The Chronicle Herald

Dec. 3, 2015

LOUISDALE - Sometimes terrible things happen to good people for no reason.

"You can ask why, why do these things happen?" Eva Landry said Wednesday.

"But there's no answers for that."

On Tuesday night, Landry was one of the nearly 400 people who filled the St. Louis Catholic Church in the small Acadian community of Louisdale to wrestle with that question.

Earlier that day, a car travelling on Highway 104 drifted slightly over the centre line and, according to RCMP spokesman Const. Mark Skinner, side-swiped another vehicle. Suddenly, the drivers of four vehicles in the immediate vicinity were reacting.

Skinner said the investigation could take months, but what is certain is that knowing who made what mistake won't bring back Kayla Cotton.

The 26-year-old teacher at Felix Marchand Education Centre was driving one of the vehicles caught up in the squealing chaos of steel and rubber Tuesday shortly after lunch.

She graduated from St. Francis Xavier University's bachelor of education program in 2013. She loved sports, the outdoors, teaching children and coaching volleyball.

With her inside the vehicle were a 13-year-old Mexican foreign exchange student and a 12-year-old girl she was taking to volleyball practice, a 15-minute drive from their homes in Louisdale.

Curtis Doucet's pager went off moments after the vehicles came to a stop.

"Your heart drops," said the chief of the Port Hawkesbury Volunteer Fire Department of hearing the call for the Jaws of Life.

Soon, the stillness that

surrounded the wreckage and terrified survivors on the stretch of two-lane highway between exits 43 and 44 was pierced by sirens.

"We performed a vehicle extrication and took the one critical out," said Doucet, using the language of first responders.

Cotton and the other girl were dead.

"When you see the parents coming up to the scene it's never easy," Doucet said.

An ambulance rushed the one surviver to the Strait Richmond Hospital in nearby Evanston, where she was prepared for an emergency flight to Halifax, but the girl's heart stopped.

In the hallway of the hospital, a young priest from Nigeria, not long out of the seminary, said prayers for the dead.

"When this happens, you ask, ‘Where is God?" said Rev. Callistus Abazie on Wednesday.

"It is natural to think this."

The girl who died at the scene regularly attended St. Louis Catholic Church.

"She was such a lovely girl," said Abazie.

"She had such a beautiful voice."

Though new to the community, Abazie knew his role.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the bells of the church rang. A heartsick community filled the pews to sanctify their grief with a requiem mass.

"Whatever happens to one person has happened to every other member of the community," said Abazie.

"We cannot grieve alone. We need the support of one another and of God himself, who can only heal the broken heart."

After the church doors opened and people returned to their homes, Doucet was still out on the highway with the RCMP crash investigator.

When all the tire tracks had been measured, each piece of each vehicle labelled and everything photographed, his team was allowed to remove the bodies. He left at about 11:30 p.m.

"It hits home," said Doucet. "We've got a group of guys here who will talk to each other and keep an eye out for each other."

On Wednesday morning, Janice Campbell walked into Richmond Education Centre/Academy and looked the former classmates of the deceased girls in the eye.

"You have to be honest with them" said the official with the Strait regional school board.

The children poured out their feelings in crayons and pencils and markers.

"Some may need something physical, may need a punching bag," said Campbell. "A good teacher knows their students and what they need."

In these first days, she said, routine will be important.

"They will need normalcy and structure. I know it's not the normal they're used to, it's a new normal."

Aaron Beswick