A night of fun for a group of indigenous youth ended in tragedy when two young girls were among three people killed in a head-on collision in southern Ontario, the chief of the devastated community said Thursday.
Stacey Laforme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation said the two girls died while travelling home with their youth group from a game of laser tag in nearby Hamilton. Police identified the girls as 12-year-old Grace King and 14-year-old Waagosh Secord.
The fatal accident also claimed the life of 21-year-old Wyatt Martin of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. The young man was driving a car that crashed into the van carrying the girls, police said.
The incident has left many struggling to come to terms with the loss, Laforme said.
"We've suffered a tragic event," the emotional chief told a press conference. "We're so closely knit that all our members are suffering."
Ontario Provincial Police said the fatal crash unfolded on Wednesday around 9 p.m. — on Highway 6 between the communities of Hagersville and Caledonia — when two vans carrying 15 members of the youth group were returning to the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.
Const. Rodney Leclair said one of the vans, carrying seven youth and driven by a 27-year-old man, was travelling southbound when a car going the opposite way crossed the centre line and plowed into the van head-on.
Leclair said the force of the crash sent the van rolling into the ditch.
King, Secord and Martin were pronounced dead at the scene.
Six Nations Chief Ava Hill expressed her sadness at the loss, saying members of the reserve's tragic event team have been dispatched to New Credit to support the bereaved nearby community.
"There’s a lot of intermarriage, they’re right beside, we share boundaries and we share a lot of things," Hill said. "It’s difficult when we lose anybody in our community, even though we’re large, it’s still difficult."
Police said the six other occupants of the van involved in the crash were all sent to local hospitals with serious injuries.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
Laforme said Lloyd S. King Elementary School was closed Thursday to allow students to process the loss.
Counsellors were also available to all residents at the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation community centre, he said, adding the age of the victims compounds the force of the tragedy.
"The close-knitness (sic) of the community and the Nation is something we're very proud of and something we strive to maintain," he said. "When we lose children, people always think of 'your children, my children, her children, his children,' but they're all our children."
— with Files from Liam Casey.
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press