They were great-grandparents, a couple in their 80s, a former teacher — and they were “gone in an instant.”
RCMP Supt. Jeff Asmundson, in charge of Manitoba’s west district, publicly identified the 16 seniors killed last week in a fiery bus crash on a Manitoba highway.
Giant photos of them were carried into a news conference Thursday by relatives and Mounties, then placed on easels as their names were confirmed as victims.
“We lost 16 people who are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers (and) grandparents whose decades of contributions helped make this community what it is. They’re gone in an instant,” Asmundson said.
They ranged in age from 68 to 88, with 11 of them in their 80s. All but two were women and all came from Dauphin and the surrounding area, northwest of Winnipeg.
“Words cannot express the loss you have experienced over the last few days or the trauma that continues as you visit the loved ones in the hospital,” said Ernest Sirski, the reeve of the Rural Municipality of Dauphin.
“We cannot feel your pain. We can only offer our sympathies. We cannot suffer your loss, but we can share your grief.”
Helen Kufley, 88, was a great-grandmother, a Ukrainian “baba,” considered the cornerstone of her family.
Frank Perzylo, 82, and his 80-year-old wife, Rose, were described as friendly and neighbourly.
Nettie Nakonechny, 87, was a teacher and longtime resident of Dauphin.
The other victims of the crash were: Louis Bretecher, 81; Margaret Furkalo, 82; Vangie Gilchrist, 83; Ann Hill, 81; Arlene Lindquist, 68; Dianne Medwid, 70; Shirley Novalkowski, 76; Jean Rosenkranz, 82; Lillian Stobbe, 73; Donna Showdra, 79; Patsy Zamrykut, 88; and Claudia Zurba, 87.
The community held a multi-faith vigil Thursday evening in a community hall filled with hundreds of people. Every available seat was taken. Others stood around the edge of the room.
“All of the love and the wisdom that your family members shared with you throughout your life now becomes the foundation by which you find reason, purpose and the will to move forward,” Rev. Brent Kuzyk, of St. George’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, said at the gathering.
“Every person on that bus, we know and we respect as being citizens of our community and our parishes. They had a lust for life and a desire to fill their lives with experience, with the (ability) of finding joy and making memories with their families and friends whenever they could.”
There were psalms, Scripture and messages of hope. There were 18 lit candles — one for each of the deceased, one for the nine people still in hospital, and one for the first responders who attended the crash site.
On board the minibus were 25 people, including the driver, who were going to the Sand Hills Casino in Carberry, 190 kilometres south of Dauphin, for a day trip on June 15.
They were just minutes from the casino when, according to dashcam footage viewed by police, the bus drove into the path of a semi-trailer truck heading east on the Trans-Canada Highway.
The resulting high-speed collision left 15 bus passengers dead that day. Another passenger died earlier this week from her injuries.
Of the nine people who remained in hospital Thursday, four were still listed in critical condition.
RCMP Supt. Rob Lasson said the investigation continues to determine what happened and why, and whether any criminal charges should be laid. Police have said road and weather conditions were clear.
Police are examining the mechanics of the two vehicles and plan to eventually speak with the bus driver and survivors, but not before their conditions improve.
“We’re not rushing to talk to them,” said Lasson.
The truck driver was treated and released from hospital last week.
Lasson said both drivers had proper vehicle operating licences.
The impact of the crash left the front end of the truck smashed, while the bus ended up several car-lengths away in a ditch, engulfed in flames that burned it down to a charred chassis.
The casino trip was organized by the Dauphin Active Living Centre, which has made counsellors and other supports available. A flower memorial has also grown outside the centre.
Sirski told reporters that hearing the victims names announced at the news conference was emotional, adding at least four went to his church.
“I had to remember not to cry … especially when they were putting up the photos,” he said.
“I knew I had a job to do to represent my community. It was a tough job.”