Three teenaged boys are dead after a car crash in the village of Blackville, N.B., early Sunday.
RCMP say the victims are a 17-year-old from White Rapids, and a 16-year-old and 17-year-old, both from Blackville.
New Brunswick RCMP responded to the crash shortly before 2:30 a.m. on Route 8, according to a news release.
The collision is believed to have occurred when their car crossed the median while travelling north, left the road and struck a retaining wall, the news release said. The three victims were ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene as a result of their injuries, police said.
The road remained closed until shortly after 1 p.m. Debris could be seen scattered across the roadway.
The small community of fewer than 1,000 people is about 40 kilometres southwest of Miramichi.
Rodney Buggie, the principal of the community's K-12 school, said two of the victims were in Grade 12 and one was a recent graduate.
Buggie said the school will be open starting at 2 p.m., with counsellors present to support students and community members.
"We're a small, rural area," he said. "Everybody knows everybody. It's terrible."
Witness describes scene
Eric Walls lives across the road from where the accident occurred. He said he believes the car hit a rock wall while travelling at a high speed, near the Pharmasave on Main Street.
"It was just like a bomb went off, it was such a loud noise, and there's debris all over the road," he said.
Walls called 911 and blocked the highway with his truck to stop traffic. He said police arrived on the scene 10 minutes later, followed by an ambulance about 30 minutes after the call.
The Blackville Fire Department, Ambulance New Brunswick, the Department of Public Safety as well as the New Brunswick coroner's office all responded to the scene to assist with the investigation.
The local fire hall was opened to give grieving community members a place to go as the news broke in the early hours of the morning.
Walls, who owns the Blackville Special Care Home, said he saw pieces of rock about a foot high on the roadway.
He called the accident tragic and said the scene was "horrific" to witness.
"I know that the community will get together and rally for these families because we have a great community."
His son Andrew Walls, 14, is in Grade 8 at the Blackville school and knew the victims.
"I think everyone's just going to be united, and just mourning with each other," he said. "It's going to be sad missing them."
'It's really sad'
Jake Stewart, a Progressive Conservative candidate in Monday's provincial election who represented the area in the province's Legislative Assembly before the election was called — said he heard the news early Sunday.
"It's really sad," he said. "These were good kids, I knew the families — very good people.
"People are really upset."
Stewart was born and raised in Blackville and attended the same school as the victims. He said the crash happened just a few houses away from the home where he grew up.
"Everyone is either friends or relatives, and people are going to be really sad about this," he said.
"People at first were really shocked and now they just want to be supportive."
Josh McCormack, a Blackville resident and the riding's Liberal candidate, announced on Facebook he planned to cancel all campaign events and social media posts. One of the victims was his cousin, while another was a youth hockey player he coached.
McCormack said his family woke him up with the news at about 4 a.m.
"We went down to my uncle's house a couple houses down, and we just kind of supported each other and grieved as a family," he said.
The hockey player was a "great kid" who always "lit up the room," McCormack said, becoming emotional.
He described his cousin as someone with a big smile and good heart who enjoyed working on vehicles.
Art O'Donnell, the local People's Alliance candidate, asked community members to think of the families, friends and first responders.
Stewart, bidding for re-election, ended his campaign Saturday evening. But he said he would never continue in the wake of an accident.
'Fantastic young man'
Coleman Price is the pastor at the Upper Blackville United Pentacostal Church, about a five minute drive from the scene of the crash. He received a call Sunday morning letting him know the grandson of a church member was a victim in the accident.
Price said he called the grandmother right away.
"She was absolutely devastated. All she could get out was 'hello,'" he said.
The pastor texted most of the congregation to let them know the news, and went on Facebook to post a blue and yellow ribbon, the colours of the local school.
He knew the victim and remember him helping to bring the pews into the church a few years ago.
Price described him as a "fantastic young man" who was well mannered, kind and pleasant.
Several fatal crashes in recent past
Several fatal crashes involving teenagers have occurred in the area in recent years.
A 15-year-old Miramichi resident was found dead after an ATV crash on Sept. 9, and four teens were killed in April 2019 when an SUV went off the road in Miramichi.
Blackville faced a string of tragic deaths in 2018.
In May of that year, an 18-year-old Gray Rapids man was killed in a car crash. Then a month later, a father and daughter died after their homemade raft overturned on the Miramichi River.
Blackville also grieved the death of a 14-year-old after his dirt bike collided with a car.
Counselling was offered at the village office and the health centre.
McCormack said the tragedy today brings up memories of the past deaths in the community.
"A lot of people say we always want to come out stronger, but I think in these circumstances, that's hard to achieve."
Walls knows the parents of the victims and attended school with some of them.
"We have a very strong community but I don't know how much more they can take," he said.
The Blackville School shared in a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon that counselling will be available tomorrow and as needed in the days ahead. It also invited former students who need support to attend.
Price has been a pastor in the community for about six years. He said not one year has gone by without something devastating happening.
"Probably most people in the community are just thinking when is this going to end."