Bathurst holds public wake for 7 teens

Thousands of mourners continue to pay their respects in Bathurst, N.B., as mourners pay their respects to seven high school basketball players killed in a weekend crash.

Lineup wraps around arena as mourners gather

Thousands of mourners in Bathurst, N.B., continue to pay their respects to seven high school basketball players killed in a weekend crash.

Hearses travel the snow-covered streets in Bathurst on Tuesday morning. ((CBC))

The line of mourners wrapped around K.C. Irving Centre as mourners waited to enter the building.

Officials said they expected about 10,000 people to attend the public wake, which was to be open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and again from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. AT. But a lull between the two openings was hardly apparent as mourners continued to jam into the arena's parking lot and people continued to wait in line in blowing snow despite officials estimating waits of more than three hours to get inside.

The outpouring of grief in the community is incredible, said Luc Foulen, who helped organize the wake.

"I'm dumbfounded," Foulen told CBC News. "I'm looking at the lineup — that's just insane. I just walked out front and saw that and I took a deep breath."

Once inside, mourners wearing the school's red colour and rings are waiting another hour in line to file past the seven open coffins and speak with the families of the dead boys.

Mourners wait hours to pay respects

"I walked seven kilometres in a snowstorm because I want to come and pay my respects," Lee-Anne Young said.

Young said she didn't know any of the boys or their families but she felt that staying home wasn't an option.

"I think that every citizen in this city, as an individual and in groups, needs to try to do something to come together and show support and try to give comfort to these families," Young said.

About 20 people spent the night working to prepare the arena for the visitation and Wednesday's funeral for the players, all members of the Bathurst High School boys' basketball team.

The boys, along with a local teacher, died early Saturday when the 15-seat Ford Club Wagon van they were travelling in fishtailed and slammed head-on into a tractor-trailer. The teacher, Elizabeth Lord, was the wife of the team's coach, Wayne Lord, who was driving the van.

The coach survived the crash along with his daughter and two other players.

The airport in Bathurst was busy on Monday night and into Tuesday as family and friends of the victims arrived in the bilingual community of about 13,000 to pay their respects. Hotel rooms are filled and all rental cars in town are booked.

Workers at the 3,500-seat arena, the town's largest facility, hung black drapes, removed the glass and laid red carpet along the ice surface, said CBC reporter Steve Bruce.

Support helps ease pain: father

Hearses travelled down the snow-covered roads Tuesday morning in Bathurst, where schools were closed as winter weather once again hit the province.

Five of the players who died — Nathan Cleland, Justin Cormier, Daniel Hains, Javier Acevedo and Codey Branch — were 17 years old. The other two students were Nickolas Quinn, 16, and Nicholas Kelly, 15.

Chris Quinn, father of Nickolas Quinn, said the outpouring of support from across the country means that despite the sadness, Tuesday was a good day.

"It feels good because it helps," Quinn told CBC News as he made his way into the wake. "It take a little bit of the weight off. It doesn't take it away but it shows how special these boys are."

Quinn said he and his family have spent the last few days reflecting on the life of Nickolas and looking through photo albums. Many of the pictures also captured the lives of the other boys who died in the accident, he said.

'Destined to be a leader'

Nickolas, who had served as captain of the provincial soccer team and as a member of his high school's track and field team, wasn't just an accomplished athlete, his father said.

"I want him to be remembered as I see him," Quinn said. "He wasn't just an athlete. He was destined to be a leader. He had so much potential."

Alex Proctor coached four of the boys who also played on a local soccer team.

Though they demonstrated sportsmanship on the pitch, it was off the field that the boys made a real impression, said Proctor, who will also be doing the eulogy for Nickolas Quinn on Wednesday.

The teens were good-natured, friendly and genuine, Proctor told CBC News outside Tuesday's wake.

A rocket on legs

Proctor described Nicholas Kelly as a fantastic teammate.

"He was someone that would go out there for you anywhere, any time," he said.

Nathan was a rocket on legs, Proctor said, and he never saw any kid smile as much in his life as Javier — win or lose.

Many businesses in the small town are expected to close to allow local residents to attend the public funeral on Wednesday.

Officials are expecting as many as 6,000 people to attend the memorial service, including Premier Shawn Graham. Organizers are asking attendees to wear red, the colour of the Phantoms basketball team.

The estimates suggest there won't be enough room inside the arena for everyone. An overflow area is being set up at a smaller, nearby rink where people will be able to watch the funeral service on closed-circuit television. A sound system will also be set up in the K.C. Irving parking lot for people unable to get inside either building.

Though Tuesday's wake is open to the public, the community is banning cameras while people pay their respects. Wednesday's funeral, however, starts at 2 p.m. AT (1 p.m. ET) and will be carrying the event on a live video stream.

Premier Shawn Graham and New Brunswick's Lt.-Gen. Herménégilde Chiasson along with other local, provincial and national dignitaries are scheduled to attend the funeral. The Vatican has also sent a message to the community that will be read at the service.

Separate funeral for teacher

A separate funeral is planned Thursday for Lord, 51, an elementary school teacher known for her love of music.

Flags on government buildings in Bathurst have been lowered to half-mast until Thursday in honour of the dead students and teacher.

Bathurst High School resumed classes Monday, with psychologists and 30 counsellors on hand throughout the week. Many students simply spent the day talking and bouncing basketballs in the school's gym, said Bruce.

School board Supt. John McLaughlin said it was important to try to bring back some sense of routine.

"Some life and some hope is returning to Bathurst High School," McLaughlin said Monday.