Quebec provincial police (SQ) have identified the adult victim of a fishing incident that claimed five lives over the weekend, most of them children.
Keven Girard, 37, was among a group of 11 people swept up by the tide late Friday night while fishing along the shore in Portneuf-sur-Mer, a village about 550 kilometres northeast of Montreal.
Four children, all above age 10, also died. The six other people in the fishing party were rescued.
Police declined to name the children, but Girard’s aunt by marriage, Vivian Lavoie, said his sons Patrick and Jerome Girard were among the victims.
“Everyone is gutted,” Lavoie said in French on Sunday from the village of Les Bergeronnes, which was also Girard’s hometown.
“Everyone knows each other here. It’s tight here. Everyone is affected, because we know them all.”
The young victims’ bodies were discovered unresponsive on the river bank Saturday morning, with their deaths confirmed a few hours later.
Girard was pulled from the water later that day following an exhaustive search involving SQ divers and members of the Canadian Forces.
Police on ATVs, boats and a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter also took part in the operation.
An SQ investigation is underway.
“It’s terrible what happened,” said Kateri Champagne Jourdain, minister responsible for the Côte-Nord region, at a press conference concerning the forest fires near Sept-Îles on Sunday morning.
“We have made sure that psychosocial resources are available for people in this region,” she added, inviting citizens who feel the need to contact 811.
Keven Girard, 37, died along with four children during a fishing incident in Portneuf-sur-Mer, Quebec. (Keven Girard/Facebook)
COMMUNITY IN GRIEF
Following police announcements, a wave of social media posts expressed grief, sympathy and heartfelt affection for the victims and their loved ones.
Samuel Brassard, Girard’s cousin, left a post on his relative’s Facebook page late Saturday night with the image of a burning candle underneath.
“You were like a brother to me,” he wrote in French, and recalled their last get-together the week before, shortly after the burial of their grandmother.
“We had started saying our goodbyes to our loved ones and wondering who will be next. Had I known that a few days after it was you and your little men that I had to say goodbye, I would have made sure the party never ended. You left too soon, I’ll never forget you, I love you!”
Officials from Portneuf-sur-Mer, a community of about 600 people that sits 60 kilometres northeast of Girard’s hometown, also shared condolences on the town’s Facebook page.
“The municipality of Portneuf-sur-Mer and all the citizens unite in the same spirit to wish the bereaved families and their friends good luck! Our deepest condolences and thoughts are with you,” the post read.
SUPPORT WORKERS DISPATCHED TO SCHOOLS
The four young victims attended three schools within the CSS (school service centre) de l’Estuaire, which oversees schools in part of Quebec’s Côte-Nord region.
A spokesperson for the CSS said support services will be offered to classmates and friends.
“As soon as we were informed of the sad events on Saturday morning, we mobilized to organize psychosocial support for the victims’ loved ones,” CSS spokesperson Patricia Lavoie told CTV News in an email.
“We’re in small communities, and beyond the families directly affected, a tragedy like this has a huge impact on a wide range of young people, as well as staff members at many of the establishments in our territory.”
Lavoie said about 15 support workers will be spread across the affected schools on Monday to help students in need.
“We are also in constant contact with the healthcare network in case additional resources need to be deployed to cover all needs.”
(Municipalité de Portneuf-sur-Mer)
FISHING ON FOOT
Provincial police said Saturday that the victims were fishing for capelin, a forage species that often swarm riverbanks late at night.
The sandbank where the victims stood is accessed by all-terrain vehicles. They were caught on a peninsula where parts can be submerged by up to four metres of water when the tide rises.
The Quebec Lifesaving Society says it will work closely with the coroner and provide safety recommendations once the investigation is complete.
Its executive director Raynald Hawkins says this season is proving to be particularly deadly in Quebec, referencing the two firefighters who were swept away by floodwaters in May and the eight migrants pulled from waters in Akwesasne in March.
-With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Montreal’s Keila DePape