Grieving community members laid bouquets of flowers, stuffed animals and letters in a growing pile Thursday near the scene of an alleged bus attack against a daycare that left two children dead and injured six others north of Montreal.
Françoise Petre, who has lived for 27 years in Laval’s Ste-Rose neighbourhood where the crash occurred, said she didn’t sleep the whole night. She came to the makeshift memorial with her husband to offer their condolences and assistance, saying she couldn’t stay home any longer.
“I think we need to come together,” she said, her voice breaking.
Premier François Legault was also among those who visited the site in Laval to offer support to the families and daycare workers affected by the tragedy. He shook hands, thanking first responders for their work and telling those still trying to make sense of the fatal crash that “we are with you.”
In front of a crowd, Legault said it was hard to find the words but there is “nothing harder than to lose a child.” He also urged anyone who needs help to seek it and said the entire province is behind the grief-stricken community.
“It’s tough because we’re talking about children and there is nothing more important than children,” he said.
Isabelle Brais, the premier’s wife, laid bright white flowers among the makeshift memorial. She said she felt “the same as every mother in Quebec.”
“You want to share the pain,” she said, speaking of families who lost their children.
Their visit comes one day after a public transit driver careened into the Garderie Éducative Ste-Rose early Wednesday. Laval police arrested Pierre Ny St-Amand, 51, at the scene, where bystanders subdued him until authorities arrived.
The accused faces a total of nine charges — including two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of the two children, both aged four. He will return to court on Feb. 17.
André Beaudoin, a father of a two-year-old boy who attends the daycare, also returned to the scene Thursday. He was one of the men who intervened right after the crash.
He said he had to push through debris to help pull injured children from under the bus, which had shattered the front of the building. He managed to pull four kids out.
Beaudoin said he had just parked to drop off his son when he saw the city bus barrel into the daycare. He said he ran into the building, and despite the fact that most of the children had fled, “we heard the screams” of those still trapped.
Earlier Thursday, Montreal health officials announced two young children injured in the attack were released from hospital.
The Sainte-Justine pediatric hospital confirmed that two of the four young patients transferred into its care have since been released. The two other children are in a “favourable” state of health, the hospital said in a statement.
“We continue to offer psychosocial support to their families.” Two other children injured in the attack were being treated at a Laval hospital.
Command post set up, vigil to take place
Erika Landry, a spokesperson with the police department, said the bus was removed from the daycare’s building and the investigation is still ongoing.
“We still don’t know the motive,” she said, referring to the accused. “It’s under investigation.”
Police have also set up a command post near the daycare, where psychological support workers are on hand to provide assistance to anyone who needs it.
A small vigil was held outside a church in the area late Wednesday, where those in attendance lit candles and brought stuffed animals to honour the young victims. A second event will be held Thursday night at the same location for those who want to gather, according to the City of Laval.
The provincial legislature and Laval’s flags were lowered to half mast. Laval’s health authority has also set up psychological support for those affected by the tragedy and urged anyone who needs help to call 811.
Outside of Quebec, a sombre moment of silence was held Wednesday in the House of Commons. The CN Tower in Toronto was also dimmed for five minutes at the top of each hour in tribute to the victims and their families.
— with files from Global News’ Elizabeth Zogalis and The Canadian Press