Candlelight vigil pays tribute to teens killed in Glace Bay house fire

·3 min read
Haylee Gilbert (left) and Jessica Kelly hold a poster showing their younger sister Madison Kelly, whom they affectionately called Maddy.  (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)
Haylee Gilbert (left) and Jessica Kelly hold a poster showing their younger sister Madison Kelly, whom they affectionately called Maddy. (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)

The soft-glow of candlelight filled a small driveway in Glace Bay, N.S., on Sunday during a vigil for two teenage girls who were killed in a house fire.

More than 100 people gathered outside the white two-storey home on Brookside Street where the fire broke out on Friday.

Family, friends, and neighbours paid tribute to Madison Kelly, 16, and Brea McKenzie, 15, by signing paper lanterns that were sent into the sky.

On the front lawn there were glass angels, plush teddy bears and bouquets of colourful flowers.

"This is an incredibly sad and tragic moment," said Dave Sawler, a community pastor and executive director of the Undercurrent Youth Centre in Glace Bay and New Waterford, N.S.

"This is a time when it's normal to have so many questions. It's normal to grieve, it's normal to cry, so that's what we're doing here tonight."

Sawler said before the fire happened, area teenagers in and around Glace Bay were already struggling with higher stress and anxiety levels brought on by the pandemic.

Erin Pottie/CBC
Erin Pottie/CBC

He said with gathering limits in place throughout the province, Sawler said that makes it difficult for people to properly grieve.

"Normally, there would be funerals with hundreds and hundreds of people," he said.

"To have an opportunity for the youth and adults to get together is extremely important. I realize there could be multiple things like this this week."

Sawler said he'd met the girls before and had worked with their friends and family members because "Glace Bay's only so big."

Asked to offer some advice on how to cope with the loss, Sawler said right now is a time to help one another.

"We need to make sure we're there for the person beside us. This is just a time to listen. It's time to hug," he said.

Erin Pottie/CBC
Erin Pottie/CBC

Jessica Kelly said attending her sister's vigil was hard, but something she needed to do.

Kelly's younger sister Madison (Maddy) Kelly was four years her junior and was described as a loving and charismatic teen.

At the time of her death, Madison Kelly had been living at the home where the fire broke out with her friend.

"The night of the fire I still remember her saying, 'I love you, goodnight, and I'll see you in the morning,'" said Jessica Kelly.

"Maddy was like my baby. I miss her a lot. She put a smile on everyone's faces. She meant the world to me."

As she stood next to a small memorial for the two girls, Ian McKinnon told reporters he shared many childhood memories with his friend Brea McKenzie, who also died in the fire.

McKenzie loved animals

McKinnon said the pair were born five days apart and often shared birthday parties, but they had started to lose touch over the last year.

"Knowing she's gone, it's awful. It feels weird knowing that she's not out doing something," he said.

McKenzie was described as a sweet person who loved animals, including dogs, cats and guinea pigs.

"We'd always send pictures of our pets to each other," said Reilly Fitzpatrick, who met McKenzie through mutual friends. "I know she loved her animals a lot."

An online fundraiser has been set up for McKenzie's mother Laureen McKenzie, who was seriously injured in the fire.

On Sunday, police had no update on the woman's condition. An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.

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