LASHBURN, Sask. — Dalbert Attfield had hope that his 15-year-old son was still alive when the Mounties asked him and his wife to drive down the highway to the next Saskatchewan town so they could meet and talk about a car crash involving the teen.
A grief counsellor and two officers were waiting for them at the Legion hall in Marshall and asked to see a picture of their boy, Tarren, on one of their cell phones.
They then told the parents their son had died in the crash with several of his friends — six teens in total.
They cried and denied it was possible.
Then Attfield went to the morgue.
He unzipped a body bag containing one bloated corpse pulled from the bottom of a road-side slough and recognized the bright boy with blond hair and blue eyes who often resembled singer Justin Bieber.
He kissed his cold face over and over again.
“I told him how much his sister and I would miss him,” Attfield sobbed Sunday outside his home in the town of Lashburn.
“I couldn’t leave him. I just wanted to bring him home with me. That was my little man.”
Attfield and his wife, Cherie, recounted what they knew of the crash, how their son had gone to the gym with friends on Friday afternoon.
And later that evening, how his best buddy, 16-year-old Jayden Boettcher, phoned his mother back home in Marshall because he was having trouble with his Pontiac Sunfire.
She phoned a gas station and they gave him $20 worth of gas because she promised to return the next day and pay the bill, said Dalbert Attfield.
Cherie Attfield said the boys had been at a friend’s home about 30 kilometres away in Lloydminster, the city straddling the Saskatchewan-Alberta boundary.
Tarren had “free reign,” she said, because if he was out drinking at a party he always called her for a ride.
“He was a good boy, never had to worry about him, was really never in any trouble,” she said. “I didn’t care as long as a knew where he was at.”
RCMP said they got a call about 4:30 a.m. the next day about a semi roll-over south of Lloydminster. First responders found the truck, which was hauling crude oil, on its roof in a road-side slough.
They got out the driver, found a teenager in the wreckage and rushed them both to hospital.
But at some point, police realized there were more people in the water.
The two-door Sunfire was completely submerged and out of sight, and it took some time to retrieve the bodies of two other boys and three girls.
The boy taken to hospital, who the Attfields believed to be Jayden, later died of his injuries.
Police have identified the other victims as Kristopher Tavener, 17, of Marshall, Naomi Salas-Schafer, 13, and Aimie Candace Elizabeth Hurley and Mackenzie Moen, both 14, all of Lloydminster.
Cpl. Rob King said Sunday that investigators believe the teens weren’t wearing seatbelts when they were recovered from the vehicle, but he stressed that doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t wearing them at the time of the collision.
He said that information won’t be known until autopsies are completed.
Attfield said his son was a good kid, who got good grades and was usually responsible.
But he questions why the group was travelling on back roads instead of the Yellowhead Highway, the main route linking the rural communities.
His wife said it also appears the car may have gone through a stop sign.
The intersection lies among rolling hills dotted with bright yellow canola fields and oil pump jacks and, like most roads in the area, is busy with big trucks.
A wooden cross with Tarren’s name and a bouquet of fresh flowers stands among pieces of broken glass and plastic auto parts, right where the car and semi hurdled into the water.
Attfield erected it, he said, because he doesn’t know what else to do now that his son is gone. The oilfield worker said his 68-year-old mother also died two weeks ago.
Paying for two funerals so soon means he’ll have to take out another bank loan, he said.
“My heart’s so broken right now,” Attfield said, wiping away tears.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do all this.”