Leonard Norwest struggled to speak Wednesday about his three granddaughters who were among five people killed in a central Alberta highway crash.
“I can’t find my words,” said Norwest from the Samson Cree Nation, one of four that make up the community of Maskwacis south of Edmonton.
Norwest identified his granddaughters as Cheyane Soosay, 22, Dominique Northwest, 19, and Latesha Northwest, 23.
The sisters were travelling with Anthony Swampy, 30, and Terrelle Minde, 22, when their Pontiac Sunfire and an SUV collided near Millet, about 30 kilometres south of Maskwacis, on Tuesday afternoon.
RCMP said four of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene, while the fifth later died in hospital. The driver, who was alone in the second vehicle, suffered minor injuries.
Officers continued to investigate the cause of the crash.
Norwest said his granddaughters grew up on the Samson reserve but were most recently living in nearby Wetaskiwin. Two of them were mothers of young children.
The day of the crash, the women were on their way to Edmonton to put money in an account for someone in custody at the remand centre, he said.
Their father, Orville Northwest, was planning to go to the crash site to smudge the area to help the young women on their journey to the spirit world.
“He’s taking it hard. He was always close to his kids,” said Norwest.
Kevin Buffalo, a councillor with the Samson Cree band and a former teacher, said he taught the three sisters in school.
Minde was from Samson and her spouse, Swampy, was from the nearby Ermineskin Cree Nation, he said.
All five names were confirmed late Wednesday by the Samson Cree Nation.
“We’re in a lot of pain because they were young people,” said Buffalo.
“It’s going to be a trying time as we go through this process of grieving, but the community will come together as we always do.”
The First Nation also posted condolences on its website.
Samson Chief Vernon Saddleback told a news conference earlier Wednesday that many in the community were having a tough time. He said he had spent the morning speaking with some of the victims’ grandmothers.
“It’s tough to lose one family member, you know, but when you lose five from a community – I’m still in shock myself,” he said.