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Aitkin candlelight vigil honors teens killed in crash

“We are here because we are stronger together than we are alone,” said Pastor David Forsman.

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The Aitkin community came together Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, for a candlelight vigil at St. James Catholic Church to remember Westin Justen and Isaac Fulton, who both died in a Sunday snowmobile crash on a groomed trail south of Aitkin. The Aitkin church was filled with grieving students and parents who knew Justen and Fulton. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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AITKIN — Family, classmates, friends and community members came together during a candlelight vigil to remember the two young lives lost days earlier.

Pastor David Forsman spoke before an overflowing crowd during a vigil Wednesday, Jan. 5, at St. James Catholic Church in Aitkin three days after a snowmobile crash took the lives of 16-year-old Isaac Fulton and 18-year-old Westin Justen, both Aitkin High School students.

“The biggest thing that I tell students is don't ask the question, ‘Why?’ ask the question, ‘What?’ Forsman said. “Because why doesn't have an answer, it's mysterious. You just don't know what's going to happen. But for now, you just have to ask the question, ‘What do I do? What do I do today? What do I do for my friends? What do I do?’”

Fulton was a sophomore at Aitkin High School and Justen was a senior. Superintendent Dan Stifter said Monday the event hit the small community hard, and additional counselors are available for students or staff who need to talk to someone.

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In the small community of Aitkin, going unnoticed is not something that is going to happen, and when tragedy lays its heavy hand down, the Aitkin community comes together to support their neighbors in their time of need, said Aitkin High School sophomore Levi Berg.

“They were one of us, a part of our community,” Berg said. “We came together tonight to help our community heal.”

Berg said he did not know either of the boys personally, but felt he should come and support those affected by the tragedy his community is dealing with.

Related: 2nd Aitkin teen dies as result of head-on snowmobile crash
Dan Borseth, coach of the Aitkin Anglers fishing team, said that after the crash, fishing teams from around the state and the country reached out to them to offer their condolences.

Borseth coached Justen on the fishing team for four years and remembered how Justen’s boat was always fun. Borseth also talked about how losing Justen was not only hard on the team, but on all those who knew Justen and Fulton, though Fulton was not on the team.

“The team is hurting after this ugly tragedy,” said Borseth. “We work with the kids day-in and day-out for years, they become like family.”

The vigil came together after Forsman went to Aitkin High School Monday morning to talk with anyone who needed it and found that most of the students who were deeply upset had stayed home.

Related: Aitkin teen killed in head-on snowmobile crash The Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office responded to the crash involving two snowmobiles, which was reported at 6:16 p.m., south of Aitkin on a groomed snowmobile trail.
He decided to have a small vigil Wednesday night to support the community and it took off like wildfire, Forsman said.

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“Tomorrow will also be a lot of sadness,” Forsman said in an interview before the vigil. “I mean, this doesn't erase anything. Really what it does is it allows us to see that we are a community, that we're here for each other. … We are here because we are stronger together than we are alone.”

The crash was reported at 6:16 p.m. Jan. 2, south of Aitkin. Fulton and Justen were traveling on the west side of Highway 169 in separate groups when the collision occurred. Fulton was pronounced dead at the scene. Justen died Monday, Jan. 3, as a result of his injuries suffered in the crash.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com .
Related Topics: ACCIDENTSAITKIN
Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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