Dec. 4—MANCHESTER — Over 50 friends, family, and teammates huddled together in bitter cold temperatures at a candlelight vigil Friday night for Jaidyn Bolduc, 11, a cheerleader who died in a car crash Thursday night on Interstate 84 in Vernon.
Jaidyn was a student at Vernon Center Middle School and a member of the Pop Warner Red Hawks Pee Wee division cheer team. Her sudden and tragic death comes as her team was planning a trip to compete at the Pop Warner National Championships in Florida on Monday.
Friday's vigil was held at Washington Elementary School in Manchester, on the field where the team practices.
Kayla Thompson, Jaidyn's mother who was in the front passenger seat of the car at the time of the crash and was released Friday from Hartford Hospital after being treated for minor injuries, attended the vigil. She was soon taken back to the hospital by ambulance, however, after she reported feeling faint.
The vigil began at 6 p.m. on a somber note, with those who knew Jaidyn best quietly consoling one another. The only light on the grassy field came from parked cars idling in the lot along the side of the elementary school.
Coaches and members of the cheer team hugged and held onto one another as they softly cried. Parents kept their children close as they lit candles and said prayers for Jaidyn and her family.
As more mourners arrived, the candles were placed next to a cardboard memorial to Jaidyn, with her picture and the message, "Forever in our hears — we love you." Some used markers to write messages to Jaidyn on the sign.
Others who brought chalk drew elaborate messages of grief on the walkway around the school. "You're our angel," was spelled out in large block letters, while a cursive script highlighted her name, and a heart was drawn around the mass of candles and memorial sign.
T-shirts emblazoned with a photo of Jaidyn flying into the air at a cheer meet were given out to her team members and their families, as well as Jaidyn's family.
Teammates and coaches shared memories of practicing and competing with Jaidyn, and pledged to give it their all at the upcoming championship, in her memory.
"We're gonna go to nationals, we're gonna win it, and we're gonna kill it for Jaidyn," team member Natalee Pabe said.
Tanya Pabe, Natalee's mother and one of the team's coaches, said they're going to "leave it all on the mat just for her."
According to state police, Jaidyn was a backseat passenger in a car involved in a crash with another vehicle at 8:20 p.m. Thursday night, on I-84 near exit 67.
The accident report states that both vehicles were traveling eastbound and "collided for an unknown reason."
Thompson and June Stewart, Jaidyn's grandmother, were in the front seat of the car with Jaidyn in the rear seat. Thompson and Stewart were both transported to Hartford Hospital. Stewart, who was driving, remained hospitalized as of Friday night, but her condition was unknown.
Jaidyn was taken to Rockville General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead upon arrival. She had been wearing her seatbelt during the crash, but suffered serious injuries that led to her death, state police said Friday.
Following the crash, the other vehicle involved, driven by Arnauld Simeu-Tiako, 32, of Worcester, Massachusetts, came to a controlled final rest on the right shoulder of the highway, while the vehicle Jaidyn was in travelling in came to an uncontrolled final rest, state police said.
Simeu-tiako was transported to Rockville General Hospital where he was treated and released, according to the accident report.
Vernon Town Administrator Michael Purcaro said he visited the family Friday morning along with School Superintendent Joseph Macary and David Caruso, principal of Vernon Center Middle School.
He said the town would provide support to and keep in contact with the family during this time, and back any community efforts to help them.
"Right now it's very raw, it's very emotional, and we want to give the family some space to grieve," Purcaro said.
Purcaro said first responders from multiple jurisdictions had to enter a distressing and complicated scene, and with many first responders being parents, this can be a tough time for those who were there.
"This was a very difficult call for our first responders, and they worked very tirelessly and heroically to save her life," Purcaro said, adding that critical incident stress management services would be provided to first responders who were at the scene of the incident.
Grief counselors were also on hand Friday for staff and students at Vernon Center Middle School, Macary said early Friday, noting that Jaidyn was a good student who was kind and considerate, and would be sadly missed by her teachers and classmates.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation by State Police Troop C. Anyone with information on the accident is asked to contact Trooper Leonel Hyatt at 860-896-8004.
Joseph covers East Hartford and South Windsor. He joined the JI in July 2021. Joseph graduated from the University of Connecticut and he is an avid guitarist and coffee enthusiast.