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Hundreds gather in Amqui, Que., for vigil honouring victims of deadly crash

Hundreds of residents of Amqui, Que., fell silent Thursday night outside the Saint-Benoît-Joseph-Labre Church.

Some bowed their heads and clutched candles as the tightly knit community gathered for a vigil to honour those who were killed and injured when a pickup truck slammed into a group of pedestrians on Monday. 

After a moment of silence, the crowd sang Ave Maria and held candles up to the sky for the nine people who were hurt and the two men — Gérald Charest, 65, and Jean Lafrenière, 73 — who were killed in what police say was a deliberate act.

People hold small candles up, while standing in coats and gloves outside.
The parish distributed some 200 candles to attendees, who joined in singing Ave Maria. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

“They were better people than me,” said resident Aurel Chabot.

He was close friends with both men and says their deaths have punched a hole in the heart of the town.

“It broke the town’s energy, we won’t hide that… When you’re walking, you think about it, as you go to sleep, you think about it … It’s like the kids in Laval,” said Chabot, referring to last month’s deadly crash at a daycare in that Montreal suburb. 

A man in a blue jacket looks at the camera.
Aurel Chabot knew both men who died in the crash, which police say was deliberate. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

Chabot says he grew up with Charest — both being from the nearby municipality of Albertville.

“They were well-loved, warm people who took care of others. It’s not fair,” said Chabot. “We are keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t lose others.”

His sister, Aline Chabot, says it’s been difficult accepting this tragedy.

“We are trying to figure out why, but there is no reason why this happened. We have to live with this,” she said. “We are trying to move forward, together, to make it through this.”

Claude Paquet, another resident, said how he will forever hold dear his memories of his late friend, Charest. They both volunteered for local hockey tournaments in town.

“He was happy all the time. He was a comedian too, funny, with a strong personality and always cheerful,” said Paquet.

Flowers and candles and messages are placed on a stairwell. A sign reads "love for all."
Flowers and candles were placed along the steps inside the church. A sign reads, ‘love for all.’ (Rachel Watts/CBC)

Charest’s good sense of humour ran in the family and things “always ended in laughter,” said Paquet.

He added that this vigil is important to honour his memory and to move forward.

“We have to continue to live. We have to wish those who overcame this tragedy love and good luck, even to the person who caused this tragedy… We have to look forward to the future that we have, for next week and tomorrow,” said Paquet.

A man stands in front of microphones
Quebec Premier François Legault encouraged residents to return to their daily lives after grieving. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

Earlier on Thursday, Premier François Legault visited Amqui, shook hands with residents and hugged one of Charest’s brothers. 

“Let’s not let madness triumph over hope. We have to be able to find our joy. Life is beautiful, Amqui is beautiful … Yes, there is a period of grief but after that we need to be courageous, to find the joy in life. We are all with you,” said Legault.

Intervention workers wearing white vests were at the church and throughout the town. They continue to talk to people in need of support. The church is preparing to hold a mass to honour the victims on Friday evening.

The driver of the truck has been charged with two counts of dangerous driving causing death, with more charges expected in the future, according to the Crown.

A man holds a small candle in an orange glass container
The church is preparing to hold a mass to honour the victims on Friday evening. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

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