'He was like another brother': Humboldt Broncos player mourned by billet family who took him in

Friday's bus crash claimed the lives of 15 people, many of them junior hockey players who were away from home and being hosted by billet families. The Current spoke to one family whose members are mourning a young man they took in as one of their own.
The Warford family, who take in young hockey players when they move away from home to train. From left to right: Dudley, Colten, Laurie, Shelby and Taryn Warford. (Geoff Turner/CBC)
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When Laurie Warford texted Evan Thomas on Friday evening, she thought it was odd that he didn't reply.

Evan, 18, had been living with Warford's family as their "billet" — the name used for aspiring hockey players who move far from home to pursue their sporting dreams, and are hosted by local families.

He was one of 15 people who died in Friday's bus crash that devastated the city of Humboldt, Sask., and sent ripples of grief across Canada.

"[The text] was: 'Good luck tonight buddy, see you on Sunday, hopefully on home ice,'" Laurie said.

"And now here we are tonight, going to a vigil."

Evan had moved to Humboldt from his home in Saskatoon, more than 100 kilometres away. Laurie told The Current's Geoff Turner that Evan was a shy, respectful boy. He was devoted to hockey, but also had hopes of becoming a doctor if his sporting career didn't take off.

Evan Thomas, 18, became part of the family for the Warfords, who hosted him in Humboldt. (Humboldt Broncos website)
Laurie and Dudley Warford remember Evan Thomas, the young man they cared for. 1:16

Laurie and her family have taken billets for the past decade, hosting six players and three trainers over the years. They become close to all of them, she said, and Evan was no exception.

"We make them a part of our family ... and of course when something like this happens you lose a family member, and that's hard," said her husband Dudley.

"My kids are very attached to Evan, even our pet cat."

For their son Colten, a middle child with two sisters, Evan provided some sibling balance.

"We spent a lot of time downstairs in the gaming room whether it was playing Xbox or playing a game of pool… just spending time with each other," he said.

"It's nice to have another guy around; he's like your brother that you never had."

The Warfords left this tribute to Evan Thomas during a vigil at Elgar Petersen Arena on Sunday night. (Geoff Turner/CBC)
Geoff Turner tells Anna Maria Tremonti about a small memorial, from two children to the young man they saw as a big brother 0:29

The Warfords left a tribute to Evan at the Elgar Petersen Arena — the Broncos' home ice — during a vigil to remember those lost in the crash. It took the form of a box of Kraft Dinner with a note attached to it that reads, "To Evan, Game day special. Love, your billet brother and  sister Colten and Shelby."

THE HUMBOLDT BRONCOS TRAGEDY: 

The eldest Warford child, Taryn, is 23 and lives in Saskatoon, so she didn't know Evan that well. But being part of a billet family was part of her childhood, and she understands what many families in Humboldt will be going through.

"It's just so hard to think about how the young ones are feeling," she said, "and the parents who have to explain that their Bronco isn't going to be coming home."

"It's just very hard to think about everyone and what they're going through — the shoes left at the door, and their spot at the table."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


This segment was produced by The Current's Geoff Turner. 

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