Memorial honours victims of Que. seniors' home fire
Published Saturday, February 1, 2014 8:14AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, February 1, 2014 10:02PM EST
Approximately 900 mourners filed into Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church to remember those who died in the tragic fire, which struck the Residence du Havre seniors’ home on Jan. 23.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was one of several dignitaries who attended the service in the small Quebec community, said the entire country is mourning their loss.
"I think it's something that everybody could identify with," Harper told reporters following the service. "We all have, or have had parents, grandparents, who become elderly and are terribly vulnerable. And we see something like this and I think it just breaks the heart of everybody.
"I do hope that the community here will take a little bit of comfort from the thoughts and the prayers that they have from people all over the country," he continued.
Photos of the 32 victims were on display at the mass, along with paramedic, fire and police hats.
"Looking at all these images we see in the newspapers and on television, we're saying they are heroes," Archbishop Pierre-Andre Fournier said of the first responders, before the audience broke into applause.
An empty rocking chair was displayed at the front of the church as a symbol of those who died in the fire.
"It is difficult for you and I to realize what happened and what we're going through," Fournier told the congregation. "Thirty-two members of our Christian community have left us tragically."
Marie Caron said she attended the service to honour her aunt.
“She didn’t have any children, and we are here for her because she helped everybody in the family,” Caron said.
Gilles Moyen came to pay his respects to the victims, and offer thanks to Arnaud Cote, a resident of the home who helped save the lives of three of his neighbours, including Moyen’s 87-year-old mother, Jeannette D’Auteil.
“Without him, my mom would be gone – I’m almost sure of it,” Moyen said before the service. “So I must thank him.”
Other dignitaries who attended the service included Gov. Gen David Johnston, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
The mayor of Lac-Megantic, the Quebec town that also suffered a tragedy this past summer due to a deadly train derailment, was also in attendance.
Johnston said the spirit of the L'Isle-Verte community was very apparent.
"I do want to salute the many people who have shown their remarkable care and compassion," Johnston said, describing the first responders in the community as "extraordinary citizens."
"This touches the hearts of all of us, and our hearts are with the people here," he added.
Apart from a moment of silence, recovery efforts continued Saturday at the fire site, where the extreme cold and ice build-up have slowed progress.
Quebec police said Saturday that the official death toll now sits at 27, up from 24 earlier in the day.
Another five people are still considered missing and presumed dead, officials said.
Police have obtained a warrant to search what they call a critical area where the fire may have started. Authorities obtained the warrant because they want to ensure evidence is admissible in court if it turns into a criminal investigation.
Family members of the missing say the recovery process is taking its toll.
Montreal resident Robert Berube said he can’t begin to mourn the loss of his 99-year-old mother, Adrienne Dube, until her body is recovered.
“We’re still waiting,” he told The Canadian Press before the service. “Every day we hope that she will be found.”
With a report from CTV News’ Vanessa Lee and files from The Canadian Press