By The Canadian Press
MELITA, Man. — People in a small town in southwestern Manitoba are trying to cope with the loss of a young couple killed by a tornado that touched down on a highway and tossed their vehicle into a field.
Shayna Barnesky was with her boyfriend, Carter Tilbury, when the twister hit the area near Virden, Man. on Friday night. RCMP said they were ejected from vehicle and died at the scene.
The pair, both 18, had known each other their entire lives growing up in Melita, about 68 kilometres south of where the storm hit.
They “will always be soulmates,” friend Kylee Sparwood said Monday.
In an online message, Sparwood said the deaths don’t feel real and she’s struggling.
She met Barnesky while playing volleyball. While Barnesky was a fierce player on the court, she was also a generous and kind friend off of it, Sparwood said.
“She just understood. She never judged. She was always there to talk, and always offered help when I was sad,” Sparwood said.
“I looked up to her like a mentor … I’ll definitely never forget her.”
Barnesky had just finished high school and Tilbury graduated the year before.
Barnesky’s graduation photo shows the teen with long, shiny dark hair framing her smiling face. She planned to work for a year before furthering her education, said text included with the photo.
She also loved her dog named Sasha, Sparwood said.
In his graduation picture, Tilbury has bright blonde hair. The photo said he planned to go to Assiniboine Community College to become an automotive technician.
Bill Holden, the mayor of Melita, said everyone in the community is devastated. Both teenagers were well-known and from large, private families in the community of just over 1,000 residents.
“It’s hard on the kids they went to school with. It’s hard on the families. It’s hard on the people they worked with,” he said. “It’s just, you know, it’s just all around hard on everybody.”
Carolyn Cory, the local school division’s superintendent, said crisis support is being provided to students and staff.
“We mourn this unimaginable loss and heartbreak for so many,” Cory said in an email. “This tragedy resonates across all of our division’s schools.”
A storm warning was issued for the area around 6:30 p.m. Friday, followed by a severe thunderstorm warning an hour later. At 7:49 p.m., a tornado warning was sent.
Photos and video show the giant twister touch down a few minutes later on Highway 83 south of Virden. Preliminary findings from an Environment and Climate Change Canada investigation indicate wind speeds reached 190 kilometres per hour.
Emergency responders later found extensive damage on a farm, with silos strewn throughout a field. Two vehicles were thrown into a nearby field.
A 54-year-old man from Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation was found in the other vehicle and was taken to hospital with serious but non-life threatening injuries.
Church leaders in Melita have been facing impossible-to-answer questions from members of their congregations about how two young lives could be taken so shockingly, said Father Matt Koovisk, the rector at Christ Church.
There is an indescribable sense of sadness and grief, he said. No one should have to bury their children.
“It’s a tragedy that has befallen this community and it will be permanently imprinted on the hearts of minds of us who live and work here.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2020
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg