T.O. students continue to evacuate following death of classmate

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The death of a Toronto teen who disappeared while swimming in a lake in Algonquin Park during a school trip has left students and staff grappling with grief, the school’s principal said Thursday.

“It is a difficult moment for everybody, including myself, and I hope I don’t choke up this afternoon,” Monday Gala, the principal of C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute, said Thursday.

“It’s like losing your own child — that is how I feel at this moment.”

Jeremiah Perry was swimming with 22 other students when he disappeared underwater in Big Trout Lake Tuesday evening and did not resurface. His body was recovered the following day.

Perry and about 37 other students were taking part in a summer school outdoor educational program trip that began Sunday and was scheduled to end Friday, said Ryan Bird, a spokesman for the Toronto District School Board. The trip was cut short as soon as Perry’s body was found.

The Ministry of Natural Resources sent a float plane to evacuate students from the park but the plane had an unspecified mechanical issue and was disabled before all could be brought back, police said.

Shari Schwartz-Maltz, a spokeswoman for the board, said most of the students were evacuated but 13 students were left behind and had to canoe back to a meeting point when it became too dark to shuttle people by air. The last group of students was expected to return to Toronto on Thursday night, she said.

The school’s principal said some students who stayed behind did so to support those who couldn’t be evacuated.

Gala would not discuss the circumstances surrounding Perry’s death, including whether students were told to wear life-jackets, saying the incident is under police investigation.

In media reports, student Boran Balci, 17, from C.W. Jeffreys said he went into Big Trout Lake with Jeremiah before he went underwater and didn’t resurface.

“We went together to swim because we were dirty,” he said. “He went inside the water and then I was swimming and something pulled me down. First something pulled my left leg and then my right leg, it pulled my foot.”

Perry’s father, Joshua Anderson, has said he expected the school to ensure students were safe.

“That was the least on our minds thinking about the safety because we know the school is supposed to have proper supervision, proper protocol, everything in place,” he told a Toronto TV station Wednesday.

Schwartz-Maltz said that there would have been three lifeguards watching the students and that all those on the trip were required to pass a swimming test.

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