One year later: Mourners gather to remember Humboldt Broncos victims
Jeremiah Rodriguez, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Saturday, April 6, 2019 8:28AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, April 6, 2019 8:37PM EDT
At 4:50 p.m., the arena fell silent.
Mourners at a memorial service in Humboldt, Sask. wore green and gold jerseys and stood to mark the exact moment of the deadly bus crash one year ago today that killed 16 people – most of them young players on the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team – and injured 13 others.
Family members of those killed read poems and prayers to remember their lost loved ones. Twenty-nine candles were lit on centre ice of Elgar Petersen arena for every passenger aboard the bus on April 6, 2018.
Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench told the grieving families that supporters would find ways to honour them.
“We referred to a light at the end of the tunnel. A year later, we’re starting to see that light,” he said.
The memorial was expected to draw about 3,000 people, including 21 families affected by the crash. None of the 13 survivors chose to attend the memorial, and most are spending the day elsewhere with friends and family.
Player Tyler Smith was the third survivor to return to the Humboldt Broncos squad but left after 10 games. He was not in attendance during the memorial but wrote a poem titled “For My Angels,” which was broadcast before the event.
“I know my angels would want me to get back to my regular self and I’m working on it every day,” Smith said in the poem.
Two mothers spoke on behalf of the families in attendance. Celeste Leray-Leicht, the mother of the late Jacob Leicht, tearfully encouraged those grieving to get help so they could in turn help others.
“The one-year anniversary is meant to give permission for people to move forward in life with the blessings of our loved ones,” she said.
“We are family not by blood but by pain," she said to other families who had lost loved ones. "As mums, we’re also now protecting our 13 new sons. It takes a great deal of courage to have hope.”
Carol Brons, mother of the late Dayna Brons, praised political and faith leaders for leading conversations about mental health.
“Continue to advocate for positive change. Good must continue to come from this,” she said.
Brons then encouraged people in the arena to stand if they were first responders who attended the crash, treated the victims in hospital, or helped the families in any way. She finished by asking anyone “with hope” to stand.
The entire audience stood.
“We wish we could hug each and every one of you,” Brons said.
After a song from the Long Walkers Drum Group, a pre-recorded video of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau closed out the ceremony.
“We stand with those lives were forever changed. But in the face of that heartache, Humboldt showed us what resilience looks like,” Trudeau said.
STICKS OUT: CANADA COMES TOGETHER
Sask. Premier Scott Moe attended the service with his wife. The couple have two children and told The Canadian Press on Friday that, “I just can't imagine what these parents are going through, go through, each and every day.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he didn’t have adequate words to express how the tragedy had affected the country and Saskatchewan -- his home province.
"A year may have dulled the sharpness of the pain, but no passage of time can change the depth of our sorrow,” he said in a statement.
Thousands of people from across the country have been showing their solidarity by putting out hockey sticks outside their doors. Among the supporters were Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan, Senator Leo Housakos.
The gesture echoed what happened last year. In the weeks following the fatal crash, the hashtags #HumboldtStrong and #PutYourSticksOut quickly trended on Twitter.
Soon after the crash, it was revealed that player Logan Boulet had donated six of his organs inspired more than 100,000 people to sign up to do the same, in what was later dubbed the “Logan Boulet effect.” Today, it’s estimated that Boulet has inspired more than 200,000 people to register as organ donors.
In total, more than $15 million was donated to families of the victims after the crash.
Earlier in the day, families of victims gathered at the site of the crash for a private moment of reflection and prayer. There are plans to build a permanent memorial at the crash site. For the moment, handmade crosses and a large collection of mementoes have been left at the rural intersection.
The family of late Humboldt Broncos player Evan Thomas will be hosting a charity hockey game next week to help fund four post-secondary scholarships in his name. The idea was sparked after the family held a similar memorial last year.
“We’re just trying to have a positive experience and remember all the good times we had with Evan,” his father Scott Thomas told CTV News Channel.
Gestures of support have flooded in from across Canada. In Nova Scotia, a ball hockey tournament was held in Dominion Arena in Dominion, N.S. involving young players from the Glace Bay Minor Hockey League Association. Many of the players were wearing Humboldt Broncos jerseys.
With files from Graham Slaughter and The Canadian Press