Salem — Residents in this small town reacted with sadness and heartbreak at the news that a 6-year-old boy was killed Tuesday morning when he was pulled into a commercial-size wood chipper while working alongside his father and two siblings.
State police identified the boy as Jeffrey Bourgeois of Salem, the son of Scott and Corinne Bourgeois, who own C&S Tree Removal.
State police Lt. J. Paul Vance said that shortly after 8:45 a.m., a 911 call reported that a child had been injured by a wood chipper.
"It was a tragic accident," Vance said. "... A difficult scene for everyone who responded."
Vance said the boy was with his father at a job site at 24 Brookside Drive. The father had turned his back when the boy fed a piece of wood into the chipper and was pulled in, Vance said.
The Salem Volunteer Fire Company, state police from Troop K and the Eastern District Major Crime Squad responded to the scene.
Gene Maiorano, chief of the volunteer fire department for 33 years, lives near the Bourgeois family and was the first to respond to the scene.
Maiorano said the town has endured other tragic deaths. This will be another difficult one.
"It's a small town and it was a tragic accident that happened today," Maiorano said. "It's going to take a long time for the town and the family to heal."
First Selectman Kevin Lyden also went to the scene.
"It was a terrible tragedy," Lyden said. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the family. We will do everything we can to help the family."
Jeffrey was a first-grader at the Salem School, Superintendent Dr. H. Kaye Griffin confirmed Tuesday.
School is on vacation break this week, but Griffin said a crisis intervention team met and scheduled grief and loss counseling services for staff and students from 3 to 6:30 p.m. at the school on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Griffin said additional counseling will be available when school resumes Monday.
"We really do want people to know that we're here to provide whatever assistance we can," Griffin said. "When something like this happens in a school community, it affects everyone. We want to reach out to help anyone that needs help."
Lyden said counselors also will be made available to emergency personnel who responded to the scene.
'It affects us all'
Residents and business owners in this town of 4,000 were devastated at the news that one of their own had died so tragically.
Maiorano, the fire chief, said he recalled Jeffrey visiting the firehouse with his Cub Scout pack to see the firetrucks.
He said Jeffrey and his two siblings enjoyed being outdoors.
"I know that he loved working with his father," Maiorano said. "Every time they could, they enjoyed doing it. They were always outside playing and doing stuff."
Babe Currier-McDonald, who owns Babe's Country Deli at the Salem Four Corners, said the Bourgeois family have been customers for years. She said Scott Bourgeois would come to the eatery every week, sometimes daily. He would often bring his children — two boys and a girl — with him.
"Everyone knows him," Currier-McDonald said. "We are a small town. It affects us all."
She said she heard of the tragedy from Lou Gallo, who owns the nearby Hair Power salon.
"When he told me, I was left speechless," Currier-McDonald said. "Even the customers were shocked and silent. Everyone stopped eating."
She said the Bourgeois children were well behaved, adding that Jeffrey "looked just like his dad."
Gallo said he had given Scott and his two sons haircuts just last week.
"They are really nice folks, very down to earth," Gallo said. "The children were so well behaved. He really loves his children. It's just heartbreaking."
First Selectman Lyden said Tuesday evening that family members from about 45 minutes away had joined the Bourgeois family at their home. The family unplugged their home phone after receiving numerous calls offering support. The town also made arrangements to provide them with lunch and dinner, the first selectman said.
Lyden visited the family at about 4 p.m. He said a priest and grief counselors had stopped in to speak with them. Lyden said the town likely would continue food donations and may provide other support.
"It's difficult to see a family have to go through such a tragic loss like this," Lyden said. "We will get through this as a community. We will give them whatever support they need."