Toronto Star, March 10, 1998

Teen killed by train had `troubled' life--
`Bright young man' had `brushes with law'

By Peter Edwards and Dale Anne Freed, Staff Reporters

WELLANDPORT - Matt Toppi led a short, troubled life.

The 17-year-old teenager - who along with fellow Robert Land Academy cadet Christopher Brown, 16, was killed by a train Saturday night - was enrolled in the strict military-style school after underachieving at Manitouwadge High School in Northern Ontario.

"He was definitely troubled," Bob Kirkpatrick, Manitouwadge vice-principal, said yesterday. "That's one of the reasons he was at that (military) school."

Kirkpatrick described Toppi as a "bright young man'' who was creative in English and ``capable of much more."

But he could be disruptive in class.

"He was either too loud or not doing his homework," Kirkpatrick said, describing him as a teen who couldn't sit still.

And he occasionally had "a brush with the law," the vice-principal said, adding: "He had a very supportive family."

Randy Mattson, director of the recreation centre where Toppi's mother Chris operates a snack bar, called his parents a "very hardworking couple."

Toppi's father Dale is a safety supervisor at the Battle Mountain gold mine, about 54 kilometres south of Manitouwadge.

Before he was sent to Robert Land Academy, the teenager was a fixture playing video games at Nelson's Enterprises, a video games and bowling alley, said owner Pearl Lemay.

"He certainly chummed with a rough crowd, a group of kids who were certainly not a desirable element," Lemay said.

["They were about five or six kids who we'd keep an eye on, boys with a chip on their shoulder," Lemay said.

"It's very sad. His parents are such hardworking people."

Few details are known about Christopher Brown's reasons for attending the academy, located southwest of St. Catharines.

His deeply religious parents reportedly urged police to withhold his name so they could mourn his death privately.

Family members, who are preparing for tomorrow's funeral at St. Mark's Catholic church in Stouffville, declined to speak with a Star reporter yesterday.

Al Coulen, a spokesperson for the academy, would not comment on the relationship between the two teenagers.

He also refused to say how often cadets flee from the strict discipline academy, or whether staff saw any warning signs from the two teens. "This isn't the time," Coulen said.

Students were kept from reporters by academy staff. "We're not allowing anyone to speak to the boys," Coulen said.

"The cadets and the staff are devastated."

A wake for Toppi is set for tomorrow from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Stinson Funeral Home, at 100 Bruce Ave. in South Porcupine. The funeral is at 3 p.m. Thursday.

An honour guard from the academy will be at the funeral, a cousin said.

The family asked for remembrance donations to be sent to Robert Land Academy.

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