A St. John's clergyman who worked closely with the pastor killed with six other people in a fiery crash on an Alberta highway says it has been difficult accepting his friend's death.


Gary Andrews had worked closely with Shannon Wheaton for several years. (CBC)

"We — we were just devastated," said Gary Andrews, who is now pastor with the Cornerstone Ministry Centre in St. John's, describing his reaction to news that Shannon Wheaton, his wife Trena Thompson-Wheaton and one of their two preschool sons, two-year-old Ben Wheaton, were killed.

Wheaton and his family were travelling on northern Alberta's notorious Highway 63 with two friends — Courtney and Mark Penney — when a pickup truck pulled into their lane while trying to pass another vehicle. Mark Penney, 28, survived the crash, as did the Wheatons' older son, Timothy, 3.

Andrews had worked with Shannon Wheaton for five years in Grand Falls-Windsor through Windsor Pentecostal Church. He said Friday's tragedy cut close to the bone, as he knew how much the Wheatons had wanted to raise a family.

"They had wanted children for a number of years, and were finally able to have children and, you know, here we are saying goodbye to them," he said.


Mark and Courtney Penney, seen here at Halloween with Ben and Timothy Wheaton, were close friends with the Wheaton family. (Facebook)

Wheaton and his family moved to Fort McMurray in 2010, where he worked with Family Christian Centre. Trena Thompson-Wheaton was born and raised in Gander, and had worked at the town's regional hospital as a nurse. Shannon Wheaton had been raised in the Gander Bay community of Frederickton, where his parents still live.

Andrews said his congregation has offered prayers for Timothy, the only surviving member of the family.

"This precious young boy, beautiful young boy and just thinking of what life will be for him now as he grows up without mom and dad," Andrews said.

Friends have described the Penneys and Wheatons as best close friends. Courtney Penney had been expecting the couple's first child.

"Mark's best friends were Shannon and Trena. I don't know what it's going to be like when he realizes he's lost his wife, his baby and his best friends," said April Anstey, who attends the Family Christian Centre in Fort McMurray.

Three people — a man, a woman and an 11-year-old girl — who had been riding in the other truck in the collision were killed. They have not been identified.