Lee Bonneau’s classmates will start Grade 2 this week without the playful, happy Saskatchewan boy at their side.
Instead they’ll be joined by grief councilors to help them understand the death of their six-year-old friend.
Bonneau was found severely beaten on the Kahkewistahaw First Nation on the night of Aug. 21. He died in hospital from his injuries.
Police now believe it was another child under the age of 12 that killed the boy.
Bonneau was playing outside the Kahkewistahaw First Nation Education and Sports complex, while his foster mother was inside playing bingo.
Troy Frick, principal of the North Valley Elementary School in nearby Neuford, said Bonneau was a unique and entertaining young man who always “had a smile on his face.”
“It’s a tragic situation,” Frick told News Talk 980 in an interview. “Students really enjoyed what he brought to the school.”
He said the school intends to be honest and open with students as they continue to cope with the boy’s death.
“There’s a lot of things they don’t quite comprehend,” he said. “We can’t just sweep stuff under the rug.”
RCMP confirmed on Saturday a child under 12 is suspected in the fatal beating. Mounties plan to give more details about the case at a press conference on Tuesday.
People in the community say the suspect is a boy with a troubled past.
Because that child is below the age of criminal responsibility, police will not be able to lay charges in the homicide.
In Canada, the age when a child can be held criminally responsible, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is 12.
Criminologist Robert Gordon said the child can still be held responsible for the actions he or she committed, but the case cannot be put through the youth justice system.
“[It] falls into the domain of social services, which is empowered to apprehend and empowered to place the child in a location that is secure and where care can be provided,” Gordon said from New Westminster, B.C. “It’s not as if this particular child is going to be released into the community.”
He said offenders at such a young age may or may not be cognizant of the severity of their actions.
“They don’t necessarily appreciate precisely what they’ve done [or] the implications of it,” Gordon said.
Child psychologist Dr. Joti Samra said a child can be fully aware of the implications of their actions, but that can depend on underlying factors.
“In the absence of extenuating circumstances [such as mental illness or developmental disabilities] certainly a child would be able to recognize the difference between right and wrong,”
She said the child’s history may also be a factor in committing a crime.
“We know when you have children that are this young that are engaging in crimes of this severity that there is often a history, in terms of trauma and abuse, that can be a contributing [factor] but not necessarily,” she said.
If a child is indeed the killer, he or she would be the youngest killer in Canadian history.
While the child may not go through the justice system, Gordon said authorities will have to consider the role of the First Nation community in deciding how to deal with the child.
“A great deal of consideration has to be applied to [a] decision about how to manage the child and those decisions will almost invariably involve the elders or others who are providing services to band members,” he said.
“It means that that community would be deeply involved in making decisions about the child and providing services for the child.”
*With files from Robin Gill
NOTE: An earlier version of this story used the word murder. Lee Bonneau’s death was being investigated as a homicide, but had not been deemed a murder at the time of publication.
© Shaw Media, 2013