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Toronto students return home from school trip after death of classmate in Algonquin Park

Click to play video: 'Toronto teen drowns on school field trip'
Toronto teen drowns on school field trip
Wed, Jul 5: It was supposed to be a fun field trip to Algonquin Park, but it ended in tragedy. Cindy Pom explains – Jul 5, 2017

A group of high school students on a canoeing trip in a remote area north of Toronto finally managed to return home early Thursday morning following the death of a classmate in Algonquin Park.

Parents had been eagerly anticipating their children’s arrival outside C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute all evening when a bus carrying 18 of 33 students on the trip reached its destination just after midnight.

“I’m glad to have her back. That’s all I can say,” said Rita Mondle, whose daughter was part of the school’s summer outdoor education program.

School officials confirmed on Wednesday that 15-year-old Jeremiah Perry, a student at C.W. Jeffreys, died of an apparent drowning while on a week-long school excursion which began on Sunday.

Ontario Provincial Police said the Toronto teen was swimming in Big Trout Lake, a remote area of Algonquin Park, when he went under the water but did not resurface.

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“Despite holding out hope that the 15-year-old C.W. Jefferys CI student would be found safe, police have now confirmed that they have located his body after an extensive search in Algonquin Park — the victim of an apparent drowning,” Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Director John Malloy said in a statement.

“Our thoughts are with Jeremiah’s family and friends during this tremendously difficult time. We are continuing to offer all the supports that we can to the family, as well as students and staff.”

Officials said the trip ended ahead of schedule after the C.W. Jefferys student’s disappearance, and the remaining students were taken out of the campground.

READ MORE: Toronto man, 27, dies after canoe capsizes on lake near Algonquin Park

The students then boarded a plane and flew to a meeting point where buses transported them back to Toronto.

School board spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz said early Thursday morning that a handful of students still remain at Algonquin Park but that they will return home by Friday.

“Yes, there were challenges. But 18 kids are back. The rest of the kids will come home tomorrow,” Schwartz-Maltz said.

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One parent told Global News her daughter was friends with Perry and that she is still very much in shock over his death.

“I’m just speechless right now. It’s very traumatic. It was hard saying, ‘Thank God that our daughter is alive,’ but knowing someone else’s kid is dead,” Melissa Defreitas said. “Whenever she’s ready to talk. Obviously, now she’s not in any mood to talk.”

READ MORE: 8-year-old boy found dead at Rushing River Provincial Park

The circumstances surrounding Perry’s death is still under investigation. The school board said they are cooperating with police and will be speaking to staff and students in the coming days.

“The focus was to be with their parents, we didn’t want to interrupt that,” Schwartz-Maltz said. “I think they’ll have a couple of days to debrief and we of course will talk to the staff and the parents in a day or two.”

School officials said there are strict guidelines in place for excursions and that students had to pass a swim test before being allowed to go on the trip.

“This summer outdoor education course and program has been operating for a number of years with an excellent safety record,” Malloy said. “We know all staff involved are committed to reviewing each and every aspect of this tragedy to assure ourselves and our communities of our safety procedures.”

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Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page has been setup to assist Perry’s family.

With files from Nick Westoll

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