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Gentili: A tragic start to a new year

Sudbury shows true community spirit by opening its heart following the death of three children, new to Canada
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When a new year dawns, it is greeted with hope and expectation. It isn’t supposed to begin with grief, but, sadly, that’s where Greater Sudbury finds itself at the start of 2020.

On Jan. 1, a single vehicle crashed on Highway 17, claiming the lives of brothers Destiny and Flourish Osagie, ages 11 and 10, and their six-year-old sister Britney. The crash also sent another 10-year-old boy who was in the same car to hospital with life-threatening injuries. He had to be airlifted to Toronto for emergency surgery.

The pain and heartache the Osagie family must be feeling is unimaginable. As a parent, I can’t even conceive how a person could move on from such an unbelievable tragedy — three children from one family gone in an instant.

The driver, 45-year-old Uche Osagie, is the mother of the three children. She was uninjured. A family friend who was a passenger in the vehicle and the mother of the 10-year-old boy suffered minor injuries.

Published reports say the family were recent immigrants from Nigeria. The crash occurred when the family was returning from a trip to Toronto where Osagie had been searching for a lawyer to help with her immigration claim.

Greater Sudbury showed its heart in the days following the accident. A GoFundMe campaign appeared quickly following the crash, aimed at raising funds for the family. It reached its $10,000 goal within days and continued climbing. 

More than 400 people have contributed to the campaign so far and the amount raised has more than doubled the original goal. This speaks volumes — Greater Sudbury takes care of its own, even those who have only called the city home for a few months.

The Ontario Provincial Police continues to investigate the cause of the crash. Although it has been a week since it occurred, police have not yet released the results of their investigation. 

On Tuesday, an OPP spokesperson characterized the investigation as “complex,” though she wouldn’t elaborate on that complexity. Given the sensitive nature of the crash, I’m sure we can all appreciate the pressure the police service is under to get this right. 

It is important to remember that we still don’t know what happened. This hasn’t stopped the speculation and, in the era of the internet, cruel and thoughtless comments are posted to social media for all to see. 

And while many of those comments express shock and disbelief, extending condolences and sympathies to the Osagie family specifically and the Nigerian community generally, there isn’t a comment thread on the incident that doesn’t speculate about the cause of the crash.

Given the content of the threads I’ve seen, I truly hope members of the family stay away from them. It’s human nature to speculate after incidents like these. There is, however, a difference between talking about the incident in person over coffee, and posting your pet theory to a social media comment thread for all to see in perpetuity.

Besides the shock and disbelief the Osagie family is now living through, there is also a considerable amount of conjecture — and a lot of anger — about the crash and its aftermath. And while it might be tempting to participate in this online hypothesizing, it is important to reiterate that we don’t have the full story here.

The Osagies are in pain; the Nigerian community is in pain. These are not just avatars on the internet — these are real people living through the absolute worst days of their lives. Not only that, but they are forced to do it in public because the tragedy that shattered their family occurred on a public roadway and is part of a police investigation.

To have to live both through the deaths of children and the scrutiny of an investigation in a climate rife with speculation and accusation is more than many of us could bear. 

At Sudbury.com, we haven’t allowed comments on stories we’ve published regarding the crash for just this reason, attempting to minimize speculation and to focus on the few facts that have been made public. We’re not trying to shut down discussion.

I know it is human nature to talk about tragedy, but until all the facts are in, the family should be given the space to breathe and to grieve.

Mark Gentili is the editor of Sudbury.com and Northern Life.