Standing near a makeshift memorial in the heart of a northern Nova Scotia town, Nellie Lloy reminisced about a summer spent at her remote property, clearing trees and planting flowers with her niece’s family.
They had placed a travel trailer on the land in Millvale, N.S., and it was blossoming into a family getaway tucked in the backwoods of rural Nova Scotia.
But last weekend, it was the site of a tragedy many are struggling to come to grips with.
The bodies of six people — including four children — were discovered Sunday evening following a fire in the trailer.
Family members have identified the victims as R.J. Sears, 30; Michelle Robertson, 28; and their children Madison, 11; Ryder, 8; and C.J., 3; and Robertson’s son Jaxson, 4.
The family was from Amherst, N.S., a town just outside the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border.
On Monday, a large photograph of the family was placed in a gazebo in the town’s Victoria Park as part of a tribute.
By Tuesday afternoon, the makeshift memorial had grown to include dozens of flowers, stuffed animals and several Montreal Canadiens jerseys.
Members of the family and community had gathered in the park to comfort each other on Tuesday.
Lloy, Robertson’s aunt, described her niece as a dedicated parent who, along with her partner, brought joy to their children’s lives.
“Michelle was born special and her whole purpose in life was just to be a better person,” Lloy said. “I think the one word I could use to describe Michelle was ‘grace.'”
Lloy explained that she owns the property where the fire broke out in Millvale, a small community in Cumberland County, roughly 50 kilometres southeast of Amherst. The family was staying in a travel trailer there for the weekend.
“We spent the summer … clearing the land through rain and sunshine and mosquitos and black flies. Those children dug holes, and we planted dozens and dozens of plants. It was just going to be our family garden,” Lloy said.
“The children painted rocks. We just had so many magical times out there on that property as a family.”
She said C.J. had just turned three about a week ago, and the family had gone camping to celebrate his birthday because Robertson had been working the weekend before.
Lloy said Robertson and Sears grew up together.
“I always think of them as the little family that could,” she said, adding that Robertson had recently started working after being a stay-at-home mom, and it made her happy.
“They were just at the most beautiful spot in their life right now.”
Lloy said 11-year-old Madison was involved in sports and had many friends. She said eight-year-old Ryder was kind and had a depth to his heart beyond his years. Four-year-old Jaxson was an animated boy with the nickname “Action Jaxson.” And C.J. was born “too smart” and didn’t miss a beat in the busy family.
Amherst Mayor David Kogon said the community is reeling from the news and that there is an immense sense of sadness.
“People are just in shock and totally heartbroken,” he said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
“You don’t lose an entire family of six people without everybody feeling their own personal reaction to that loss.”
Kogon said the town established the memorial in collaboration with Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin to give the family and community a space to grieve.
“It’s a place where people can gather, pay their respects, drop off some flowers or a teddy bear, to help them deal with the loss that every citizen is feeling,” Kogon said.
Local school to offer supports
The Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education, the school district for the area, has confirmed that three of the children were students.
In a statement, a spokesperson said school psychologists were being made available at Cumberland North Academy and would also facilitate access to short-term counselling services and other community supports beyond the school level.
A few fundraisers for the family were also taking shape on Tuesday.
Firefighters were called to Mountain Road in Millvale on Sunday at about 6:30 p.m. local time. Police said when they arrived, officers discovered the bodies of the family.
It took officers about half an hour to get to the scene as they had to travel on old logging roads, RCMP Cpl. Chris Marshall said. The fire was out when they arrived at the scene, and there were no survivors.