AITKIN, Minn. (FOX 9) – There wasn’t an open space in the parking lot of St. James Catholic Church in Aitkins, Minnesota on Wednesday night. Inside the church in this town of around 2,000 people, the pews were overfilled by a community in mourning.
Two days into the new year, on Sunday afternoon, a snowmobile crash ended two young lives.
“There’s never a good day of the year to get news like this,” Aitkin Public Schools superintendent Dan Stifter said. “We’ve had tragedies; the thing that puts this in a different level is that it was two students.”
Investigators say it happened south of Aitkin on a groomed trail next to Highway 169 just after 6 p.m. The riders, both wearing helmets, were headed in opposite directions before colliding head on. The trail was described as straight and level.
“Been in education for over 30 years and I’ve dealt with student deaths before, but having two back-to-back, it takes a bigger toll,” Stifter said.
16-year-old Isaac Fulton died at the scene, while 18-year-old Westin Justen was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center in critical condition. He died the next day.
Westin Justen was killed in the snowmobile crash.
Westin’s mom Dana shared with FOX 9 that he was an organ donor and will find out how many lives was able to save on Thursday.
“This is just so hard, he is so so loved,” she wrote. “And the world has lost such a beautiful soul… he was just so Happy and Alive. And anyone you talk to says he has the biggest heart. He loved making you laugh.”
Superintendent Stifter knew both young men.
“The students were outgoing. They often times with the needs of others first,” Stifter said.
In a symbolic way, the town gathered Wednesday in the darkness of candlelight – the light, overpowering the darkness.
They gathered to honor and remember the two boys loved by so many. Recognizing that in their grief, they are strong together than they are alone.
Aitkin community mourns 2 teens killed in snowmobile crash