A sombre morning gave way to an uplifting afternoon salute at a makeshift and growing memorial near Kamloops Airport on Monday, the day after a Canadian Forces Snowbirds squadron member died when the jet in which she was a passenger crashed in Brocklehurst, shortly after takeoff.
Capt. Jennifer Casey of Halifax, the squadron’s public affairs officer, was killed and the aircraft’s pilot, Capt. Richard MacDougall, seriously injured in a crash that saw their jet crashing in the area of Glenview Drive and Schreiner Street.
Casey and MacDougall’s plane took off from Kamloops Airport at about 11:45 a.m., bound for Comox,. It rose, then veered to the left and barrel rolled toward the ground.
The Snowbirds squadron was in Kamloops on its cross-country tour, dubbed Operation Inspiration, saluting frontline health-care workers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
An investigation into the crash is ongoing.
Amidst cloudy skies on Monday morning, a small number of residents stopped by the growing memorial off Tranquille Road near the airport, where the other Snowbird jets remain grounded.
People young and old paid their respects, pinning flowers, Canadian flags and messages on cutout hearts on the chain link fence just outside the airport.
Sandi Benson placed a purple, star-shaped balloon to the fence, symbolizing a purple heart — the American medal given to soldiers wounded or killed in the line of duty.
“My dad was in the army and I just felt that it was fitting that I come out and put a purple star for Jen and for Capt. MacDougall,” Benson said.
The Kamloops resident, originally from Newfoundland said she enjoyed being able to contribute to the memorial.
“My heart’s breaking right now. I can’t believe that happened here,” she said.
A woman named Danielle, who did not wish to give her last name, could be found tying a Nova Scotia tartan to the fence, honouring Casey, who hails from Halifax. MacDougall is also from the Maritimes and called Moncton, N.B. home.
“It’s just sad. They’re so far from home, so it’s a little piece of home for her,” said the fellow Nova Scotian who has lived in Kamloops for about four years.
Terry-Lynn Stone and her husband pinned Canadian flags on the fence.
The Little Heffley Lake resident said she was horrified when she heard what happened.
“It’s a bad enough thing, but when it’s local, it just seems to hurt so much more,” she told KTW.
Lynn and Bob Klages could be found placing a bouquet of red flowers at the memorial.
“It’s a very sad time,” Bob said.
As the clouds cleared and sun came out after noon, the numbers at the memorial swelled, with some 200 people, including many First Nations elders and band members, gathering for a community-organized drumming circle honouring Casey.
The event also drew the attention of some members of the Canadian Forces who came across the ceremony by happenstance.
Lt. Alexandra Hejduk, public affairs officer for 19 Wing Comox, which is assisting the Snowbirds, could be seen saluting from the road, leading the group of drummers to turn and face her. She also received a number of condolences from members of the public and band chiefs.
“We raised our hands up so their spirits could be lifted,” event organizer Kathy Lampreau said.
Hejduk said the military community is grieving the loss of Casey as if she was a member of their own individual families.
“It’s a communal grief that we all have right now and we’re not alone and we know this,” Hejduk said. “This is more than anybody could even imagine as a tribute.”
Lampreau, who organized the event with her sister, said they felt they needed to do something and hopes the ceremony provided healing thoughts and prayers to those impacted by Sunday’s tragedy.