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Canadian Community Mourns Loss Of 15 Members Of Youth Hockey Team


In Humboldt, Saskatchewan last night, families, friends and fans gathered for a vigil at the ice rink where the Humboldt Broncos practice. The youth hockey team was headed to a game on Friday when its bus collided with a tractor-trailer. Ten players, two coaches, a broadcaster, a statistician and the driver were killed - 15 people in all. Broncos team president Kevin Garinger spoke to mourners last night.


KEVIN GARINGER: We are gathered in a state of shock and unthinkable heartache. This tragedy has devastated our families, our Humboldt Broncos organization, our community, Saskatchewan, Canada and our world.

KELLY: Globe and Mail reporter Carrie Tait was at that vigil. She's been reporting from Humboldt all this last awful weekend. And, Carrie Tait, welcome to the program.

CARRIE TAIT: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Set the scene for us. What was this vigil like last night?

TAIT: Well, this is in the Humboldt Broncos' arena, and that's sort of the social heartbeat in a small town. And so at the very, very front, you had people like the man you just heard speaking. In front of that, on the ice surface, there were families and the billet families. And the billets are the parents who take kids in who aren't from here. And then there was overflow, and overflow for the overflow, and overflow for the overflow.

KELLY: To make sure I understand what you're saying about the billet families, this youth team that's based in Humboldt - Humboldt's a small town. The players are from all over Canada. So is the way it works the players come and they find a host family that - where they live for a period of time while they're playing for the team?

TAIT: Yeah, it's like any hockey league or sports league where you're drafted. And in towns like this, particularly hockey towns, there's families who take kids in constantly. That's sort of the double whammy here is that it's both biological families have lost their children, and then billet families have lost their children. And they look at these kids like they're sons.

KELLY: And we mentioned this is a junior team. The players on this team would've been - what? - in their late teens up to early 20s?

TAIT: Yeah. The youngest is 16, and then you're sort of graduated out of it age-wise at 21.

KELLY: So these boys are a big deal in this town. These are the heroes of this town.

TAIT: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, it's not just like they are kids who play hockey. They're the kids who really do have organized, call us and we'll go shovel your driveway in the winter, or where they're helping out with fundraisers. And that's why people have much more of a connection to them. They're heroes, and they're great hockey players, but they're part of the town.

KELLY: As awful as this tragedy is, I understand that a mistake at the coroner's office has added to the awfulness. There was a mix-up in identifying one of the deceased and one of the survivors. I saw that the coroner's office was saying maybe some part of the problem was all these boys looked alike 'cause they had all dyed their hair blond in solidarity for the playoffs.

TAIT: A couple of things. A - you know, the hockey players often, you know, have a similar physique. This was an obviously horrific crash, and there was, you know, this isn't about bumps and bruises.

And something like hair color - as a tidbit, that is something the team and others in town, because the younger kids play hockey or because they're supporters, have their hair dyed this sort of bleach-blond yellow for good luck in the playoffs. But a lot of this wasn't about hair color. It sort of shows the magnitude of the car crash.

KELLY: Carrie Tait, thank you very much.

TAIT: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: That's Globe and Mail reporter Carrie Tait.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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