Salem plans special fund, candlelight vigil for 6-year-old victim of tragic accident

Jeffrey Bourgeois
Jeffrey Bourgeois

Salem — Kathleen Lyden went to Dunkin' Donuts early Wednesday to buy doughnuts and coffee to bring to the family whose 6-year-old son died in a tragic accident Tuesday.

When Lyden reached the cash register, a stranger standing behind her pulled a $50 bill from his pocket and insisted on paying.

"That's the type of outpouring of support we're seeing," said First Selectman Kevin Lyden, whose wife was making the coffee and doughnut run. "People want to give."

Jeffrey Bourgeois was killed Tuesday morning when he was pulled into a commercial-size wood chipper while working alongside his father and his two siblings.

The town took steps to help people support the Bourgeois family Wednesday by establishing the Bourgeois Family Fund at the Chelsea Groton Bank at Salem Four Corners. Donations may be made at the Chelsea Groton branch or by dropping off or mailing donations to the Town Hall.

Lyden on Wednesday also made plans for a candlelight vigil that will be held at 7:45 tonight at the Town Green in memory of Jeffrey. Lyden is asking people to bring white candles for the event, which he hopes will give people in town a chance to grieve and support the family.

"There's no magic answer to get through all of this," Lyden said. "It's a process with a million steps."

The first selectman said he visited the home of Scott and Corinne Bourgeois home early Wednesday with his wife and son, Charlie. His son played Legos with Zachary, Jeffrey's older brother.

Later in the day, family friend Mary Durkee brought her daughter, Katie, by the home to spend time with daughter Nicole Bourgeois. Katie brought along a container of chocolate chip baking dough for the two girls to work on together.

Others, including Salem Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Gene Maiorano and Resident State Trooper Kevin Seery, also made periodic stops Wednesday at the Bourgeois home to check on the family.

Lyden witnessed a number of other kind gestures throughout town and at the Town Hall. He said an elderly woman with tears in her eyes dropped off a donation early in the day for the family.

Margaret Caron, the president of the Parent Teacher Organization and a Board of Education member, said Wednesday people will continue to support the Bourgeois family in any way they can. Caron said her son, Ben, is best friends with Zachary.

"The pain we are experiencing as a community is profound," Caron said. "As the days pass, we will help each other heal and we will take solace in the fact that we were fortunate to know Jeff during his brief time here with us. Our hearts are with Scott, Corey, Nicole and Zac."

'A close-knit family'

On Wednesday, the reality of Jeffrey's death began to sink in around town.

"They were a close-knit, loving family," said Steven Arbuckle, co-owner of Cornerstone School of Karate in Salem. "Everything was for the kids."

Arbuckle said all three of the Bourgeois children attended the karate school. He first was introduced to the family when their eldest, Nicole, joined in February 2008.

The family, he said, traveled last August to Disney World for an international tournament that Nicole competed in.

"They did everything together," he said. "They really loved their children."

He said Jeffrey had a bubbly personality and a "smile (that) would light up the classroom." Jeffrey joined the school in September and recently got a black stripe on his white belt.

Arbuckle said Scott had worked on his home in Colchester. Scott and Corinne Bourgeois are the owners of C&S Tree Removal.

"He was a hard worker," he said. "I can't imagine what he is going through."

"We are here to support the kids in any way we can," Arbuckle said. "Parents that were here last night were aware of it, but I think everyone was still in shock. We're going to be there for the family in any way we can. I think it's just too soon. People are still trying to wrap their heads around it."

Children need support

Wayne Loder, public awareness coordinator for the national organization The Compassionate Friends, said the family is going to need help in the weeks and months to come.

The Compassionate Friends, a support group for bereaved families after the death of a child, has more than 640 chapters, including one in Norwich.

Loder, who lost two children in 1991 in a car accident in Michigan, said the hardest part for a parent is that the world just continues.

"Everyone will be there at the beginning, but the problem is after a week or two, when everyone goes back to their business and the family is alone," he said.

Loder said the loss of a child is the hardest thing a person will ever face.

"It's not just the loss of the child," he said. "It's the loss of your future dreams for that child. And it doesn't matter how the child dies, you are going to feel guilt. It's a game you can't win."

He said parents who lose children will never get over the loss, but they do learn how to live with it and they learn how to survive.

Loder also said it is critical for family and friends to extend support to the children, who are also dealing with the loss of their loved one.

"Parents are going through their own pain and grief and they probably won't be able to give them the attention that they need," he said. "It's important for other people to let them know that they care about them, try to get them to remember the good memories."

Loder said small communities, like Salem, also feel the loss of a child deeply because the tragic death illustrates how one's life can forever be altered in an instant.

The town of Griswold faced its own life-altering tragedy on Dec. 7, 2010, when four Griswold teens were killed in a car accident and another was seriously injured.

First Selectman Philip E. Anthony Jr. said the small town initially was shaken by the accident, but quickly rallied to help the families involved.

"As a town, we embraced the family," he said. "The prevalent attitude in town was 'How can we help them?' The loss of the children was felt by all. It really did feel that way."

A fundraiser was held to defray the funeral costs and medical expenses for the victims' families and the lone survivor.

"We're not Manhattan," Anthony said. "If there was a silver lining to a tragedy like this, it was the outpouring of support, sympathy and love that was given to the victims' families. That's the advantage of a small community. I am confident that Salem will do the same."

Students, parents and teachers arrive with red balloons to Salem School Wednesday, April 11, 2012, in memory of six-year-old Jeffrey Bourgeois.
Students, parents and teachers arrive with red balloons to Salem School Wednesday, April 11, 2012, in memory of six-year-old Jeffrey Bourgeois.
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