POLITICS

'I wanted to see my children's murderer': Grieving town greets railway boss

07/10/2013 05:08 EDT | Updated 09/09/2013 05:12 EDT
LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. - Jeers and icy stares greeted the head of a railway company as he arrived Wednesday with a police escort to visit the small Quebec community shattered by a train disaster.

Lac-Megantic resident Raymond Lafontaine, whose son and two daughters-in-law are among the 50 missing, couldn't conceal his anger and disdain.

''I wanted to see my children's murderer,'' Lafontaine said.

''And I wanted to see the murderer of other people from here who didn't ask to die.''

Lafontaine said he's been contacted by people offering to pay cash to use his equipment to have the train tracks ripped from the ground.

Ed Burkhardt's arrival in Lac-Megantic was a hot topic among residents but only a dozen or so gathered to watch the president of the Chicago-based Rail World Inc. as he was cornered by reporters.

One man blamed the modest turnout on Burkhardt, accusing him of slinking in the shadows to avoid facing a potentially angry crowd since the tragedy four days earlier.

"When someone's guilty, they hide," said Bruno Huot.

Huot sped over on his bicycle after finding out Burkhardt was there, in order to shout at him.

What residents lacked in numbers, they made up in indignation, with some hurling insults at the man they held responsible for the loss of their homes and loved ones.

Burkhardt's comments at the news scrum, held in the middle of a residential street, were at times drowned out by hecklers.

Among them was Huot, who shouted a string of swear words and called Burkhardt a murderer.

One onlooker with a booming voice demanded that he visit the site that used to be Lac-Megantic's downtown core, until it was obliterated by Saturday's deadly derailment.

"It's a catastrophe!" one man belted out in French as the American businessman answered a question. The heckler then added in English, through a thick French accent: "Go walk there!"

Provincial police kept one woman at bay as she waved Canadian and American flags while trying to approach Burkhardt, while there were a couple of journalistic shoving matches while media members struggled to get a better shot of Burkhardt.

The railway boss explained that he'd stayed in Chicago to deal with the crisis from his office, where he was better able to communicate with insurers, the media and officials in different places during what he described as 20-hour work days.

"Am I a compassionate person?" Burkhardt said, during a lengthy press conference where he calmly answered dozens of questions.

"I feel absolutely awful. I am devastated by what's happened."

His apparent contrition couldn't appease those who watched, arms crossed, from the sidelines and cast stony glances at the American businessman.

"It actually makes us more angry that he's here because I think he's shameless," said teenager Alyssia Bolduc.

Her mother, Johanne Bolduc, added: "It's too late. He doesn't seem to have any remorse."

As she spoke, the impromptu news scrum ended, the crowd began to disperse, and the railway president was ushered away by a police escort.

-With files from Melanie Marquis