How I Got the Photo – Jonathan Hayward

2016 NPOY GENERAL NEWS, Finalist – A fire burns to melt the ground so a grave can be dug at the cemetery in La Loche, Saskatchewan, January 25, 2016. The graves are being prepared for some of the victims of the shooting on January 22 where a seventeen-year-old boy allegedly shot and killed four people. (Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press)

When news broke that there was a shooting at a school in La Loche, northern Saskatchewan, I knew that I had to get there asap. The picture desk in Toronto got our Winnipeg stringer on the road right away knowing that I was at least a day or more away from getting to the isolated town.

After travelling for almost two days and feeling as though I was really late getting to the story, I knew I had to look at the town differently. I crisscrossed the area outside the obvious areas like the school and the home where the shootings occurred. I decided to do a grid-pattern drive covering the entire community looking for a different picture.

After several hours, I happened upon the local graveyard shortly past noon and saw a fire strangely burning in the middle of the cemetery.  I looked around and took some pictures but wanted to confirm my suspicion that the fire was lit in a effort to warm the ground so that a grave could to be dug, most likely for one of the shooting victims.

I drove back to town and found some elders who confirmed that, yes indeed, this fire was for one of the victims and most likely there would soon be others lit for the other victims.

Due to the time of day and knowing that the sun was setting soon, I made my way back to the cemetery to try and make a more scenic picture while hoping to see other fires being lit at the same time.

When I arrived at the graveyard, a small group of men were gathered at another burial spot, unloading firewood and cans of gas. I quietly asked one of the men if this was being done for any of the other shooting victims and he confirmed that it was. He also said that the fathers of the two murdered boys were going to come and light the fires themselves.

Knowing that a great picture was going to be made out of this tragic and sensitive news story, I carefully shot and tried not to disturb anyone. Then a photographer’s worst nightmare happened, another photographer showed up.

Thankfully it was Chris Bolin, based out of Calgary, shooting for Macleans. I quickly updated him on the situation and he agreed to remain low key in a effort not to get us kicked out during this very sensitive time.

We watched and shot pictures of the two fathers lighting fires for their slain sons.  We kept a low profile knowing that the light was getting better with each passing minute and we didn’t want to blow the chance of making a picture by doing something stupid and being asked to leave.

After about 20 minutes, the man whom I had spoken with in the beginning came up to me. I thought he was going to kick us out. Instead he had asked if Chris and I would mind staying at the gravesite and help keep the fire going while he took the fathers home.  It felt as though he was asking us to help in return for not kicking us out earlier.

So for the next hour or so, we were left alone in the cemetery with this amazing fire burning and the sun setting at a time of great grief to this small community.

As the picture came together so did a sense of relief for me as I felt that I had made a picture to show the pain caused in this beautiful northern community with the loss of young people taken too quickly from this world.


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  • Gage

    WOW. Amazing story! Well done! were the crosses in behind lit up with car head lights? If so great Idea! Great photo. Moving story.

  • Lori MacLean

    Stunning image, a tiny element of beauty for a horrific situation. Your story of the chase fascinating too!
    So pleased to know that you are still taking photos all these years later. Your fan at the Elgin.

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