'Just unthinkable': King's launches memorial fund following deaths of two students

Students and staff at King’s University College are expressing dismay and sadness at the loss of two international students killed in a crash on Highway 401 east of London earlier this week.

The two students from China lived off-campus and were in their first year of studying social sciences at King’s, college president David Malloy said Wednesday.

“We're all just so saddened by this,” he said.

“It’s tragic for young people to lose their lives like this. . . For a lot of us that have kids, this is a phone call we never want to receive. All of us who have children or young people around us, you put yourself in the shoes of the parents, and it's just unthinkable.”

The pair were killed and three other students were injured on Monday — their first day of their reading week — after the minivan in which they were travelling collided with a pick-up truck on Highway 401 near Kitchener, King’s has said.

The Western affiliate college is not releasing the names of the students “out of respect to the families,” King’s said in a statement. Provincial police are withholding their identities, pending notification of family.

Wednesday, King’s launched an online memorial fund for those looking to donate and support students, Malloy said. The college is also offering online and in-person counselling and will be setting up “a community space” on campus for Monday, when students return from the fall reading week, he said.

The two-vehicle crash happened on the highway, just west of Trussler Road, around 10:30 a.m., Oxford OPP said. Three passengers from the minivan with critical injuries were taken to hospital where two of them died, police said.

Two other passengers, also international students from China, and the driver of the pickup truck were taken to hospital with serious injuries, police said. The minivan driver was treated at the scene for minor injuries.

All occupants of the minivan but the driver were students, four of them studying at King’s and one at Western University, Malloy said, adding the other critically injured student is stable.

The group were headed to Toronto for a “leisure trip,” Malloy said. “It was the first day of reading week and like anybody, they had the day off, they were going to go Toronto to have fun. And it just turned out horrible,” he said.

Some students walking through the quiet King's campus on Wednesday expressed shock and sadness.

“It's just a sad (time) for the for the school and the community,” Keegan Rudman, a second-year student said, adding he was pleased to see King’s and Western immediately offer support for students.

For Mayang Mokom, a fourth-year economics students from Cameroon, her immediate reaction was to think of the students’ families.

“Hearing that from all the way back home would be very devastating,” she said. “It's a lot to carry.”

A resident assistant (RA), Mokom lives on campus with many first year and international students. She and other student leaders plan to share mental health resources and check in with students throughout the coming weeks. “Especially the international students, because the international community is very close,” Mokom said.

King’s and Western University International have been working closely with the families of the deceased and injured students to offer them support and get them to Canada safely. The family of one student who died is expected to land in Toronto on Friday, while arrangements are still being finalized for the other family, Malloy said.

“We have folks on the ground in China, and we will also have a support team meet them at the airport when they arrive in Toronto, to help them navigate through the first couple of hours,” he said.

Monday’s crash is not the first time regional post-secondary institutions have had to deal with fatalities among its international student population.

In January 2020, four Western University students were among 176 people, including 63 Canadians, aboard a Ukrainian airplane bound from Tehran to Kyiv, when it was shot down by an Iranian missile killing everyone on board. Iranian students from the University of Guelph, University of Windsor and University of Waterloo also died in the crash.

In October 2019, three 19-year-olds from India who were studying business at St. Clair College in Windsor were killed in a single-vehicle collision in Lambton County. The driver, also 19 and a business student at the college, pleaded guilty in June to dangerous driving causing death.

To donate to the King's University College student memorial Fund, visit www.kings.uwo.ca/alumni/support-kings/student-memorial/.



The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press