EDITOR’S NOTE: Community leaders initially believed that 27 people with Edmonton connections died in the plane crash. However, they and Global News have confirmed 13. We have updated this story to reflect the new information.
Mourners lit candles and shared photos of the Edmontonians who died in a plane crash in Iran at a vigil outside the Alberta legislature on Wednesday evening.
“They were all our close friends. It’s so sad,” Honey Shahin said.
“I want peace for the world, that’s it,” she said through tears.
“We were all from the University of Alberta. They were all our friends. We were all together, studying, teaching. Professor Mousavi and some other students, they were all like people from Iran – high standard.
“They were all geniuses who came here to learn. They came here to add to the world and now they are not here any more. So this is sad.”
Pedram Mousavi and his wife Mojgan Daneshmand were both engineering professors at the U of A. They, along with their two young daughters, died in the plane crash.
Members of the local Iranian community believe at least 13 people with connections to Edmonton were killed when the plane carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members crashed shortly after takeoff. There were no survivors.
“It was shocking,” Yasamin Bargrizam said. “It was tragic. I knew lots of them… This morning, I heard that 30 of them were in Edmonton and lots of them were students like me at the U of A and the professor at U of A too.”
“It’s really hard for us. We need each other to support,” she said.
“Iran is going through a really hard time these days, globally, and last night, tragedy happened and made it even worse. And I think we all need each other.”
Dozens of people braved the frigid cold and blowing snow to pay their respects and grieve together Wednesday night.
“We’re thankful for everybody who’s here and showing some support to the Iranian community,” Payman Parseyam said. “We feel very, very attached to this city. We love our hometown here. We want to make sure that those that may have been lost are not forgotten.”
Daniel Ghods-Esfahani drove to Edmonton from Calgary on Tuesday night to be with friends and family after learning of the crash. He said he was close with Saba Saadat, one of the Edmontonians who was on the flight that departed from Tehran.
“She was a very important part of my life,” he said. “Seeing her gone is as if I lost a piece of myself and I’ve never experienced anything like this before.
“[Saadat and her family] had just gone back to Iran for the holidays and they were coming back, and I’m just absolutely devastated.”
Ghods-Esfahani said he spoke with Saadat shortly before she boarded the plane and then monitored its progress online. He said it appeared it had neared eastern Europe already so he thought her plane wasn’t the one that went down but later learned the website was not accurately displaying the plane’s movements.
“My heart dropped,” he said as he recounted the moments after he learned what had happened.
Ghods-Esfahani said he is mourning the loss of everyone on the plane and that the vigil reminds him what a tight-knit community he is a part of.
“If one person goes through anything, the whole community mourns and I think you can see that here.”
He added that he hopes people will respond with love in the face of such a tragedy.
“Be kind to others, say hi to your neighbour — no matter what people’s backgrounds, ideologies, political beliefs, religion, anything like that. I think it’s important to realize that we are human first and take time out of our day to appreciate those around us.”
A public memorial service will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Saville Community Sports Centre. It is being organized by the local Iranian-Canadian community, the university and the city.
“It’s very shocking news. It was very devastating. The whole community… is still in a stage of shock,” said Reza Akbari with the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton.
“We are planning to organize a memorial ceremony for these people who lost their lives through the tragedy.
“We expect this is going to be a large event and as a result we need to make sure everything is in place,” Akbari said.
There are an estimated 500 Iranian students at the U of A. Across the city, the Iranian Edmonton population is about 6,000.
“People who were in this plane, yes, we continue to repeat their ethnicity as Iranian, but they are members of this community. They’re university professors, doctors, many students with different cultural backgrounds,” Akbari said.
Shayesteh Majdnia is close friends with one of the crash victims. Dr. Shekoufeh Choopannejad and her two daughters were killed when the plane went down.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
“People are trying to get together and have a memorial service for the loved ones. We are trying to put together a big program so all the community comes together and celebrates their life. Everyone, as I said, has a story to tell about a member, these people, who are no longer with us.”
Majdnia also launched a GoFundMe to support local funeral costs for the Edmonton victims.
The president of the university said everyone on campus was reeling from the news.
“It is with deep sadness that the University of Alberta community learned that at least 10 members of our broader community died in last night’s tragic plane crash in Iran,” David Turpin said. “This includes students, faculty and alumni. This is a grave loss and I want to extend my personal, deep condolences to all those affected by this tragedy.”
Turpin echoed plans to hold a vigil “in very near future to celebrate each of these incredible individuals.”
“The aftermath will be with us for years to come, there’s no question,” he said.
“These are people that were important members of our community, made important contributions. We are grieving their loss. This will take a long time for us to fully recover from and we will be acknowledging and celebrating each one of these tremendous people in the days ahead.”
Flags at Edmonton City Hall were lowered and would remain at half-staff until sunset on Friday, the city said.
The High Level Bridge would also be lit up with red and white lights Wednesday through Friday to honour the memory of the 176 passengers and crew killed in the plane crash.
A book of condolence has been set up at Edmonton City Hall for people to share their messages to the families and friends of the victims. The book will be available to sign between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. inside the south entrance of city hall until Wednesday, Jan. 15.
The province is also inviting Albertans to share messages of sympathy and support through an online condolence book. It will be available until Jan. 24 and will be shared with the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton.
–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich