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Southern Alberta hockey community shocked by homicide of young player

Southern Alberta hockey community mourns shooting death of young player
WATCH: The southern Alberta hockey community is mourning the death of one of their own. Kristian Ayoungman, 24, was fatally shot early Sunday morning east of Calgary.

The RCMP have laid first-degree murder charges in connection with the death of a 24-year-old man from the Siksika Nation.

On Sunday, Strathmore RCMP and the RCMP Major Crimes Unit were called out to an area near Highway 817 and Highway 22X, east of Calgary.

“At approximately 3:30 a.m., Strathmore RCMP responded to a call of a male who had been shot in his vehicle,” police said in a news release on Tuesday. “Police and EMS arrived on scene and discovered a deceased male.”

The victim has since been identified as Kristian Ayoungman.

READ MORE: Man dead following incident near Strathmore

On Saturday night, Darcy Busslinger was enjoying a 10-year-reunion game for the Strathmore Wheatland Kings junior hockey team. By Sunday morning, the team manager got the devastating news that Ayoungman, one of his former young stars, had been killed.

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“I had a great visit with Kristian up in the dressing room after, and he was telling me all about his job and what he was going to do for the summer. He was one of the good ones,” Busslinger said.

“It’s just crazy. We’ve had to go through this in the last five years. We’ve lost four other community kids that played hockey and we are a tight bunch.”

“It was one of those things where you don’t want to believe it,” said Siksika Buffaloes player and coach Colten Wildman, who has played hockey with Ayoungman for eight years. “You deny it and when you find out more details, you’re just immediately crushed.

“He was just a good kid, on and off the ice. You were very lucky to know him on the ice, but you were pretty special to get close with him off the ice,” Wildman said.

Ayoungman grew up playing hockey in the Siksika and Strathmore communities. He’s being remembered as hardworking athlete who always had a smile on his face.

Attached photo of 2018-2019 Siksika Buffaloes. Kristian Ayoungman is the player in the middle row, second from the left (first player in jersey).
Attached photo of 2018-2019 Siksika Buffaloes. Kristian Ayoungman is the player in the middle row, second from the left (first player in jersey). Supplied by Colten Wildman

“When he spoke everybody listened. He was respected by his teammates and his coaches and adults around him. He was a good kid,” Busslinger said.

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Busslinger said the deaths of several other young hockey players in Strathmore-area highway crashes over the past four years have taken a toll.

“It’s hard on these kids,” Busslinger said. “There’s a bunch on my team and they’ve had to say goodbye to four or five of their buddies and it’s tough.”

Kody Allan Giffen, 22, and Brandon Daniel Giffen, 25, have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with Ayoungman’s death.

Vigil for Ayoungman held on Tuesday night

A vigil for Ayoungman was held at Kinsmen Park in Strathmore, Alta., on Tuesday evening.

More than 300 people gathered, many in hockey jerseys, to honour the 24-year-old.

“He lived every day to the fullest,” Busslinger said. “He was a positive kid.”

Many of those who attended the vigil brought balloons and signs featuring photos of Ayoungman.

The group lit candles and held a procession around a lake.

A vigil for Kristian Ayoungman was held at Kinsmen Park in Strathmore, Alta. on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.
A vigil for Kristian Ayoungman was held at Kinsmen Park in Strathmore, Alta. on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Global News