Six weeks after tragedies, West Prince community continues to heal together

·3 min read

Sounds of laughter and light conversation were a welcome diversion Friday night for a community in western P.E.I. that has shed more than its share of tears over the past six weeks.

Family, friends, first responders and community leaders gathered at the Northport Community Centre to show their ongoing support for three 17-year-old boys who died in tragic accidents. It's been almost seven weeks since Ethan Reilly and Alex Hutchinson died when their boat capsized off P.E.I.'s north shore.

Eleven days later, their schoolmate Cole Rayner died when his vehicle went off the road and crashed.

"As an Islander and as a mom really it was really hard to sit back and listen to these stories and feel like you couldn't do anything," said Kelly Peck, provincial manager of child protection with the Department of Social Development and Housing, who helped organize Friday's event with Sgt. Neil Logan of the East Prince RCMP.

There was food, speeches, memorials and plenty of socializing.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

Logan said not a day goes by where he doesn't think of the families, and how the community came together during the search.

"It was some really difficult times so to see them now, and to see some smiles on their faces and laughing a little bit, is nice. I mean, of course, I know it's still probably really difficult."

The Island is definitely gentle and kind and supportive and things like today don't let you forget things like that. — Kim Reilly

Logan said it was a time to thank everyone — including P.E.I. Ground Search and Rescue for their "amazing" dedication — and to remind the families of the community's unwavering support.

"We had a hurricane to deal with at one point and still just people showing up," he said. "They just really wanted to be there to support our efforts and also support the family, the friends."

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

Ethan Reilly's mother, Kim Reilly, said she is grateful for all the support.

"There's nothing, absolutely nothing, no words that can fix anything and sometimes the world is not a very nice place and life is not so nice but the Island is definitely gentle and kind and supportive and things like today don't let you forget things like that," she said.

"Thank goodness this is home."

Expressions of gratitude

Alex Hutchinson's father, Darren Hutchinson, also expressed thanks to everyone who has helped his family through the difficult time.

He said Alex travelled across the Island to play hockey, getting to know Islanders from many different communities, and many have reached out.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

Peck said "grief doesn't end a week, a month later," and it was important to reassure the families that they are not alone.

She said the outpouring of support made her "proud to be an Islander."

"At a time where everybody's heart was hurting, they didn't think about themselves.… they stopped, they dropped everything they were there for each other no matter what they were dealing with on their own.

"I don't think there is anything that encompasses community more than that."

More from CBC P.E.I.