Mourners embrace during an April 8 vigil at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, to honor members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team who were killed in a fatal bus accident. CNS photo/Jonathan Hayward, Reuters

Prayers and tears for victims of Humboldt Broncos tragedy

  • April 9, 2018

Crying, hugging and shaking their heads in disbelief, the people of Humboldt, Sask. gathered at the local hockey arena April 8 for an inter-faith service to mourn 15 people who died after the bus carrying the town’s junior hockey team collided with a truck.

“I don’t want to be here, but it’s good that we are,” said Sean Brandow, the Humboldt Broncos team chaplain and pastor of Humboldt Bible Church.

Brandow had gone to the accident site shortly after the collision.

“I walked up on a scene I never want to see again, to sounds I never want to hear again,” he said. “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.”

The 15 dead included 10 hockey players between the ages of 16 and 21, the team coach, radio broadcaster, bus driver and other team personnel. The accident occurred early in the evening April 6 when a bus taking the team to a playoff hockey game collided with a transport truck on a highway near the town of Tisdale, Sask. Fourteen others on the bus were injured.

Police are investigating and have not provided any details about the cause of the collision. The bus was travelling north on a highway and passing through an intersection, which had stop signs for traffic travelling east and west. No charges have been laid.

humboldt survivorsDerek Patter's father posted this photo on Twitter of his son and Humboldt Broncos teammates Greysen Camera and Nick Shumlanski after surviving the team bus crash. (Twitter/@rjpatter)

Condolences poured into Humboldt from around the world, including messages from Pope Francis, Queen Elizabeth and President Donald Trump. The Vatican Secretary of State sent blessings on behalf of the Pope.

"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 of the deceased to the mercy of Almighty God. To all in the community at this difficult time Pope Francis sends his blessing." 

Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen, whose diocese includes Humboldt, read the Pope’s message during an afternoon service at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon.

"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 Hagemoen during the service on Divine Mercy Sunday.

Hagemoen attended the evening prayer service at the Elgar Petersen Arena and Uniplex in Humboldt and offered a final blessing.

“Lord God, you are the light that illumines the darkness,” he prayed. “Continue to lead us into your light.”

He had also sent an earlier message of condolences and prayers to those affected by the tragedy.

“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.”

Humboldt hockey teamA recent photo of the Humboldt Broncos after winning the Bourgault Cup Mar. 24, 2018. (Twitter/@HumboldtBroncos)

The inter-faith service was live-streamed and watched across the province, including at St. Augustine Catholic Church just up the street from the arena.

Fr. Joseph Salihu, pastor of St. Augustine, participated in the vigil. He said as soon as news of the accident spread across town, “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. We need to remember that after the funerals, these people will still need our presence.”

A Go-Fund-Me page was set up to collect donations for families. In less than three days since the page was set up by a Humboldt resident, donations had topped $5.5 million, with contributions from more than 75,000 people from over 60 countries.

The prayer service was attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, as well as Hockey Night in Canada personalities Don Cherry and Ron Maclean. Large photos of the team brought tears. Grief and crisis counsellors, including grief dogs, roamed the arena.

St. Andrew’s Anglican Minister, Rev. Matteo Carboni, vice-chair of the Humboldt Ministerial Association, led the service.

“We remember the words of Jesus, who told us: ‘You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy’,” Carboni said. “We need each other to make this promise a reality”.

Broncos team president Kevin Garinger paid tribute to those who died, saying “we will cherish their memories, keep them near our hearts forever.

The dead players have been identified as Adam Herold, 16, of Lethbridge, Alta.; Conner Lukan, 21, of Slave Lake, Alta.; Evan Thomas, 18, of Saskatoon; Jacob Leicht, 19, of Humboldt; Jaxon Joseph, 20, of Edmonton; Logan Boulet, 21, of Lethbridge, Alta.; Logan Hunter, 18, of St. Albert, Alta.; Logan Schatz, 20, of Allan, Sask.; Stephen Wack, 21, of St. Albert, Alta., and Parker Tobin, 18, of Stony Plain, Alta.

Other victims were head coach, Darcy Haugan, team statistician Brody Hinz, assistant coach Mark Cross, Bolt FM broadcaster Tyler Bieber and bus driver Glen Doerksen.

Saskatchewan coroner’s office issued an apology and condolences April 9 after misidentifying one of the victims as Xavier Labelle, who was injured but alive. The Ministry of Justice said the body of Tobin had been mistaken for Labelle.

Following an opening prayer by Rev. Colleen Pilgrim, Dr. Lawrence Joseph, former chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, offered words of support.

“The Indigenous people are in the process of not only praying for you, lifting their pipes,” he 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.”

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

There was a moment of silence at 7:32 p.m., the time when the puck would have dropped on the Broncos’ playoff game in Nipawin, Sask.

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.”

While the largest vigil was held in Humboldt, prayer services for the victims and families were held across the province. One in Birch Hills attracted 150 people where 15 candles were put across a hockey net, one for each victim. Holy Spirit Parish in Saskatoon, like many others, opened their doors for people to come together to offer silent prayers.


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