RANGELEY — Friends and relatives of missing snowmobilers huddled together with Rangeley community members Friday evening for a vigil geared toward beginning the healing process and preventing further tragedy.
Despite a wind chill advisory and single-digit temperatures, a crowd of 50 gathered for the vigil, holding glow sticks and embracing each other during the ceremony.
Ken Henderson Sr., father of missing snowmobiler Ken Henderson, came from Augusta to attend the ceremony.
“He wasn’t just my son; he was my best friend,” he said.
Henderson said despite recent controversy about the Snodeo, he is glad the event continued and is thankful for the community.
“I don’t care what anyone says. These people have been terrific,” he said.
Snodeo organizers were criticized publicly last week by people close to one of three missing snowmobilers who are thought to have drowned in the lake the night of Dec. 31. The critics thought the event should be postponed until the missing snomobilers are recovered.
However, relatives of missing snowmobiler Kenneth Henderson, 40, of China, said they think Henderson, an avid snowmobiler, would have supported the Snodeo.
They called the festival is a wonderful tradition for a community that opened its doors in support of the grieving families.
Snodeo is a annual three-day snomobile festival held Thursday through Saturday. The event is one of the community’s bigger events of the year. Local businesses have been as packed as usual this year, and hotel rooms were booked months in advance.
As an additional draw, the state has designated this weekend Reciprocal Snowmobile Weekend, meaning that snowmobiles registered in New Hampshire and Vermont will be allowed to operate in Maine without registering here.
The missing snowmobilers are Henderson, 40, of China; his cousin Glenn Henderson, 43, of Sabattus; and friend John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield. The search for them has been on hold since early January, but Maine Warden Service plans to use a remotely operated underwater vehicle to continue the search in Rangeley Lake at an undetermined date.
Searchers retrieved the body of a fourth snowmobiler, Dawn Newell, 45, of Yarmouth, shortly after she accidentally rode her snowmobile into open water the night the others were reported missing.
Event organizer Jean Stewart spoke at the vigil, saying the town has been in shock since the tragedy. No state officials can recall another instance in which four snowmobile riders were killed in Maine in the same place at roughly the same time.
“This could have happened anywhere, but it happened in our own backyard,” Stewart said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252