Two girls who died in a road crash Wednesday were on their way back home to Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation from playing laser tag in Hamilton.
The girls, aged 12 and 14, were among a group of 15 people from Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation returning home when the van they were in collided with another vehicle travelling in the opposite direction shortly after 9 p.m. on Highway 6, south of Caledonia, Ont.
Police identified those killed in the crash as Grace King, 12, and Waagosh Secord, 14, from Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, and Wyatt Martin, 21, of Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation.
Chief Stacey Laforme said "the whole nation" is affected by the loss, not just the individual families.
"When we lose children, people always think of your children, my children, her children, his children — but they are all our children and that includes you guys [reporters]."
A GoFundMe online fundraiser has been set up for families of the kids and had raised $1,630 as of mid-afternoon Thursday.
Ontario Provincial Police said it was one of the worst crashes they've seen in the area.
"Sadly, two young people lost their lives," said OPP Const. Rodney LeClair.
A 27-year-old man driving the van and five other young people from that vehicle were taken to hospitals in Hagersville and Hamilton with serious injuries. The driver has been released. The condition of the other patients is unknown.
The lone person in the other vehicle, a 21-year-old man from the Six Nations reserve, also died in the crash.
According to Ornge Air Ambulance, as many as six people under the age of 18 were involved in the crash.
Police said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the collision.
"We are in the early stages of the investigation and we are trying to piece together the puzzle of exactly what happened here," said OPP Const. Ed Sanchuk. "We have more questions than answers."
Tragedy in a community of 900 people
On Thursday, the community was reeling from the tragedy. Home to 900 people, the community is small but close-knit, a place where children grow up together.
Brenda Seth is distantly related to both King and Secord.
"My heart goes out to the family," she said Thursday. "Even if it's not my relatives, no child should have to die because of this. Nobody should."
Seth also knew Martin briefly, describing him as "outgoing" and "happy-go-lucky."
"It saddens me to see that this would happen to him," she said. "Nobody should go through this."
Classes were cancelled at Lloyd S. King Elementary School on Thursday and will remain so "indefinitely," although the school is open for counselling services for staff and anyone who wants it, the First Nation's spokeswoman Deanna Dunham told CBC News.
Local restaurants have been sending food and pizza to the community centre. A local church is planning to prepare a donated dinner Thursday.
The community centre is also open offering victim assistance, and many people are gathering there.
"We have invited counsellors in. We have some of the elders doing smudging," Laforme said.
Community members told CBC News that members of the First Nation have been through a lot in the last year. Another crash last May on Highway 6 killed two community workers who were sisters.
Highway 6, which was closed between 4th Line and 5th Line, has been reopened since the crash.
"It's very traumatic, obviously, to see — this is a very traumatic collision that took place here tonight," Sanchuk said. "It's difficult to tell loved ones that their family members are deceased."