It's a closely knit village by any standards, residents say. But on Tuesday, the little community of Neguac was huddling together more tightly than usual, rocked by grief and mourning the loss of a young man they say "touched the soul" of everyone he met.
Rene Doiron, 25, was killed in a four-vehicle collision that closed Highway 11 near Bouctouche for almost 12 hours on Monday afternoon.
He was on his way back from visiting friends and family in Moncton, headed for work at the boutique he'd helped renovate and loved dearly, when a northbound car crossed the centre lane and collided with a transport truck. The transport truck then collided head-on with a second vehicle, and then with an SUV.
According to the RCMP, a 91-year-old woman who was driving the first car was transported to hospital with serious injuries. The drivers of the transport truck and SUV were not injured, RCMP said in a news release.
Doiron, who was driving the second vehicle, died of his injuries.
On Tuesday, Neguac, a community of about 1,700 in northeastern New Brunswick, was trying to absorb the horrific news.
Store closes, transforms into memorial site
Boutique Evasion, where Doiron had worked, closed the tills, stopping all sales and transforming itself into a gathering spot for mourning friends and acquaintances.
Boutique owner Sonia LeBouthillier was almost too distraught to speak on Tuesday.
"He was like a son to me," she said through tears. "Everybody loved him."
LeBouthillier said the boutique would be closed for at least a week as she and the village try to come to terms with the loss.
Meanwhile, she and Doiron's closest friends assembled a memorial made up of some of his favourite things — his favourite white sneakers, his favourite buffalo plaid shirt, his favourite candles from Crackle & Teal — and prepared to meet with villagers.
By early afternoon, more than 100 people had streamed into the store, many of them weeping, hugging each other, sharing stories, dropping off arrangements of the tropical flowers Doiron loved.
"The community is grieving," friend Jamie Alexander said. "He touched everyone in some small way."
Doiron had a gift, he said, an innate warmth and kindness that people gravitated toward.
"That's the hardest part," he said. "This was a person who, no matter how briefly he met you, he made an impression on your soul."
Alexander, who oversaw the redesign of Boutique Evasion two years ago, brought Doiron along with him to help him set up the store for its reopening. It was intended to be a two-week job, he said.
"But basically he started working there and he never left. He loved fashion, he loved working there, and people absolutely loved him."
'He could only see the good in people'
Gaëtane Breault was one of those people.
Breault met Doiron at the boutique and become his friend over time. It was impossible not to, she said.
"He had this way of making you feel special and I don't think he even knew he was doing it," she said, recalling how he'd greet her when she'd come into the store, always with a smile and a sweet observation.
"He'd say 'Oh, I saw you the other day, you were out walking and you had your tuque pulled down and you just looked so cute!' He had the most positive energy you could ever imagine.
"It was like he could only see the good in people, and he saw it in everyone."
His friend and roommate Alissa Godin said that was one of Doiron's most endearing qualities.
"He had such a positive outlook on life … He was always happy and up for anything," she said.
Godin was too upset to attend the memorial gathering at the boutique, but in a Facebook message she recalled how they'd gone from acquaintances to dear friends in what seemed like a heartbeat.
They became roommates in December and "rarely spent a day apart," she said.
"We loved every moment spent with each other, whether it was watching Golden Girls, going out to eat or relaxing in the hot tub. … I loved him and will miss him forever."
Alexander said the shock is keeping the emptiness from taking too deep a hold for now, but he knows that is coming.
When it does, he said, the village will draw strength from its shared memories of the young man taken from them too soon."We were all so close, we feel like this little family," he said. "I spent time with his mother last night, and I told her that. I told her he was loved. He was our brother. He was ours."
Visits extended through Wednesday
By late Tuesday, the number of visitors had ballooned beyond expectations, and the store announced that it would continue its "no sales, just visits" visitation through Wednesday.
"Thank you to all the friends, family and clients that came to the store today to pay respects and celebrate the life of René," the store said in a posted announcement.
"We will continue to open the store tomorrow March 17 from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. Anyone that wishes to come and pay their respects or light a candle, you are welcome."