Humboldt holds tribute five years after deadly bus crash

The bells of Humboldt Church will be tolling today after a deadly bus crash brought unimaginable tragedy to the small Saskatchewan city five years ago.

The bell at St. Augustine’s Church will ring 29 times—one for each person on the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos on April 6, 2018. Sixteen people have been killed and 13 injured after a transport truck entered through a stop sign in the path of a bus carrying the Saskatchewan junior hockey team.

Planning committee member Celeste Leray-Leicht said she would feel better if only she could honor her son. Jacob Leicht was 19 when he died in the crash.

“He was a part of everything we said and did and guided us along the way,” Leray-Leicht said.

To mark the anniversary, City and Broncos members organized a memorial service at Elgar Peterson Arena for those who wished to pay their respects. The rink, home to the Broncos, is filled with memorabilia, banners and photos.

The tribute will include videos and photos contributed by Broncos families over the years.

Mayor Michael Behiel declared the day “2017-18 Humboldt Broncos Day” and encouraged people to observe a moment of silence as the bells rang around 4:50 p.m., which coincides with the crash about five years ago.

Leray-Leicht said organizers and the community didn’t want the tribute to feel like another funeral, but they also wanted to honor those affected.

It was a difficult day for the family and the surviving players, she said. Many people spend time at home with loved ones and want privacy.

“Especially this week, my heart is still heavy with sadness,” she said.

Over the years, Leray-Leicht said, she has been learning how to deal with trauma and great grief. She felt guilty for not doing her best to respect her son and the others on the bus. Angry at what happened and what was out of her control.

There was also some frivolity, Leray-Leicht said, especially from students at the school where she was vice-principal. Leray-Leicht said the students’ honesty and innocence were especially helpful, even if they didn’t know they were helping.

The continued support of the people of Humboldt was also important.

“My community is my family,” she said. “I am as strong as the man who raised me.”

Those affected by the crash also became family members, but most did not live in Humboldt, she added. The few who did were very close and worked together in different ways to honor their children, Leray-Leicht said.

“It’s also healing,” she says.

The tribute program committee includes Carol Brons, whose 24-year-old daughter Dayna Brons is the team’s sports therapist, and Marilyn Hay, whose 29-year-old son Tyler Bieber is the team’s play-by-play announcer. They all died in the crash.

Chris Beaudry is also on the committee. He was an assistant coach for the Humboldt Broncos and was not on the bus but sat in a car in the back of the bus and was one of the first people to arrive at the scene of the accident.

Leray-Leicht said they were “deeply moved and honored” that people continue to want to honor the Humboldt Broncos.

Her son is funny, mischievous and has a dry sense of humor. He was a tough kid who worked hard, and he was a wonderful son, she said. Jacob Leicht meant much more than his death, she added.

She added that the way the country and the world reached out after the Broncos tragedy showed how compassionate and understanding people are. The best way to honor the team, she said, is for people to bring that kindness into their everyday lives.

“The way to honor them is to bring out your best every day.”

— Kelly Geraldine Malone, Canadian Press

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