‘Valley of darkness:’ Broncos’ pastor recalls screams of dying after bus crash

By Kelly Geraldine Malone and Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press

HUMBOLDT, Sask. – Thousands gathered to remember 15 people who died when the Humboldt Broncos’ bus crashed late last week and heard a heart-rending recollection from the team chaplain who happened upon the gruesome scene and heard sounds of the dying.

“We travelled up and arrived at the scene … and walked up on a scene I never want to see again,” Pastor Sean Brandow told a vigil held Sunday night in the Saskatchewan junior hockey team’s home arena. “To sounds I never want to hear again.”

He said he felt at a loss as emergency crews worked to save those they could. And then it got worse.

“To go to the hospital and walk around and just hear groaning and panic and fear and distress and pain and just nothing but darkness,” he said.

“To sit and hold the hand of a lifeless body … This is the valley of darkness. All I saw was darkness and hurt and anguish and fear and confusion. And I had nothing. Nothing. I’m a pastor, I’m supposed to have something.”

Brandow encouraged those gathered to lean on their faith as they struggle to deal with the tragedy.

People laid flowers in a circle around centre ice in the rink as family and friends of players listened to prayers and hymns.

Pictures of the dead and injured were placed on stands at one end of the arena.

Nick Shumlanski, the only one of the 14 injured in the crash to be released from hospital, attended the vigil wearing his white, green and yellow team jersey, an obvious bruise under his left eye.

The Humboldt Broncos were on their way to a playoff game Friday in Nipawin when the bus carrying the team collided with a semi.

Sunday’s vigil took place the same night as Game 6 was scheduled to be played with the Nipawin Hawks in the Humboldt rink. There was a moment of silence at the time the game was supposed to start.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the vigil along with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. Trudeau visited survivors of the crash in a Saskatoon hospital earlier in the day.

Family and friends also shared more stories Sunday of their memories of those lost and unbreakable bonds forged by a love for hockey.

More names were confirmed of those killed early Friday evening at an east-central Saskatchewan highway intersection.

Scott Thomas remembered his 18-year-old son, defenceman Evan Thomas, as a strong athlete. He played both hockey and baseball and was a good student. But he was a teammate first.

“He liked sports, but at times I think he tolerated sports so he could be a teammate,” the father said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. “He loved his teammates and I think that was more important to him than the actual sport he was playing.

“He loved those boys. He really loved those boys.”

Thomas said that before Christmas, he spoke with the team’s head coach, Darcy Haugan, who was also killed in the crash, about whether there would be any trades for the second half of the season.

“Darcy just said, ‘You know, Scott, there’s something about this group of kids that’s special,'” he recalled. “He didn’t want to make any changes because they are such a great group of kids.”

Player Logan Boulet, 21, had been on life support until his organs were donated, cousin Julie Kindt said on Facebook.

“These actions alone give voice to the selfless and benevolent nature Logan possessed in life,” his godfather, Neil Langevin, posted in a statement on behalf of the family.

Assistant coach Chris Beaudry was driving his own vehicle to the game the night of the crash.

In an interview, he described his colleague, Mark Cross, as one of the happiest people he had ever met. Cross was from Strasbourg, Sask., where he played hockey before joining the Broncos’ coaching staff.

“His first game, we found a tin of mints and ever since then it’s been alternating back and forth, buying mints for each other and sharing it as a joke. We’d end up going through a whole tin every game,” said Beaudry.

Brody Hinz, 18, worked as the team statistician for the local radio station. Golden West Radio said in a statement that Hinz was being mentored by Tyler Bieber, the team’s play-by-play announcer, who was also killed in the crash.

Adam Herold, a few days shy of his 17th birthday, was the youngest to die in the crash. He had previously played with the Regina Pat Canadians but, when the Regina team’s season wrapped up, he was sent to join the Broncos for their playoff round.

Xavier Labelle, 18, was described by his brother Isaac Labelle in an Instagram post.

“Best friends, teammates, allies, brothers,” he wrote.

Jacob Leicht, 19, was remembered for his laugh and bright smile.

“Your laughter is so contagious and you had a smile that lit up any room,” relative Cassidy Tolley wrote in a Facebook post.

Charlie’s Charters posted on Facebook about the bus driver’s death. Another team Glen Doerksen drove for, the Kinistino Tigers, also issued a statement.

“(Doerksen) spoke at length of his time in rinks with his own family and now how much he enjoyed being able to take and watch other teams from minor, to senior to SJHL to their hockey games,” a spokesperson for the Tigers wrote on Facebook.

Others killed include Broncos captain Logan Schatz, defenceman Stephen Wack and forwards Jaxon Joseph and Logan Hunter.

The intersection in east-central Saskatchewan where the crash happened reopened to traffic shortly before noon on Sunday.

While the wreckage had been removed, there were still playing cards and a broken DVD of the movie “Slap Shot” scattered in the ditch. The Hanson brothers, popular characters in the movie, tweeted condolences to the Broncos on the weekend, as did other celebrities.

Team president Kevin Garinger acknowledged the shock and heartache at the arena during vigil.

“I want to say to all the Humboldt Broncos families, billets, coaching staff, teammates, classmates, teachers, friends, community members — not one of us is alone in our grief,” he said.

Garinger then read off a list of the injured and dead, his voice breaking toward the end.

“Today and for every day forward we are all Humboldt Broncos.”

— With files from Chris Purdy, Colette Derworiz in Edmonton and Jonathan Hayward in Humboldt, Sask.

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