By Alex Cooke, The Canadian Press
YARMOUTH, N.S. — A small Nova Scotia town has come together in grief after a little girl was killed during the annual Santa Claus parade in Yarmouth on Saturday evening.
What was supposed to be a fun holiday celebration turned to tragedy when the girl, aged four, fell underneath a moving parade float while running alongside it during the procession, police have said.
She was rushed to a local hospital by paramedics but was pronounced dead a short time later.
“It’s a tragedy beyond anything anyone could have imagined,” said Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood on Sunday. “Most important, I think, is the community reaching out to each other, trying to comfort each other.”
Mood said while the young girl’s family is first in her mind, she is also thinking about the first responders and the people — several of whom were children — who witnessed the accident, which happened on one of the town’s main thoroughfares.
She said a grief specialist will speak with some of the people dealing with the loss.
Condolences are pouring in on social media, with some encouraging Yarmouth residents to help support the girl’s grieving parents.
The incident hit home for Chellesey Lusk, a Yarmouth woman who lost her infant son to SIDS in January, who said she wants to use her own experience with grief to help the family.
“The community really pulled together and helped us out tremendously,” recalled Lusk, 29. “We wanted to be able to give back to somebody else in need, so the family knows they don’t have to be alone in this.”
Lusk has been asking residents to make donations to help the girl’s parents with her funeral costs as soon as arrangements are made with a local funeral home, likely next week.
“If we can help relieve one struggle that comes along with child loss, we feel it helps people to know there’s people there to help them,” she said.
Sean Mills, a Yarmouth fisherman and Lusk’s cousin-in-law, also took to Facebook to ask that people be there to support the little girl’s family.
“I don’t know their financial situation and I can’t pretend to know what they feel, but I just feel that not everybody would be prepared for a funeral, especially a funeral for a child,” he said.
A witness to the incident described a scene of terror that shattered the small port town’s holiday celebration.
Vance Webb said he noticed the float stop and heard screaming. He said the entire scene descended into “mayhem” as people realized what had happened.
“People within 50 feet of it — none of us are OK. All the adults were crying. Everywhere I saw, there were hundreds of people crying,” Webb said.
On Sunday, Nova Scotia RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dal Hutchinson said the investigation is ongoing, and notes that officers are taking particular care due to the sensitive nature of the tragedy.
The incident was too traumatic to take proper statements from the girl’s parents and the person driving the float, he said, but “over time” police will speak with them.
“People are focusing on the fact that this little girl’s life was taken last night as the result of a tragic incident,” he said. “This close to Christmas, and so many people there with their families to have witnessed this incident, it’s impacting a lot of people.”
Hutchinson added that anyone affected by the incident should talk about it with others and seek support to deal with the trauma.
Parade organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday, but in a Facebook post on the Yarmouth Christmas Parade of Lights Facebook page, they said they were “devastated by the traumatic accident” during the parade.
“We, along with the community, mourn the family’s loss and are praying for everyone affected,” read the post. “The focus is on coming together as a community and helping this family through a very difficult time.”