Toronto Star, March 12, 1998

Family, friends mourn cadet killed by train
Dozens of students attend from academy

By Dale Brazao, Staff Reporter

Christopher Brown got a Christian funeral with a military theme.

Brown's family and friends gathered to remember him yesterday as police try to determine why he and Matt Toppi died.

The two cadets from Robert Land Academy were killed last weekend by an eastbound train in Burlington.

Brown's funeral, at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Stouffville, was marked by a military-style honour guard composed of fellow students from the strict private school on the Niagara Peninsula.

Nine cadets wearing crimson tunics bedecked with military-style medals followed Brown's casket into the church. One carried a photograph of Brown in his school dress uniform, another his beret on a cushion.

Thirty other students - in crew cuts, school ties and white shirts embroidered with the letters RLA - sat in the first three pews, across from the Brown family.

They had come to say goodbye to a fellow student, a fallen comrade.

"Christopher did not have an easy life," Rev. Leslie Tamas told the 200 mourners. "Things bothered him."

Nevertheless, Brown was able to put aside his troubles, to make people put aside their worries, and laugh along with him.

"He was not lost in his own personal interests. He loved his classmates, his school, his teachers," Tamas said.

He admitted that this funeral was the hardest in the 38 years as a priest, because he knew the family well.

The priest made no mention of the circumstances surrounding Brown's death during the eulogy. He sought instead to comfort the mourners with the Christian message that death is the way to eternal life in God's kingdom.

`I sincerely would like to compliment his school,' priest says

Brown, 16, and Toppi, 17, were killed Saturday night when they were struck by a freight train in Burlington, a day after they were reported missing from the private school.

Halton police originally said the two teenagers had committed suicide by lying side-by-side in front of an approaching freight train.

But they later retracted the assertion, saying they are still investigating.

One possible scenario, police say, is that one of the cadets collapsed on the tracks and the other was trying to get him to safety when they were struck by the freight train about 11:20 p.m. Saturday.

Toxicology testing, to determine whether the teens had been drinking or had taken drugs, will take several weeks, police say.

Brown and Toppi had walked away from the academy Friday morning wearing their military-style school uniforms and carrying two knapsacks filled with a change of clothes, food and money.

Friends said they were headed for British Columbia.

But they only only made it to the rail yard behind a mall in Burlington, some 120 kilometres from the boarding school.

Canadian Press reported yesterday that Brown had run away from the boarding school two weeks before his death but had been caught by Niagara Falls police and returned.

While some believe that the strict discipline dispensed at the all-male, 160-student boarding school may have caused the two teenagers to bolt, Tamas praised the academy for turning Brown's life around.

"I sincerely would like to compliment his school,'' Tamas said, adding that staff at the college had done much to "make Chris's life pleasant, easy and orderly.''

As he spoke, Brown's parents, Robin and Coreen, comforted their two children, sobbing in the front pew.

A school official in Stouffville said Christopher had earlier attended an Aurora residential treatment centre for children with emotional and behavioural problems.

Toppi's funeral is to be held today in South Porcupine in Northern Ontario.

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