Vigil consoles boy orphaned by B.C. crash

About a hundred people attend a candlelight ceremony in the Edmonton neighbourhood of Mill Woods to support 11-year-old Aashar Mahmood, whose family died in a highway crash earlier this month in B.C.

The Edmonton boy devastated by a horrific highway crash that killed his entire family earlier this month in B.C. was surrounded by friends and community Wednesday night at a memorial.

Aashar Mahmood, whose family died in a collision on the Trans-Canada Highway, told the CBC earlier this month that he tries 'to forget that they're not there.' ((CBC))

About a hundred people came out to the candlelight ceremony in the Edmonton neighbourhood of Mill Woods to support 11-year-old Aashar Mahmood.

Aashar's parents and two teenaged sisters, as well his grandfather and a family friend, died Aug. 1 near Golden, B.C., when their minivan slammed head-on into an RV.

The green Dodge Caravan drifted over the centre line on the Trans-Canada Highway before the crash, RCMP said.

Aashar was travelling with family friends in another van just behind them and witnessed the collision.

The boy seemed in good spirits Wednesday night as he watched people he knew, as well as complete strangers, light candles to remember his family, the CBC's Min Dhariwal reported.

One by one, they took their candles and formed a semi-circle around Aashar.

"Words don't begin to describe the pain that [he] must feel," Dhariwal said. Aashar "has had to put on a brave face."

'He will remember'

Youth from the community helped organize the memorial, which also served to raise funds to help pay for the Madmood family's funeral.

Aashar, bottom left, with his parents (Arshad, 47, centre, and Shakila, top right) and sisters (Dolly, 15, top left, and Mahlaka, 13). ((John Ulan of Epic Photography, courtesy of the Edmonton Journal))

"The point is for us to remember and to show our support and solidarity with respect to him, so that when he grows older he will remember that 'my family passed away and the whole community of Edmonton gathered together to come and care,' " said Zeshan Ullah, one of the young people who aided in putting together the ceremony.

City Coun. Amarjeet Sohi, who knew Aashar's father, Arshad Mahmood, said the tragedy is simply overwhelming — as is the support that's been given by the community.

"It has really brought out the goodness in people and the compassionate side of the people," Sohi said. "And some of these young people didn't know the family at all, but they are being mobilized because they feel that there is something that needs to be done."

Gina Connolly, a music teacher at Lee Ridge Elementary School, came to the vigil to remember her former student, Aashar's sister Mahlaka. 

"They are all coming together. It's a really very strong community there, and I think he'll be fine. That's the impression I get from it. I hope so," she said.

Adoption offers

The Mahmood family funeral, held Aug. 6, cost more than $50,000. The Pakistani Canadian Association of Edmonton paid for it and hopes funds raised will help cover the cost, with leftover money going to a trust fund set up for young Aashar.

There's no word yet on whether the 11-year-old, whose family immigrated to Canada in 2006, will continue to live in the country or return to his extended family in Pakistan.

A close family friend and five other families in Edmonton have already offered to take him in.