling was available for such a taboo topic. Many suffered from forms of PTSD. The injured were compensated in thousands of dollars.
According to reports, Slobodian left behind a suicide note reading:
To whom it may concern: My life is now gone to pot. I am going to eliminate certain people from this world. Those people are: Mrs. Wright, Mr. Bronson and any other sucker who gets in my way. I am then going to kill myself so as not to be imprisoned. I am not insane but just strictly fed up with life. I am not getting anywhere and it’s my fault. I love my parents and my family and I know that they love me. Michael Peter Slobodian.
Wright, Slinger, and Slobodian himself ended the fatality count after Slobodian’s rampage. Physics teacher Ross Bronson, mentioned in the note, was on another floor when the shooting happened.
There was no information or reports that there was anything wrong with Slobodian. Nothing indicated he had or required psychiatric care. He allegedly showed no signs of what he was about to do.
The school had five days of mourning following the shooting, and according to Globe and Mail reports from the days that followed, flags across Brampton flew at half-mast in memory of the shooting victims.
Such an act can’t be taken lightly, and Brampton holds onto the memory of that day with a heavy heart, 42 years later.
In 1975, Premier William Davis’s daughter, who was physically unharmed, attended BCSS, and while Davis left the school in tears due to the tragedy, he offered a statement of support which was reported by the Globe and Mail the day following the shooting.
“Whether directly affected or not, we all share the sense of tragedy that arises from the deaths and injuries that occurred and a grave sense of wonder and concern as to why something like this should happen in our community,” said Davis.
“For now, however, my first thoughts are to express deepest sympathy to the families of those who have died and fervent prayers that those who have been injured will quickly return to full breadth.”
Deepest sympathy is still felt for the victims of the shooting and the families of those who died, and as BCSS commemorated 50 years, sculptor Mary Ellen Farrow created a sculpture commemorating the events and the consequences of that unfateful day.
Farrow’s sculpture, entitled “The Healing Place” features three benches. On the middle bench sit an adult comforting a younger adult or a child.
On another, the script from the first page of BCSS’s 1975 yearbook is inscribed:
“On Wednesday May 28, 1975 all of us learned to love one another just a little bit more.”
On the third is inscribed the title of the work, “The Healing Place.”
The artwork is located near the front entrance of the school, right by the roundabout. The sculpture was unveiled at the BCSS 50 year reunion on May 27, 2017.