Celebration of life packed for three men killed in Sooke River

WatchTwo weeks after a tragic crash that killed three young men, the community in Sooke is grieving together. Hundreds packed a building to celebrate their lives, and family invited CHEK News to attend, to help remember and celebrate the incredible people they were. Julian Kolsut reports.

There were many hugs and tears Friday as the community of Sooke came together for a celebration of life.

Around 1,000 people filled Edward Milne Community School to remember 20-year-olds A.J. Jensen, Cory Mills and Eric Blackmore.

A.J. Jensen, Eric Blackmore and Cory Mills were last seen on Jan. 31, 2020. They were later found dead.

A.J. Jensen, Eric Blackmore and Cory Mills were last seen on Jan. 31, 2020. They were later found dead.

It’s believed the three were swept into the Sooke River together two weeks ago while riding in a truck during a major rainstorm.

Their bodies were found after an intensive search over several days.

READ MORE: Search continues for third missing man from fatal Sooke crash

“A.J. was goofy, he was funny, he loved to laugh he was loved to be laughed at,” said A.J.’s stepmother Carole Rittaler at the celebration of life.

“I don’t think we could have gotten through this without everything this community has done to pull together all the love support, all the compassion they have shown us.”

The building was packed as soon as the doors open an hour before the service. The auditorium filled so quickly an overflow room is set up in the nearby gymnasium.

“All of us realize it could have been any one of our children, and that’s why it hits the community hard,” said Capital Regional District Director for Juan de Fuca Mike Hicks.

“My son’s here, he is a four-by-four guy in Sooke…I think the community [here] is a lot larger then Sooke.”

Their deaths hit the tight-knit community hard.

Two weeks later, people continue to come by the site on the river to remember and honour the three friends. Some later headed to the school Friday for the celebration of life.

“If he could walk through that door he would be jumping around, it’s for me! just his goofiness,” said Rittaler, holding back tears.

At the ceremony, families spoke to the packed audience. Blackmore’s parents reminisced about his kindness and determination to stand out.

“We love Eric, and he will be missed,” they said.

Popular Vancouver Island musician Jesse Roper was also in attendance. He had once run into Jensen and ended up signing an autograph on his arm.

He said he found out about the tragic crash while he was out of town and decided to play his music to pay tribute.

Following the deaths of the three men, the B.C. government took up the CRD’s offer to close their gate at 9 p.m. daily, opening them again at 7 a.m.

READ MORE: Provincial gate at Sooke Potholes to be closed after deadly crash


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