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Prayers, reactions, grief, and acts of solidarity follow Humboldt Broncos devastating bus crash

Prayer vigil held at local arena after Humboldt Broncos tragedy

 

By Blake Sittler

On the night of April 6, just south of Nipawin, an accident between a semi-truck and a bus broke the heart of every parent in Saskatchewan.

Around 5:00 p.m., a semi-trailer collided with the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, their coaches, statistician, athletic trainer/therapist, and play-by-play media personality. Fifteen people were killed and 14 remain in various states of recovery.

In the 48 hours that followed the crash, local, national and even international media covered the story, describing the men that were lost, in excruciating and loving detail.

Tragedy destroys and then draws together: Sunday, April 8, the city of Humboldt, which was shaken to its foundation, rose as a community and gathered in the Elgar Petersen Arena and Uniplex.

“This is a community event that has been orchestrated by an inter-ministerial organization,” said president of the Humboldt Broncos, Kevin Garinger in a CKOM interview on Sunday. “This is not about [the Broncos] tonight, this is about supporting the families of the Humboldt Broncos.”

Randy MacLean, vice-president of the Humboldt Broncos, was also interviewed. “Tonight we begin the reflection process,” McLean added. “Tonight’s vigil is another step in the process”.

The liturgy was live streamed, broadcast, and watched in locations across the province as well as at St. Augustine Catholic Church just up the street.

At the arena, the same scene played over and over: family, friends and community members saw each other, teared up, hugged, and then began talking to each other, shaking their heads in disbelief. Large photos of the team placed at the front of the room often elicited new tears of grief. 

Grief and crisis counsellors, including grief dogs, roamed the arena, available to any in need of support.

Rev. Joseph Salihu, the pastor of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Parish, who participated in the vigil, described first hearing the news of the accident. “On Friday, there was a concert, and just before it began, a teacher from St. Augustine School drew my attention to some news that there was an accident,” he said. “All the ministers came as one… we drove straight to the Uniplex to be with the families.”

“We just stayed with the people and waited,” he said. “We were there all together and that is what gave us the idea to organize this vigil.”

“Coming together tonight is a powerful sign that these families are not alone in their anguish,” Salihu added. “We need to remember that after the funerals, these people will still need our presence.”

Salihu said there are layers of pain and layers of healing. “No one has a map for grieving,” he pointed out. “Every pain is unique.”

 

The Sunday evening prayer vigil began with the singing of Oh Canada. St. Andrew’s Anglican Minister, Rev. Matteo Carboni, vice-chair of the Humboldt Ministerial Association, served as MC. “We remember the words of Jesus, who told us: ‘You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy’,” Carboni began. “We need each other to make this promise a reality.”

Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench brought greetings and condolences from the city of Humboldt. “This is a very tough time for all of us,” Muench said. “Together, we can get through this and I thank everyone from all over Canada and the world who have offered support.”

“Going forward…to use a hockey analogy, we’ll stick handle our way through this and hopefully we won’t have to dump it in the corner,” Muench said, to some smiles and gentle laughs.

Dignitaries in attendance included Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Dr. Ryan Meili (leader of the provincial opposition) as well as media personalities Don Cherry and Ron Maclean, along with Elgar Petersen, for whom the Humboldt arena is named, and who has been part of the Broncos organization since their inception. 

Garinger spoke at the vigil through restrained tears. “The real scope of this community tragedy will not fully realized for days or weeks or even years,” he stated.

The team president took time to thank the families, the community, politicians, sports personalities and the first responders who offered important work even while dealing with their own grief.

“I want to say to all the Humboldt Bronco families, billets, coaches, teammates, classmates, teachers, friends, community members that not one of us is alone in our grief,” he said. “Reach out, help is there.”

During the service, Garinger named those who were injured and those who had died in the crash – however, at the time of the service it was not yet known that two players had been misidentified. (The next day it was discovered that Parker Tobin had been killed, not injured, and that Xavier Labelle was the misidentified player injured in hospital.)

Those who died are Humboldt Broncos: Parker Tobin, Adam Herold, Conner Lukan, Evan Thomas, Jacob Leicht, Jaxon Joseph, Logan Boulet, Logan Hunter, Logan Schatz, and Stephen Wack along with support and team personnel: assistant coach Mark Cross, head coach, Darcy Haugan, team statistician Brody Hinz, Bolt FM broadcaster Tyler Bieber, and bus driver Glen Doerksen. “They will forever be Humboldt Broncos,” said Garinger.

In addition to Xavier Labelle, those injured in the crash were Graysen Cameron, Ryan Straschnitzki, Bryce Fiske, Tyler Smith, Kaleb Dahlgren, Matthieu Gomercic, Nick Shumlanski, Derek Patter, Morgan Gobeil, Brayden Camrud, Layne Matechuk, Jacob Wassermann, and team trainer Dayna Brons.

Rev. Colleen Pilgrim of Carlton Trail House of Prayer gave the opening prayer, followed by words from Dr. Lawrence Joseph, the former chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

“The Indigenous people are in the process of not only praying for you, lifting their pipes,” Joseph assured, “they are also gathering resources to support you and your loved ones in the days to come.”

“Jesus wept…when he found out his friend Lazarus died,” Joseph said, “so it is okay for all of us to weep…it shows the love we have for all these boys.”

At 7:32 p.m., there was a minute of silence to mark what would have been the beginning of the Humboldt Broncos next game.

Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon proclaimed Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd.

Pastor Sean Brandow of Humboldt Bible Church, the team chaplain for the Broncos, brought some appreciated levity, unblemished reality, solidarity of despair, and promised hope with his reflection.

“In honour of Mr. Trudeau I wore my fancy socks but you can’t see them because of my cowboy boots,” said Brandow. “A real Saskatchewan thing.”

“I don’t want to be here but it’s good that we are,” the team chaplain admitted.

“I arrived at the scene shortly after the [accident] and walked up on a scene I never want to see again, to sounds I never want to hear again,” he agonized. “To hear groaning and panic and fear and confusion and pain… All I saw [that night] was darkness and I had nothing. Nothing”.

“I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to have something ….I’ve received thousands of texts and even scripture,” he said. “But I needed to hear from God.”

“We do not have a God who is unfamiliar with what we are going through,” he promised. “He has suffered grief, wept… felt alone and lost, he wept in the garden”.

“Jesus suffered like us and he has gone ahead of us into the heavenly realm,” Brandow assured. “Death couldn’t hold him…he’s alive…I don’t have all the answers but I do know that.”

Local Lutheran pastor, Rev. Clint Magnus, offered prayers of intercession, asking for solace and healing, love and peace in the families and the survivors. He prayed for the caregivers who endured many horrors in order to offer comfort to the victims.

Magnus thanked the various leaders, especially Muench, the local ministers and faith leaders, and the crisis counselors present at the vigil. He also acknowledged the other towns and provinces who have also lost men in the accident.

Rev. Brenda Curtis of Westminster United Church led a closing prayer: “Humboldt family and friends, a quilt of love has been placed around our shoulders and our community as our brothers and sisters around the world have held us in their care”.

Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon offered a final blessing. “Lord God, you are the light that illumines the darkness,” he prayed. “Continue to lead us into your light.”

As music played, people left as they had entered: hugging, crying, shaking their heads in disbelief. Some just sat holding hands.

“The experience of the prayer vigil in Humboldt was like light shining through great darkness. The community gathered was led by various community and faith leaders through a reflection of acknowledging great pain, but also striving to embrace hope” reflected Bishop Hagemoen after the event. 

“That hope was very present through the many people gathered holding family and community members with great compassion and care,” stressed Hagemoen. “Although this crisis will be with the community for a long time, they will make it through this time of darkness because of such prayer and caring.”

 

April 6, 2018 is a night that Humboldt and Saskatchewan will bear like a scar for a long time, but one small step in healing was taken at the prayer service two days later on April 8 -- that night showed Saskatchewan at its finest, its most broken, its most supportive, its most tender.

 

 Reaction to tragedy: outpouring of love, support, prayers, assistance of all kinds

By Blake Sittler

The April 6, 2018 accident involving a semi-trailer truck and a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, coaches, staff, and play-by-play announcer is both an incredibly devastating loss for many families of a son, a husband, a father, a friend, and a cataclysmic loss for the broader community.

The outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming by any measure.

The Humboldt Broncos are part of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL). Every team in the league has offered some form of sympathy and support.

Every player and coach knows the camaraderie of riding the bus from game to game. Those bus rides are like cocoons of time during which players listen to music, watch movies, sleep, talk about the past or upcoming tournaments, and where, through the sharing of stories, friendships and bonds are formed that often last for decades.

Lynda and Cal Statchuk of Wadena know what it is like to send their sons on the road on a bus in the winter. Their boys also played in the SJHL.

“A team becomes so close they become a family,” Lynda shared. “The bus becomes a bonding place…they spend a lot of time together.”

“The parents see each other often at games at home and on the road,” Cal offered. “They become part of this family who will go the extra mile for each other.”

“As parents, we put our boys and girls on the bus [and] we think it is a safe place and pray that they will get to the game and back safely,” Lynda said.

In the National Hockey League, every team playing over the weekend made some effort to show that they were thinking of the Broncos. Some offered moments of silence and others, like the Blackhawks wearing the word “Broncos” on the backs of their jerseys. Many teams and arenas are offering the 50/50 proceeds towards the Broncos. Internationally, at a game in Sweden, the two opposing teams stood on the same blue line, arm-in-arm, for a moment of silence.

But this was not just a hockey tragedy – it was a human tragedy, with support and condolences coming from every corner of the planet, including from US President Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth II and as well, Pope Francis.

