They came in silence, with flowers and with downcast eyes.
As darkness gathered, they came together on the snow-covered quad at the University of Alberta, their young faces softly illuminated by the gold-tinged glow of flickering candlelight.
They came to honour their friends, their classmates, and it was especially difficult and poignant that they did so on this of all nights, the Eve of Chinese New Year.
About 150 people attended the vigil on campus, held to honour three international students who died earlier this week in highway crash just south of the city.
“All three students began their studies full of hope and promise,” Olive Yonge, the university’s interim provost told the silent mourners. “We can only imagine the difficult days that lie ahead, as you come to terms with the loss of your friends.”
Edison Chen, a student at U of A, came to campus to show his respect and share in the common grief.
“I’m not an international student” he said, “but as a Chinese person, today is a special night for us, it’s the Chinese New Year’s Eve. It’s really touching to see the support, and to see how strong this bond is within our community.”
“It really touched my heart,” said second-year student Remy Wu, 21. “I feel it’s powerful, seeing that so many people came here.”
The banner above the campus administration building is flying at half-mast.
The university’s website identified the dead as Zixuan Huang, Guanming Wang and Shitong Zhao. All three were former or current undergraduate students in the department of economics.
They died early Monday after their SUV rolled on Highway 2 near Leduc.
The lone survivor was a 21-year-old woman who was sent to hospital in “grave” condition, but is now in serious but stable condition.
The Chinese Consulate-General’s office contacted the victims’ families with help from University of Alberta and the Alberta Chinese Students Association.
The families were expected to arrive in Edmonton on Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning.
RCMP say it appears the SUV hit the shoulder of the highway and lost control, rolling over several times before coming to a stop on its roof.