As Quebec provincial police investigate the deaths of four children and one man on a fishing trip on the St. Lawrence River shoreline in Portneuf-sur-Mer, Que., communities in Quebec’s North Shore region are expressing their shock and grief.
According to a report by Radio-Canada, the children hailed from the village of Les Escoumins, Que., about 44 kilometres south of Portneuf-sur-Mer.
Provincial police have said they will not release the identities of the children, but the one adult victim has been identified as Keven Girard, 37, from Les Bergeronnes, Que., a neighbouring village of Les Escoumins.
Girard was the father of two of the deceased children, according to Radio-Canada.
Provincial police spokeswoman Sgt. Beatrice Dorsainville said divers found the body of Girard in the St. Lawrence River on Saturday night. He was pronounced dead in hospital.
The bodies of four children — all older than 10 — were found unresponsive on the river bank early Saturday.
The children were among a group of 11 people fishing on the river bank without a boat when a rising tide likely caught them off guard and swept them away, said Dorsainville.
Police received the emergency call at around 2 a.m. ET on Saturday. Six people were rescued.
The area is a popular spot for fishing capelin, a silvery smelt fish that is often caught at night, with scoops rather than fishing lines.
André Desrosiers, mayor of Les Escoumins, said the tragedy is being felt throughout the region and the pain is more poignant because the child victims — all known within the community — had their whole lives ahead of them.
Desrosiers said the municipality is ready to provide support services to residents who are grieving and in shock.
“People are posting candles on social media to show their support and support for families who are affected,” he said. “It’s important in situations like this to express yourself, to verbalize your feelings,” he said.
Saturday was difficult for Les Escoumins resident Mireille Morneau.
“They were well-known people in the community. Everyone knows each other here. We all go to school together. I cried a lot, but it’s a little better today. I offer my help to families if they need it,” she said.
Guylaine Brisebois, another resident of the village, said the tragedy has left her heartbroken.
“I’ve been through something similar before. I wouldn’t want to be in their place. Your heart breaks in this kind of situation. This is very sad news,” she said.
A vigil was held at the church in Les Bergeronnes Sunday afternoon.
Support at school
The four children attended schools within the same school service centre.
Starting on Monday, about 15 psychosocial support workers will be present at the schools to assist students and school staff in their return to their classrooms, said Patricia Lavoie, director of communications at the Centre de services scolaire de l’Estuaire.
“We live in small communities and beyond the families directly affected, a tragedy like this not only has great impact on many young people, but also on staff who work at several establishments on our territory,” she said.
In an email to Radio-Canada, the regional health board said it is ready to offer additional support to locals affected by the tragedy.