"We don't know why tragedy and disaster comes, but we do know the One who holds us throughout that tragedy, and we celebrate today that the One who holds us is One of Mercy." said Bishop Mark Hagemoen during a Divine Mercy service at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon April 8, with special prayer intentions for all those affected by the Humboldt Broncos tragedy. 

At that afternoon diocesan service, the bishop also read the message from Pope Francis sent by the Vatican Secretary of State: "Informed of the injury and tragic loss of life caused by the road traffic accident in the province of Saskatchewan involving young hockey players, His Holiness Pope Francis sends his condolences to those who have lost love ones, and commends the souls ofthe deceased to the mercy of Almighty God. To all in the community at this difficult time Pope Francis sends his blessing."  

Earlier Hagemoen sent a message of condolences and prayers. “God continues to respond to us, and now He responds to the people of Humboldt and other parts of Western Canada who are profoundly affected by this terrible tragedy,” he said. “I am very thankful that at this terrible time, the people of God here show Christ-like compassion and care through such a community of support.”

Businesses offered their services. Airlines offered free flights. Hotels offered free accommodations to those coming into town to be with family.

Flags were lowered to half-mast all across the province at city halls and cathedrals and fire halls.

A Go-fund-me account was set up to collect donations to help families get through the next few months. The original amount organizers hoped to raise was $10,000. At the time of this writing, it is over $4 million dollars.

“That type of figure is staggering,” Bronco’s president Kevin Garinger said in Sunday’s press conference. “We will be ensuring that that process of how these dollars goes out respecting first and foremost respecting every one of the families that have been part of this tragedy.”

Holy Spirit Parish in Saskatoon, like many others, opened their doors for people to come together to offer silent prayers.

While the largest vigil was held in Humboldt, prayer services for the victims and families were held all over the province. One in Birch Hills attracted 150 people where 15 candles were put across a hockey net, one for each victim.

Another was held in Lloydminster. In attendance was radio personality, Kurt Price from Lloyd 95.9 FM and host of Sunday Morning Comin’ Down. “What really stood out for me…was how comforting it was to see so many familiar faces,” Price shared. “The community here celebrates together and it grieves together.”

Price had another connection to the tragedy as a broadcaster. “I was at a dinner theatre on Friday night when the news broke and we started to hear some preliminary numbers. I immediately thought of…Tyler Bieber (the local radio broadcaster killed in the crash),” recalled Price. “I knew so many people just like him and…I feel like I knew him”.

Price describes people like Bieber in broadcasting hockey games as community-oriented people who do not broadcast to get rich, but for the love of the game and the family that forms around the team.

“None of those people had to be on that bus, but every one of them wanted to be there,” he said. “I wanted to be around my extended family tonight, my community.”

“I've been thinking about him (Bieber) and all of those young men all weekend, the vigil tonight I hope starts the healing,” Price concluded. “I know it won't make the pain end for anyone overnight but we come together to start”.

Vice-president of Red Cross in Saskatchewan, Cindy Fuchs, said in a radio interview: “The Canadian Red Cross has been activated by the government of Saskatchewan…and have asked us to have our volunteers on the ground offering comfort and support.”

Saskatoon city councilor, Cynthia Block, tweeted that people were lining up to donate blood at Canadian Blood Services. She noted that they were actually having to turn locals away and were only accepting people who were from out of town.

Fred Farthing, a counseling psychologist with Catholic Family Services (CFS) in Saskatoon, described how on the night of the accident, the CFS executive director was contacted by the executive director of Partners Family Services in Humboldt, asking for assistance with crisis response. “Within hours, the Family Service Saskatchewan Network was able to respond by sending teams of mental health professionals from Kindersley, Melfort, and Saskatoon to Humboldt to help,” he said.

“We were there among the people to listen if they needed to share a moment of their grief and sadness,” Farthing described. “A number of people expressed gratitude for us just being present with them, as well as for talking with them about how they are coping.”

He added: “With the help of Daisy, our agency’s therapy dog, we listened as people shared, with faith and courage, their pain and sorrow in the wake of the tragedy.”

 

Jackie Saretsky, the coordinator of hospital chaplaincy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon was in the midst of preparing a day-long Dying Healed workshop when the accident happened. “We have names and we’re getting connected with some of the players and families,” said Saretsky. “The hospital staff has been so good about letting us offer our time.”

“Some of the chaplains have set up a space on the fourth floor (of RUH) where families can come just to ask for prayers and talk,” continued Saretsky. “This is the beauty of this ministry being connected to the hospital.”

Saretsky was also offered prayer shawls and was told that one was included for each of the players and families with a personal note. The prayer shawls were forwarded by spiritual support staff at Humboldt hospital.

 

OVERFLOW CROWD AT ST. AUGUSTINE PARISH DURING PRAYER VIGIL APRIL 8:

Diocese of Saskatoon In Video