Chase Martens vigil remembers toddler, comforts grieving family

Dozens of mourners gathered in Austin, Man., on Sunday to say goodbye to Chase Martens and comfort his grieving family.

Dozens of people gathered Sunday evening near creek where Chase was found

Vigil held after body of Chase Martens found in Manitoba creek 1:39

Dozens of mourners gathered in Austin, Man., on Sunday to say goodbye to Chase Martens and comfort his grieving family.

After an extensive search, the two-year-old was found dead Saturday in a creek near his rural Manitoba home.

As part of Sunday's vigil, as many as 40 people walked seven minutes down a muddy trail to the creek where the toddler was found. Toys and stuffed animals were placed in the trees, and Chase's parents embraced.

A member of Winnipeg's Bear Clan Patrol sang a travelling song for Chase while mourners stared out onto the icy creek.

The parents of Chase Martens embrace near the creek where their son was found as part of a vigil for the toddler on Sunday. (CBC/Erin Brohman)

After the vigil on Sunday, Margaret Thomas, Chase's aunt from Grand Rapids, said the family was "so grateful" to have had the ceremony.

She also wanted to thank volunteers from a neighbouring faith community who have supported the family since Chase disappeared on Tuesday. 

"The Mennonite community has been amazing. Since he went missing, they provided all the food to us all week. Amazing food," Thomas said. 

On Sunday members from the Mennonite community brought the family sandwiches, roast beef, ham, muffins, potato soup and bannock. The family said they would prepare Chase a meal and leave it by the creek to give him strength for his journey back to the Creator.

Chase's family 'completely heartbroken'

Chase Martens was found dead in a creek Saturday in the Austin, Man., area, about 120 kilometres west of Winnipeg. (Facebook)
"[The family] is completely devastated as they come to grips with the tragic loss of their little boy," the Canadian Centre for Child Protection said in a statement Sunday on behalf of the family.
"They would like to express their heartfelt gratitude to the RCMP, Manitoba Fire Commissioner and the caring and generous community volunteers who searched around the clock in the search for Chase. While they are completely heartbroken, they have been overwhelmed by the love and kindness our community has shown their family."

James Favel, the co-ordinator of the Bear Clan Patrol, a Winnipeg North End watch group, helped spread word about Sunday's vigil.

The event was open to the public, he said. Directions to the site were available on the Bear Clan Patrol's Facebook page.

Favel helped search for the little boy and said his heart aches for the family's loss.

"As a father and grandfather, to lose a loved one is always a hard thing. When it's a two-year-old child, it's made that much more difficult," he said.

Another vigil was held Sunday in Winnipeg at The Forks. Approximately 20 people took part in drumming and singing to say goodbye to Chase.

Nobody expects a child to die — it's just a straight-out tragedy.— Funeral director Mike  Vogiatzakis

Martens was reported missing from his family's farm home near Austin, Man., about 120 kilometres west of Winnipeg, on Tuesday evening.

Police and hundreds of volunteers mounted an aggressive four-day search for Chase, combing a four-kilometre radius from where he was last seen alive. 

The search came to a tragic end Saturday when the boy's body was located by search-and-rescue crews about half a kilometre south of the home just after 1 p.m. CT, RCMP said. The spot where he was found had been checked several times.

RCMP confirmed that Chase Martens, 2, was found in Pine Creek in the Austin, Man., area. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
RCMP Sgt. Bert Paquet said it appears Chase wandered off the family property and ended up in the creek. Chase's parents have previously said it was not like him to wander away from home without the family dog.

Robert Smith, one of the volunteers who found Chase in the creek Saturday, said the toddler's death makes him paranoid that something similar could happen to his kids.

"This isn't the first time I've been scared [for] my kids," Smith said. "We live along a little creek that feeds into Pine Creek, and the first thing you do when your kids are missing, you go to the creek and look, because kids are curious."

An autopsy was scheduled to take place Sunday. Paquet said at this point there are no signs of foul play.
Flowers were laid on a patch of ice on the creek where Chase Martens was found dead Saturday. (Chrisy Thomas)

Bill Nickel, who lives in Austin, said the local community was grateful for the support it received from volunteers during the week.

"All the people that came out to help, it's worth a lot," Nickel said. "I felt sorry. I know the grandparents very well and I know they've gone through a lot."

Paquet estimated that about "30,000 volunteer hours" went into the search for Chase in just four days.

Chrisy Thomas, Chase's aunt, posted a photo online she took at the site where her nephew was found. Family placed roses on a patch of ice on the creek Saturday.

Prayer said for Chase

On Sunday morning in Austin, about 175 people attended a church service at Austin Evangelical Fellowship. A prayer was said for Chase at the Easter service.

Darren Toews, a father of three from nearby MacGregor, Man., was at the service. He said families in the country are more free when it comes to letting kids explore.

"It's not something I would ever blame the parents for. It's just one of those things," he said. "We don't have our kids in fences and stuff; we let them play outside to their appropriate age group."

About 175 people attended a church service in Austin, Man., Sunday. Attendees joined in a prayer for Chase Martens, the two-year-old boy found dead in a local creek Saturday. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

Plans for a memorial service haven't been announced, but Mike Vogiatzakis, director of Voyage Funeral Home, has offered to cover the costs of the service.

"The family is going through the most devastating time of their lives and we just try to offer our help," Vogiatzakis said. "They shouldn't have a financial burden on top of everything else."

Since 1998, Vogiatzakis said, his Winnipeg funeral home has been helping cover service costs for families who have lost children under tragic circumstances.

Chase's death has touched "hundreds of thousands of people," which influenced Vogiatzakis to offer support again in this case.

"Nobody expects a child to die — it's just a straight-out tragedy," he said. "It definitely touched my heart. It was a little two-year-old. It's not about money. When a little one passes away, we will do whatever we can."

While he hasn't yet spoken with the family, Vogiatzakis said he wants them to know about his offer.

"I think it's important for parents to see that there is people out there that care, that life is not only about money. It's about helping one another."

With files from CBC's Erin Brohman, Nelly Gonzalez, Bryce Hoye and Laura Glowacki