Storm -related deaths rock Canton Community
The two victims, 6-year-old Kaleigh Kenyon and 48-year-old Tom Gunning, were both critically injured in their back yards and died just hours apart at neighboring Boston hospitals. Kenyon, who was the youngest of four siblings and a kindergartener at the Luce School, was reportedly playing in the snow with her father and brother at the time when a tree limb struck her, pinning her underneath it. Gunning, a father of three, a business owner, and a beloved member of the local youth hockey and lacrosse communities, was tending to an outdoor ice rink when he was struck, according to police.
“They did nothing wrong,” said a solemn Fire Chief Charles Doody, who personally knew Gunning and went to school with him. “In all my years as chief, I never saw a day when you had two innocent victims die from fallen tree limbs. You have snowstorms, you have high winds, you have fallen trees. But nothing like this. In either case, both had no time to react.”
The tragic nature of the accidents underscored the severity of Friday’s storm, which dumped several inches of heavy wet snow across the region and took many residents by surprise. Doody said the Fire Department responded to 37 instances of downed wires and tree limbs across all corners of the town,
Police Chief Ken Berkowitz said emergency personnel responded to more than 20 motor vehicle crashes throughout the day, and the conditions became so severe that he decided to send out a Reverse 911 message urging residents to stay indoors. He sent a similar message via Twitter around 2:45 p.m., warning that “numerous trees and branches are coming down, creating an extremely dangerous situation.”
Meanwhile, it was around that time that the first news reports began to surface about the accident involving Kenyon, and on Saturday, Canton residents awoke in horror as they learned of a second tragic accident involving Gunning, which occurred the night before around 11:15 p.m.
“Such horribly sad news. A dark day in Canton,” wrote one commenter on the “Everything Canton” Facebook group. “What a heartbreaking 24 hours,” wrote another. “Prayers for all touched by these horrible tragedies.”
The combination of the weather and the tragic news led to the cancellation of several community events, including the annual St. John’s Father-Daughter Dance. However, on Saturday, at the request of the Kenyon family, the Luce School chose to go forward with its production of The Wizard of Oz, and they honored their fallen schoolmate with a moment of silence at the start of each performance.
In a phone message to the Luce community on Saturday morning, Principal Robie Peter remembered Kenyon as a “happy, social, and endearing little girl who loved school.”
“Kaleigh had previously participated in the Rodman Early Childhood Center and has many connections to our community,” Peter said.
The Luce also opened its doors for two hours on Sunday and offered counseling and support services, and Interim Superintendent Jen Henderson said she was working collaboratively with St. John’s Principal Sean Richardson to ensure that additional supports were made available “for all students across all schools in Canton.”
In an email message to parents and families, Henderson acknowledged the “devastating” losses of both Kenyon and Gunning and promised to “assist in whatever way necessary.”
“There are no words to try to explain the tragedies that have fallen on our community this weekend,” Henderson wrote. “Canton is a close-knit town, and our strength as a community and our support for one another will guide us through these losses.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday evening, that strength and solidarity that Henderson referenced was on full display at the Canton Senior Center as dozens of volunteers turned out to make pink and green bows as part of a massive, town-wide memorial project. Conceived on Facebook at the suggestion of Jennifer McDaid Garbuzinski, owner of McDaid Insurance Agency, the project gained steam throughout the weekend as numerous residents and businesses stepped forward with donations of time, money, and supplies.
According to CJ King, who is spearheading the effort, the goal is to make as many memorial bows as they can to place around town and to pass out to residents to display on their property. King said the bows made at the Senior Center are for the downtown area and for businesses, while the Canton Moms Club is handling the assembly of bows for individual residents. Other key contributors and donors include Floral Scents, which provided the ribbons for the downtown bows; Lauren Conti, who is spearheading the hanging of the bows; and FM Generator, which provided the refreshments for the bow-making events.
King, who is new to Canton and did not know either victim personally, said she is proud to be a part of this effort and has been awestruck by the support they have received to date.
“To see so many come together and support these families, this community as a whole, through such horrible tragedy is beyond what I could have ever imagined,” she said. “I am so proud to call Canton home and to see, meet, talk to, and work with such amazing and warm people. I know that Kaleigh and Tom are seeing this and smiling down on all of you. I truly hope this brings even the slightest bit of comfort to their families and friends.”
In addition to the bow project, a GoFundMe page was established for Kenyon to help pay for her final expenses, and in a matter of four days the page had raised nearly $40,000 from 785 donors.
Meanwhile, the Boston Chapter of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association, for which Gunning served as the executive director, has already established a scholarship fund in his honor, and donations can be mailed to SMACNA Boston, 100 Grossman Drive, Braintree, MA 02184.
Plans are also in the works to remember and honor Gunning for his many contributions to Canton youth sports over the years — as a leader, coach, donor, and volunteer.
Canton Youth Hockey President Nick Maffeo said he will remember Gunning, who recently coached the Bantam Green team, as a “passionate, caring, and supportive individual who gave freely of his time and resources for the betterment of others.”
“Tom was a lifelong member of the Canton Youth Hockey family and was very supportive of athletics and education throughout his community,” said Maffeo. “And we honor and cherish what he has done for our community.”
Rob Donahue, a friend and fellow CYL coach, also had nothing but kind words for Gunning, calling him a “true Renaissance man” and a great president who helped to grow the sport of lacrosse in Canton with his “relentless drive” and commitment.
“Words cannot express the tremendous loss the town of Canton has experienced,” Donahue said. “Tom’s dedication to the town he grew up in, both on the athletic fields and in the community, exemplified his character and leadership — qualities that are the foundation of our program today. We have all lost a friend, and the town a son. May his smile and signature laugh live on. Tom, you will be forever missed.”
To donate to Kaleigh’s GoFundMe page, visit gofundme.com/r8ncygzw. For more on the memorial bow project, visit the “Canton Memorial Bow Project” page on Facebook.
Citizen staff member Mike Berger contributed to this report.