A community continues to grieve after the frantic search for seven-year-old Nia Eastman ended in tragedy when she was found dead in a Choiceland home last Thursday.
“It affects the whole community,” said Mayor Robert Mardell. “Of course it’s going to affect everyone.”
An Amber Alert was activated Nov. 10 after Eastman wasn’t dropped off at her mother’s house by her father, Adam Jay Eastman.
Adam was found dead with self-inflicted wounds that morning. Nia was located by police a few hours later.
Mardell said counsellors were already in place at Choiceland’s William Mason School to help students cope.
Rob McKay, superintendent with the Northeast School Division, drove in from Melfort to help staff at the kindergarten to Grade 12 school address students Monday morning.
“We try to keep things as normal as possible in a tragedy like this,” he said.
“We have supports for students and staff, but certainly there’s a feeling of sadness in the building.”
McKay said children could access counsellors at any time, while mental health workers from the health region were on hand to support adults.
“A school is a family. This is a place where kids especially can be with their friends and support each other as well,” he said.
Two additional counsellors will attend a community meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Choiceland’s Memorial Hall.
Since the announcement of Eastman’s death, a crowdfunding effort has collected more than $25,000 to support her mother and offset funeral expenses.
Choiceland’s mayor said supporting others is built into small rural Saskatchewan communities.
“It’s always something that small-town Saskatchewan has done,” Mardell said.
“I’m proud of the individuals in this community that have taken it upon their shoulders to do this.”
In nearby Nipawin, the local pee wee hockey team dedicated their game Sunday night to Eastman.
According to Mardell, Eastman was well known and loved in the community as a girl who was always smiling.
“She’s going to be missed, because when she walked into a room, she lit everything up,” he said.
“How could you not love a pretty seven-year-old girl that’s full of life?”
Mardell said he was sympathetic to the family of Nia’s father Adam Jay Eastman, but carries “a lot of anger” as a father himself.
“What was so terrible that led a father to do this to his young child?” he asked.
“I can’t imagine how he became so disjointed that he was able to perform such an act. Everyone has their demons that they have to deal with. Some people are strong enough to deal with them, and some aren’t. And obviously Jay wasn’t.”
According to Mardell, flowers and tokens left by mourners have been accumulating around the home where Nia was found, and a vigil may be organized by a local church.
“This is the way the community is grieving right now,” he said.
Choiceland is located around 100 kilometres east of Prince Albert.
– with files from Nigel Maxwell, paNOW.com