GRANDE PRAIRIE — Hundreds of orange helium-filled balloons were released silently into the cool autumn night in memory of four high school football players killed when a pickup truck slammed into their car in northern Alberta.
The coach of the Grande Prairie Composite High School Warriors stood on a players’ bench on the football field and led the gathering in a prayer.
“Be safe tonight. Be there for each other, moving forward,” Rick Gilson told the crowd on Saturday.
Gilson, who’s also the school’s principal, then stepped off the bench and spoke quietly to his young football players who huddled around him.
“We have to be courageous,” he told the boys.
Then he whispered the cheer they would give, and they raised their fists into the air.
“Three, two, one, Brothers! One, two, three, Warriors! Fight On!” they shouted.
Grande Prairie RCMP said Mathew Deller, 16, Vincent Stover, 16, Walter Borden-Wilkens, 15, and Tanner Hildebrand, 15, died early Saturday morning.
Another teen, 15-year-old Zak Judd, was critically injured in the crash and is in stable condition at an Edmonton-area hospital, police said.
All the teens in the car were students at Grande Prairie Composite High School.
Police say the pickup fled the scene, but a man was arrested a short time later.
Brendan Holubowich, 21, of Grande Prairie faces 11 charges, including four counts of impaired driving causing death, and one count of failing to remain at an accident.
Holubowich was released on bail Sunday, and is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 31 at Grande Prairie Provincial Court.
A professional development day had already been scheduled for the high school on Monday, but the school said it will open its doors and have grief counsellors present for any students or parents who wish to speak with them.
Adam Fragomeni, an assistant coach for the Warriors and also a science teacher at the school, said the loss of the boys is overwhelming.
“Being a teacher and a coach, you form a very special bond with them. You spend a lot of time with them, maybe even more than their parents,” Fragomeni said.
“The loss — I just can’t put it into words.”
The Warriors were scheduled to play next Saturday in a Mighty Peace Football League semi-final game. Gilson has told the media that his team will play.
Saturday’s deadly crash comes after four teens died in southern Alberta last weekend, when their car rolled from the road and crashed into a creek east of Magrath, about 210 kilometres southeast of Calgary.
Two 14-year-old girls and two 16-year-old boys were killed in that crash.