Siblings Ava and Austin Claassen have been identified as the Armstrong children who died as the result of a motorhome fire near Lytton Wednesday.

Tragedy hits hard at school

Hearts were heavy for staff and students at an Armstrong elementary school Friday.

Hearts were heavy for staff and students at an Armstrong elementary school Friday.

Grief counsellors remained at Highland Park Elementary as the school tried to come to terms with a tragic accident near Lytton Wednesday that killed two Armstrong children, including five-year-old Ava Mae Claassen, a Grade 1 student at the school.

Claassen’s four-year-old brother, Austin Mitchell, also died after a fire broke out in a motorhome shortly before midnight.

“When the kids came to school Friday, it was obvious that parents had shared with them the news that a kid from their school had died,” said Morag Asquith, director of student services for the North Okanagan-Shuswap school district. “Today (Friday) was a heavier day than yesterday as far as support needed and sadness in the school.”

The Claassens had been travelling with their grandparents, who are also from Armstrong, and the four were camped just off the Trans-Canada Highway on a decommissioned air strip when a fire broke out in the RV just before midnight.

The kids had been sleeping at the front of the motorhome and they were taken out of the trailer by the grandfather, who got the pair out of a window.

Nearby road workers who saw the blaze helped get the grandparents out of the vehicle. All four motorhome occupants were taken to a hospital. The children died in hospital.

The grandparents remained in Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops as of Friday.

Asquith will continue to monitor the situation at the school.

“Everybody responds differently to grief,” she said. “Grief support might not be needed for another two weeks but we’ll be watching things every day.”

RCMP said Thursday that the fire was not suspicious in nature, but, as of Friday, no cause for the blaze had been determined.

“There will be further examination of the vehicle but that has yet to be completed,” said police spokesperson Cpl. Dan Moskaluk Friday morning. “In these types of incidents, everything is looked over fairly closely to determine the cause.”

A couple of trust funds in memory of Ava and Austin have been set up to help with funeral costs.

Anybody wishing to make a donation can do so in Vernon at the TD-Canada Trust on Anderson Way, quoting branch number 9880 and account number 6433559. Donations can also be made electronically through TD-Canada Trust online banking by clicking “send money.” The e-mail to use is

A trust fund has also been established in Armstrong, called Keating Family Trust, at Valley First Credit Union. Donations can be made at any Valley First branch to trust account number 799015-201.



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