A candlelight vigil held Friday night paid tribute to three members of a Peterborough-area family killed in a collision last week.
The Nov. 22 collision on Hwy. 7 just east of Peterborough claimed the lives of members of the “MacHart” family of Otonabee-South Monaghan Township: 18-year-old Riddick Hart, and his parents Stefphanie Hart, 52, and Jonathan MacDonnell, 46. Riddick’s sister Rowghan Hart, 14, remains at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto with life-threatening injuries.
Jason Schmidt, 42, of Hastings, was the fourth victim in the collision between an SUV and pick-up truck.
Among 80 people attended the vigil, which was organized by Revolutions Dance Studio on Park Street where Riddick and Rowghan were active members.
Also in attendance were members of the Thomas A Stewart (TAS) Secondary School’s dance program and the Peterborough Lakers lacrosse team, as Riddick last season performed as the team’s mascot “Leo the Laker Lion.” MacDonnell also occasionally donned the costume
Melissa Earle, the studio’s artistic director, says the competitive team gathered on Nov. 23 to support one another prior to the vigil.
“A lot of the dancers found out through school what had happened so I felt it was important to do that,” she said. “But tonight (Friday), I wanted to reach out a bit further. … I just felt it was important for everybody to be with one another and pay tribute to the MacHart family.”
Along with a vigil outside, a slideshow presentation was held inside the studio, highlighting the children’s climb through the dancing ranks.
“I believe Riddick was six or seven when he started with me, right up until last season,” Earle.
“One of the biggest memories for the kids is Riddick missed his prom last season because he was at a dance competition. So we made sure to crown him and another dancer ‘Prom King and Queen.’ We wanted to make sure that was still special for them.”
Studio caretaker Al Beeby recalls when Riddick and Rowghan began at the studio more than a decade ago.
“Rowghan and Riddick just light up when they come in the room — they’re so full of life and energy,” he said. “Riddick when he first started, he was maybe five or six years of age and he was doing a musical theatre number. I knew right from the get go, there’s something special about this kid.”
And the MacHart’s performances didn’t end at Dance Revolutions. The family was part of a production of The Queensville Players in Keswick, Ont. Its musical is now closed following the tragedy.
“As anyone in theatre knows, the bonds that are forged among the cast, crew and creative team, are always unbreakable,” said president Karin Simpson. “This show was no different in that regard; however, since learning about the tragedy, those bonds have imprinted on each of our souls like never before. …. Riddick, Jon and Stefphanie, …we will continue to keep a vigilant and constant watch over Row. … We love our MacHarts deep.”
Both kids were part of the arts program TAS and Stefphanie was also an educational assistant at the Armour Road school.
Principal Debbie Callahan released a statement Friday afternoon describing how the school is processing the tragedy with the help of the school board’s crisis workers.
“Today, during the PA day, staff reflected with Peterborough Hospice, the mental health clinicians and victim services on how to support our community moving forward, especially as we care for students,” Callahan said.
The cause of the collision remains under investigation by Peterborough County OPP.
One GoFundMe page as of Monday morning has raised more than $71,000 to support Rowghan and her road to recovery. Monday marks her 14th birthday, according to family member Tanya Hart who organized the page.
“We have been reassured by doctors that Rowghan’s chance of survival is very high,” Hart posted on her Facebook page on Saturday. “They also believe that she has not sustained any brain or heart injuries.
Hart says Rowghan is able to communicate through “head nods, smiles, frowns and tears.
“She was awake with us for about an hour, and it was amazing and heart-warming,” she said. “These injuries are forever going to change Rowghan’s way of life. The road to recovery is going to be long and difficult. She will need the support of family, friends, and her communities to get through this.”
A second GoFundMe page started by Kathryn Wilson, a close family friend and co-worker of MacDonnell, has raised another $7,200 to support funeral costs for the family.
As for Earle, she says the tragedy has not only shaken her dancers, but herself personally as she reflected on photos of Riddick performing with her children.
“He’s part of my family and so is the rest of his family,” she said. “We really want Rowghan to pull through and be OK.”
— With files from Sam Houpt/Global News Peterborough