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City mourns death of 11-year-old girl
Ava Lizotte, a student at Range Lake North School, died suddenly at Edmonton hospital Friday

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Students at Range Lake North School have been offered counselling after the sudden death of one of their schoolmates.

NNSL photo/graphic

Ava Lizotte died suddenly at hospital in Edmonton last Friday. The 11-year-old had been healthy until a reported blood infection forced her to be medevaced from Yellowknife Wednesday evening. - photo courtesy of Caitlin Cleveland

Ava Lizotte, 11, died on Friday at Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton.

The previous Sunday, she complained of a pain in her leg. The next day she went to Stanton Territorial Hospital and was sent home with crutches, according to family friend Sarah Erasmus. She went back to the hospital on Wednesday morning, where a pediatric team became concerned she had an infection in her blood. She was medevaced that evening.

Her uncle, Adrian Lizotte, was in Edmonton with the rest of the family when reached by phone on Monday.

He said the family's loss is difficult to put into words.

"She was a bright light, an angel," he said.

"Trying to make sense of it will eat your mind away. My brother (Trevor) is like a zombie. Seven days ago she was doing back flips and somersaults. She was one of the best gymnasts in town. She was a healthy, beautiful girl. I don't want to try to figure out what happened. It's tearing me apart."

He added several family members have gathered in Edmonton to grieve and offer support to the family.

Lizotte said Ava had a seven-year-old brother Logan and a half-sister Sadie, who is 19.

"I'm worried about Logan. He hasn't been able to show any emotion," Adrian said. "We took him to the Oiler's game (Monday) night. A complete stranger offered us his tickets out of condolences."

He added the support from the Yellowknife community has been overwhelming.

"I've got hundreds of text messages from people I grew up with. A couple of people told me that the whole city is grieving and supporting the Lizottes," Adrian said. "The support has been tremendous but I am not sure how the family is going to move forward from this. Our family is really close. There are not many families like this."

Ava's mother, Courteney Lizotte, is an award-winning educator who works as supervisor of instruction at the Yellowknife Education District No. 1 board office. Board superintendent Metro Huculak said the tragedy has hit everyone hard.

"We're all devastated about it because we're like a family here and Courteney is part of our family. When someone's hurting we all hurt," Huculak said. "It was totally unexpected. Ava was to meet her mother in Vancouver on the weekend. Courteney was at a conference and she was expecting her daughter to come out there for gymnastics."

Huculak said he spoke to Courteney on Sunday night and she had indicated to him that the family was waiting for the autopsy to be completed in Edmonton.

"She wants to come back to work but I told her to take time to grieve," he said.

Huculak said counsellors, some of whom were made available by Yellowknife Catholic Schools, have already been meeting with staff and students - particularly classmates of Ava's who may be struggling to come to terms with her death.

This is the third tragedy to rock the school in less than a year and a half. Marilyn Morrison, a music teacher at the school, died suddenly of an undisclosed illness on Nov. 8. In August 2015, Range Lake North student Malcolm Austin died at age six of brain cancer. Courteney Lizotte was principal of the school at the time.

"We can say that we know, but we don't really know what it's like unless we lose a child," said Huculak. "I don't know what I would do if I lost one of my kids, how I would react. It's not something you plan for. There is no manual."

Jodi Lee-Lewis, who became Range Lake North principal earlier this year when Courteney took the position at the board office, said this has been a devastating time for students and staff.

"We are all in mourning. We're at a loss. Ava was always vibrant ... always smiling," Lee-Lewis said.

"With three recent tragedies, it has been difficult to see how we will move forward. It has been quite a difficult term. When you've had three losses in a short amount of time, it's that much more difficult."

Lee-Lewis said counsellors have been in the school since Friday afternoon when they learned of Ava's death. A GoFundMe campaign had been launched once word of Ava's condition reached social media. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had raised $41,865.

Funeral arrangements for Ava had not been announced as of press time.

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