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White flags, stuffed animals mark deadly bus crash site at Laval daycare, premier offers condolences

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A day after a city bus crashed into a Laval, Que. daycare, families are mourning the young victims Thursday, as lawmakers rally their support for a community struck with tragedy.  

Two children were killed and several others rushed to hospital following the horrific incident which occurred shortly after 8:30 a.m. Neighbours described tackling the bus driver and holding him until officers arrived and placed the man into custody.

Parents watched from the sidelines as information on the crash emerged throughout the day. Police arrested the alleged driver, 51-year-old Pierre Ny St-Amand, and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He also faces seven other charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon causing bodily harm.

St-Amand, a Laval resident, appeared before a judge via video link from a hospital bed in Montreal's Sacré-Cœur Hospital under police supervision. He refused to speak during the hearing, and only nodded his head when spoken to by a judge. He was ordered to undergo a psychiatric assessment before his next court appearance on Feb. 17.

Witnesses said the driver "wasn’t in his right mind" and "was in a different world" during the incident. One man said that he was screaming unintelligibly. 

Quebec Premier Francois Legault lays flowers as he visits the site of a daycare centre in Laval, Que, Thursday, February 9, 2023, where a city bus crashed into the building killing two children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Lionel Carmant, the minister responsible for social services, said Thursday Armand was not on a waiting list for mental health services with the local health authority, the CIUSSS de Laval.  

A family friend told the Canadian Press that St-Amand had never shown any obvious signs of distress

According to Laval police, there is no known link between the accused and the daycare. The reason for the attack remains unclear. Carmant called the event "unpredictable."

Meanwhile, neighbours and parents described feelings of grief and disbelief at the scene. News of the event spread nation-wide and was met with condolences from people across the country, including transport, union, and government officials.

Stuffed toys sit in the snow in a makeshift memorial outside Garderie éducative Sainte-Rose in Laval, Que. Thursday morning. On Wednesday, a bus veered off the road and crashed into the building, killing two children and injuring several others. (Olivia O'Malley, CTV News)

The bus was removed from the scene before midnight on a flatbed truck, exposing the smashed windshield and crumpled bumper from the crash. 

The daycare was empty of children Thursday morning and kids were relocated to other centres nearby. Social workers offered counselling to those still coming to terms with the tragedy. The damaged building was patched with wooden panels while dozens of stuffed animals sat at a makeshift memorial just metres away for the young victims.

Two children were released from Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal, which had taken in four of the six injured victims.

Patients at Sainte-Justine are between the ages of three and five.

White flags are being flown outside Quebec daycares in solidarity with the Laval bus crash victims (photo: CTV News Montreal / Sasha Teman)Daycares across the province hung white flags outside their doors in support of the victims' families.

"The entire team .. is in solidarity with the families and our colleagues," wrote Les P’tits Soleils daycare in Laval West.

The bus which was driven into a Laval, Que. daycare was removed from the site late Wednesday night. The alleged driver of the bus is facing several charges, including first-degree murder. (Cosmo Santamaria, CTV News)

'IMAGES THEY WILL HOLD FOREVER': LEGAULT

Quebec Premier François Legault paid his first in-person visit to the site Thursday afternoon. 

"Of course it's tough, because we’re talking about children," he said, "and there's nothing more important than children." 

Meeting with management of the daycare, he encouraged them and others to seek psychological help, "even if you feel strong."

"Even if the children are okay, for the employees who saw it ... these are images they will hold forever," he said, extending thanks to first responders and neighbours who intervened before police arrived.

His wife, Isabelle Brais, also spoke of solidarity for the families of the victims. 

"I feel like the same as every mother in Quebec, every parent," she said. "We are parents," she said, referencing their two children. As a parent, she said, "you want to share the pain."

The premier was also flanked by leaders of opposition parties who also spent the afternoon meeting with community members. The flag at the Quebec legislature was lowered to half-mast Thursday morning. A moment of silence was observed in the Salon Bleu the morning of the crash. 

The City of Laval has organized a candlelight vigil at the local church Thursday evening "to allow people to reflect after yesterday's tragedy."

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