A four-year-old girl injured Monday in a horse-and-carriage accident at Fort William Historical Park has died.
Judy Suseklis, a 30-year friend of the victim’s grandmother, confirmed the death of Willow Scott-Hannam on Tuesday, and said the family is not doing well in the wake of the shocking news.
“Nothing ever bothered her. I’ve never seen a child like this before. She was just a happy, outgoing child,” Suseklis said, on the verge of tears. “I’m going to miss her. I’m going to miss her dearly.”
Thunder Bay Police Service has been asked to assist in the investigation by the provincial coroner’s office.
According to Suseklis, a junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten class from Hyde Park Public School were at the Fort on Monday on a school-sponsored field trip.
The children, eager to pat the draft horses that call the park home, were doing just that when tragedy struck.
“One of the horses got startled and I guess started running,” Suseklis said. “The wheel (of the carriage) went over Willow’s body (and) injured the children. But they’re fine. They seem to be fine, except for Willow. She didn’t come out of it.”
On the Facebook group R.I.P. Willow Scott-Hannam, the youngster's father Matt Hannam spoke publicly about his daughter.
"We all miss you already, Willow. I love you so much," he wrote, also calling it a "year from hell" in his household.
Michelle Dunn, whose granddaughter Kylee was in Willow's JK class, was at FWHP on Monday when the 11:35 a.m. incident occurred and said everything happened in an instant.
“When I came out of the bathroom, I (saw) Willow on the ground and I stayed with her until the paramedics came,” said Dunn, a nurse, when reached via email on Tuesday.
“She was verbally responsive just prior to the medics coming. She yelled, 'I want to get up.' That was the first response I had.”
Suseklis said Willow suffered three broken ribs and a pierced lung. Her other lung then began to deflate.
“They rushed her to (the) children’s hospital in Winnipeg … I don’t think she made it there. And she died. They tried to revive her as much as she could, but they couldn’t.”
Willow’s mother, Serena Scott, has spent the past six months in an encephalitis-related coma at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. Though out of the coma, Suseklis said Scott can’t comprehend that her daughter has died.
FWHP communications officer Marty Mascarin said it’s the first time an accident such as this has occurred in 30 years at the park.
Five other children were hurt in the accident. Two others were sent to hospital, treated for non-life threatening injuries.
Sergio Buonocore, Fort William Historical Park general manager, said he closed the park for the day and lowered all flags to half-mast out of respect to the family. He added that the farming program had been suspended indefinitely.
“All the staff at Fort William Historical Park are very saddened by these tragic events,” Buonocore said. “Our hearts go out to the families that were affected. This is something that has never happened before.”
Some of the park’s staff were treated for shock immediately following the incident, and the horses involved have been placed in a pen away from the public.
“I believe these horses were a little newer,” he said. “But they are very well trained. They are trained to be in front of the public.”
Suseklis said the girl’s grandmother, who shared care for her with her husband and Willow’s father Matt Hannam, want to know how an accident like this could happen.
“Yes, she’s upset because she doesn’t understand where the supervision was there. How are these children on a school outing, how are they supervised? What happened to cause this?”
Lakehead Public Schools director Catherine Siemieniuk said the tragic events team arrived at Hyde Park Public School Tuesday to offer support to staff, students and parents.
“People are in shock and they’re very upset,” Siemieniuk said. “Everyone is focusing their thoughts and their prayers to the family of the young girl who passed away.”
According to one report, the Ministry of Labour will investigate the incident, as it does in all serious workplace injuries or deaths.
-- With files from Jeff Labine and CKPR Radio