By Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press on December 29, 2023.
OTTAWA – A provincial coroner is investigating after two 17-year-old boys who fell through ice on the Rideau River in Ottawa’s south end Wednesday evening were found dead.
Ontario’s Eastern Region Supervising Coroner’s Office confirmed on Friday that it is probing the deaths of Ahmed Ahmed and Riley Cotter.
Both of them were students at John McCrae Secondary School, a spokesperson for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board confirmed.
Diane Pernari said staff, students and other members of the community are feeling the tragedy deeply.
“We have reached out to the families of the students, and have extended condolences on behalf of the (school) community,” she said Friday.
She added the high school will have mental-health supports available for students when they return to their studies in the new year.
Two graduates of John McCrae came to the area where police were searching on Thursday and said they knew both of the teens.
They said they were at the site of the accident to pay their respects.
Seleina Elata said Ahmed, whom she referred to by the nickname AJ, was the first to be found dead.
She said her friend, who was proud to have been from Iraq, loved coming to the area as he found it peaceful. “He liked how free and open it was.”
Emmah Palmer said on Thursday that she hung out with the pair of boys just “two, three days” before they died.
Police said emergency crews arrived on the scene late Wednesday after a report came in about a group of four teens falling through the ice.
Carly Roome said she called 911 shortly after 9:30 p.m., when a boy ran to her family’s nearby home looking for help.
He had pulled his sister from the water and was dripping wet in socks, shorts and a T-shirt, she said.
Roome said she and her parents waited with the boy and his sister until police arrived, adding she believed “he did everything that he could.”
Police said Thursday morning that two teens were taken to hospital right away, and divers found one of the two missing boys dead during an overnight search.
They confirmed later that evening that they had found a second body after resuming the search in the afternoon.
On Friday, the area where the teens fell through the ice had returned to normal.
Gone were a black SUV that had been parked on the road near the river and several personal items that had been piled nearby.
David Hill, a local city councillor for the area, said the boys’ death has shaken the community.
His daughters, who are similar in age, attended the same school as they did, he said.
He added that the children of one of his staff members knew one of the boys who died.
“It really has rocked us,” he said in an interview Friday.
The tragedy is the latest in a string of deaths across Canada of people who fell through ice during milder-than-usual temperatures over the holidays.
In Alberta, RCMP said a family of three died in the lead-up to Christmas after falling through thin ice while riding their UTV. And on Christmas Day, police said a man died after falling through ice near Calgary.
Police in Ottawa said they had warned residents to keep off the ice and provided advice about ice safety from the Canadian Red Cross on their website.
But Hill said he believes that after the community has taken the time it needs to grieve, it is worth examining whether everything was done that could have been done to prevent the teens’ deaths.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2023.