Town of Melita, Man., mourns loss of teens in tornado


The small Manitoba town of Melita is in deep mourning after two teens were killed in a nearby tornado Friday night.

Shayna Barnesky and Carter Tilbury, both 18, died after their pickup truck was swept up by the twister.

RCMP say they were thrown out of the vehicle, which was found more than a kilometre away from where the tornado touched down near Virden, Man.

“They were great kids, and I think that’s what really hurts — they’re kids from our community,” said Rev. Barb Alston, of the Melita Presbyterian Church. 

“We’re all connected. We’re connected family-wise, we’re connected socially, we’re connected spiritually.”

Flags are flying at half-mast in Melita, Man., which lost two teenagers in a nearby tornado on Friday night. Another prominent member of the community died on Saturday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC News)

In church on Sunday morning, Alston prayed for the couple, their families and the first responders. Her congregation is one of the few that is meeting in person amid COVID-19 physical-distancing restrictions.

“We just pray for compassion and love and understanding, in the tremendous sadness and grief that is over this community,” she said.

“They were well loved. And they will be very much missed.”

Barnesky was part of Melita School’s 2020 graduating class just two months ago. 

Posters with pictures of each graduate were hung from street lights on the main street. There was a parade in town, and just about the entire community attended an outdoor, physically distanced graduation ceremony.

Tilbury graduated last year.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends, as well as Melita and surrounding communities,”
Carolyn Cory, superintendent of the Southwest Horizon School Division, said in a statement to CBC News.

“We mourn this unimaginable loss and heartbreak for so many. This tragedy resonates across all of our division’s schools because of the many well-established connections.”

Crisis support will be available to both students and staff this week, Cory said.

Both of the teens were athletes, active in the community and well known.

Rev. Barb Alston says the whole community of Melita, Man., is in mourning over the tragic loss of two local teenagers who were caught up in a tornado Friday night. She says everyone will need a lot of support. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC News)

Barnesky worked at the Co-op grocery store while Tilbury was employed at a local farm equipment dealership.

All of that makes this tragedy even more heartbreaking, said Melita Mayor Bill Holden.

“We’re a town of about a thousand people, and a good portion of the town here is related to the extended families of both victims. My heart goes out to everyone,” he said.

None of the teens’ family or friends who were contacted were ready to do interviews on Sunday.

However, one friend messaged CBC News, saying they are trying to pull together and support each other “because that’s what Shayna and Carter would have wanted.”

“They were the kind of people who always had your back, kind through and through, and we’ll never forget them,” said the friend, who didn’t want to be identified.

One of the big questions facing the community now, Alston said, is how to conduct a funeral or memorial service under COVID-19 restrictions.

Everyone will want to attend, mourn together and comfort each other.

WATCH | Deadly tornado caught on video:

Witness Tammy Skelton captured the tornado as it touched down near her Virden, Man., home. 0:31

Read more at CBC.ca