Holding on to one another for support, grieving family members tossed flowers into a deep concrete pit on a rural road at the edge of Barrie, Ont., on Monday evening as they mourned six young adults who died in a crash over the weekend.
A detective who helped escort the family members up to a barrier at the lip of the pit told The Canadian Press the area was the site of the single-vehicle crash that was discovered by police early Sunday, after the six people were reported missing a day earlier.
Family members, who declined to speak with media, could be seen wrapping their arms around each other as they placed bouquets around the perimeter of the pit and dropped flowers over a metal fence into it.
Nearby, a makeshift memorial of bouquets tied to a wooden box with police tape could be seen, some with cards carrying the names of those who died. Beer cans and a football had been placed next to the flowers.
Police had identified the six missing people as Curtis King, 22; River Wells, 23; Jason Ono-O’Connor, 22; Luke West, 22; Jersey Mitchell; and Haley Marin.
As tributes began to pour in for the lives lost, King and Wells were identified as talented football players, West was mourned as a beloved lacrosse player and coach, and Mitchell was remembered a passionate cheerleader. Marin was studying social work at a college in Barrie, a friend said.
“It’s heart-wrenching,” Loren Mathias, a close friend and former classmate of Mitchell and Marin, said in an interview.
“These are people that had so much life ahead of them and so many plans …. The community feels like we’ve been cheated.”
The City of Barrie said the area is currently the site of a municipal construction project and the intersection has been closed since the spring.
“The road has been fully closed and signed accordingly for many months,” chief administrative officer Michael Prowse wrote in a statement.
The crash had not been reported to police when officers came across the scene at McKay Road and County Road 27, near Barrie’s southwest border, around 2 a.m. on Sunday, police said.
A sign at McKay Road and County Road 27 on Monday said the road was closed, except to local traffic.
Earlier Monday, several people wiped away tears when they stopped by to pay their respects, as a police car blocked access to the site.
Mathias said she met Marin, 21, in elementary school 10 years ago, while she met Mitchell in a Grade 10 science class and they developed an “all-around really special friendship.” The three of them attended Barrie North Collegiate and attended prom together.
Mitchell, 20, was caring and kind-hearted, Mathias said.
“She always loved to goof around, she always loved to make people laugh,” Mathias said.
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Mitchell was passionate about outdoor activities like cheerleading and hunting, Mathias said, but cared about her family and friends more than anything.
“We always said we were going to do stuff like that together,” said Mathias. “She would tell me about her dad a lot and her family, she was very family-oriented.”
Mathias recalled riding the bus home from school with Mitchell most days, having sleepovers, going on late-night drives and having “deep talks” but also laughing until their stomachs hurt.
“Jersey didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do, but she wanted to help people,” she said. Mathias said the pair would stay up late at her house making pros-and-cons lists for different occupations.
“We were trying to help each other figure out what we wanted to go to school for, but she was really motivated to go to college or university,” she said. “She really wanted to make the right choice on what she wanted to pursue long-term and it definitely revolved around helping people.”
Mathias described Marin as “family-oriented” and “a really loyal friend.”
“She always talked about how much she loved her mom and her brothers. She always helped me with my schoolwork from every single year of my life,” said Mathias. “She always wanted to make sure that people around her succeeded.”
She said Marin was passionate about issues of addiction and mental health, and studied social work at Georgian College in Barrie.
King and Wells, meanwhile, were remembered by Simcoe County Football as beloved former athletes.
“Today marked a sad day for many in the Simcoe County Community,” the organization wrote in a social media post.
“We not only remember these great athletes for what they did on the field but remember the great people they were in life.”
The Barrie Minor Lacrosse Association and the Bombers Jr. C Lacrosse Club said they were devastated by the death of West, who was a player and a coach.
“Westy – the impact that you had on your teammates, coaches, and the young men you coached is immeasurable,” the organizations wrote in an online post.
“Few have ever worked harder in Bomber Blue, few can claim to have lifted us so high. We love you, we miss you, and we are grateful for the time that we had with you.”
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman has called what happened a “shocking and horrible tragedy.”
Flags were flying at half-mast at Barrie City Hall on Monday.