'Impossible to forget them': Hundreds honour 2 mothers, children killed in Iran plane disaster

Two families torn apart by the Ukraine International Airlines crash in Iran laid their loved ones to rest at separate memorials. Two mothers, and their children, were mourned by hundreds north of Toronto.

Saharnaz Haghjoo and Elsa Jadidi laid to rest in Canada, Behnaz Ebrahimi and Rahmtin Ahmadi buried in Iran

Hadi Ahmadi speaks about losing his wife and nine-year-old son in the Iran plane disaster

4 years ago
Duration 2:14
Behnaz Ebrahimi and nine-year-old Rahmtin Ahmadi, were ripped away from Hadi Ahmadi when the Ukranian airliner was shot down in Iran earlier this month.

In the quiet of his empty home, it can sometimes feel like Hadi Ahmadi's wife and son are still away on their trip.

It's a short-lived reprieve from the crushing weight of his loss. His wife, Behnaz Ebrahimi, and nine-year-old son, Rahmtin Ahmadi, were ripped away from him when 176 people were killed on Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, which was downed by Iranian forces earlier this month. 

Then reality sets in.

"I don't have them anymore," he says, taking a breath. Each time he can grasp it, the pain begins all over again. 

Rahmtin Ahmadi's room sits empty in his family's home. (Chris Mulligan/CBC)

Ahmadi arrived back to his Toronto home Saturday night after a flight to Iran he never dreamed he would have to make: to identify the remains of his loved ones and lay them to rest. On Sunday, hundreds gathered to honour his wife and son at a memorial in Richmond Hill, Ont. 

It was one of two memorials held Sunday for two mothers and their children killed in the disaster.

Siamak Jadidi also bid his wife and daughter goodbye on Sunday. Saharnaz Haghjoo, 37, and Elsa Jadidi were also on the plane, their remains identified last weekend and returned to their family in Toronto on Saturday. Some 300 people turned out to the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre north of Toronto to honour their memory.

"They were full of love, both mother and daughter, and they always wanted to do good," said Zainab Rasool, who grew up with Haghjoo. "Sahar was just a gem, she was a flower, she walked into the room and she would light up the room."

'I wish I would have gone with them'

Ahmadi flew to Tehran as soon as he heard the news. He had to see his wife and son again. But when he arrived, he learned there was almost nothing left of their remains.

"She was a wonderful wife. The best mother, the best friend, kind to everyone ... she always had a smile," he said through tears. The pair met in Tehran and got married there, before moving to Toronto 16 years ago. 

Behnaz Ebrahimi (pictured) met Hadi Ahmadi and got married in Tehran, before moving to Toronto 16 years ago.  (Submitted by Hadi Ahmadi)

Rahmtin, he said, loved dinosaurs and especially hugs from friends, teachers and just about anyone around him. He had Down Syndome and was in a special class at school, his father said.

"Rahmtin had a short life, but I think he had the best life. He was always happy. He had whatever he wanted," Ahmadi said. "I wish I would have gone with them to Iran instead of staying behind to work."

On the morning after the news of the disaster, Ahmadi recalled Rahmtin's school bus driver arriving ready to pick him up.

"I went to see the driver. I told him Rahmtin is not coming home anymore," Ahmadi said, explaining what had happened. 

Nine-year-old Rahmtin Ahmadi was among 176 passengers killed during the Iran plane disaster. (Submitted by Hadi Ahmadi)

When he looked out 15 minutes later, the bus was still there, the driver's head resting on the wheel in grief. That afternoon, he got a phone call from the school saying all of Rahmtin's teachers had been crying recalling those special hugs. 

At the ceremony for Saharnaz Haghjoo and Elsa Jadidi, Haghjoo's father thanked Canadians for all the support shown to his family and the victims since the disaster.

"My family is now from this city to the ocean, from East to West," he said. "The amount of compassion, sympathy, they're all with me," he said. "Everyone, I really thank you."


But amid the gratitude, his pain was palpable.

"I hope nothing like this happens to not even my worst enemy. This is unbearable," he said, his voice breaking.

Haghjoo had been an employee of YWCA Toronto since 2015 and helped newcomer women and girls get the services they needed to settle in Canada. 

Elsa was a student at the Brampton-based Wali ul Asr Islamic school. Since Elsa's death, a photo of a drawing she did a few months prior has been a small comfort to students, the school said. 

The drawing showed a beaming Elsa holding a large, white poster with the words, in letters the colours of the rainbow, "Life in Heavin."

Saharnaz Haghjoo, 37, and Elsa Jadidi were also on the plane, their remains identified last weekend and returned to their family in Toronto Saturday. Some 300 people turned out to the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre north of Toronto to honour their memory. (Myriam Eddahia/CBC)

She drew three mosques: one of the mosque of the prophet's family, another with the words "Pray Salah" and the third that recognizes the Qur'an. Butterflies flutter near a palm tree with a bounty of coconuts. A creek flows along one edge. And a sun shines brightly on the entire scene.

"It does give people a little bit of comfort that she visualized something so wonderful that will be her reward to be in a good place," said the school's principal, Mina Mozaffarian.

Through the grief, the ways in which Canadians have banded together has been a light, said Daryoush Kari, president of the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre, which shares a parking lot with the neighbouring synagogue. After the tragedy, he said, the rabbi, a good friend, visited the mosque to deliver prayers.

Saharnaz Haghjoo and her daughter Elsa Jadidi are seen in this handout photo. (Habib Haghjoo/The Canadian Press)

"One of the first slogans I saw when I came to Canada was 'The world needs more Canada.' I didn't get it at that time, but when it comes to this kind of times, I realize it," he said. 

For Ahmadi, the silence in his home is almost too much to bear. He's overcome with grief when he opens the door to his son's room for the first time since the tragedy. 

"Everywhere I look, I have a memory of them," he said. "It's impossible to forget them, it's impossible to live without them."

"I really don't know how to start my life again, if there's anything left."

With files from Shannon Martin, The Canadian Press