Today’s news about the launch of the Calgary Homicide Support Society comes nine years after my 2006 story about Calgarians who used to meet at the Rockyview General Hospital chapel to attend the city’s, and perhaps the country’s, only therapy group for people who have lost loved ones to murder.
Great to see this concept coming back to life.
Living with the grief: Rockyview hospital runs Calgary’s largest homicide bereavement program to help deal with grief from violent deaths.
Feb 19, 2006
The mothers say it hurts to live.
Knives, guns and bare hands have taken their children away and left
them with the cruellest grief.
Homicide creates heartache like no other.
After she laid her teenage son Tyler to rest, Fern Trithart says she had
no choice but to reach out and find other mothers whose children had
been violently killed.
“I would watch the news, and read the newspaper if it involved
someone losing a child. I would look up in the obits to get the
e-mail for the funeral home,” she said.
“I was looking for somebody.”
That’s just what she did on Sept. 5, 2003. As Steffi Stehwien
stumbled numbly through her murdered teenage son’s funeral, Trithart
“I actually found the church in the obits and took a card to her,”
In reassuring blue ink, she wrote to Stehwien: “My heart breaks for
you as you grieve. I, too, had my son’s life taken away by
The message delivered hope.
“I bawled my eyes out,” said Stehwien, who still treasures the
white sympathy card with Trithart’s carefully printed telephone
“She threw a lifeline into that basket with the cards.”
As the two mothers continued their quest to find others who knew
their specific heartache, they were recently invited to take part in
Calgary’s — perhaps even the nation’s — very first hospital-run
homicide grief support group.
“This is where I fit best,” said Trithart, who joined the therapy
group last month for its inaugural six-week program. Her son Tyler was killed by a single punch during a fist fight.
“When you lose someone to murder, it is so different from an accident, or heart
attack, or losing a newborn, or cancer. This rocks your whole world
and your soul.”
Stehwien agrees. “It’s sinister and dark and wrong.”
Her son, Aaron Shoulders, was stabbed to death after he was swarmed
by a group of young men outside a downtown bar. His killer has never
The grief from homicide is the cruellest to endure, she says.
The Rockyview hospital runs the city’s largest grief support
program with 30 groups to serve people who have lost spouses,
babies, parents, siblings and friends. But until now, there was
nothing in place for survivors of homicide victims.
As the city’s growth nears the one-million mark, Rockyview chaplain
Brian Pickering says there is an alarming increase of referrals for
homicide grief counselling.
“It’s a very unfortunate commentary on the increase in violence in
our city,” said Pickering, who co-ordinates grief support with Rev.
Bob Glasgow at the Rockyview hospital.
Since 2000, there have been nearly 100 homicides in and around
To keep pace with the disturbing growth, Pickering created an
innovative homicide bereavement program last month. Over a six-week
period, seven survivors participated in the first-ever group.
“Homicidal loss is unique because variables such as media and
justice issues complicate the length of time to navigate the journey
of grief,” said Pickering. “The intensity of the pain is unique
because of the violence involved.
“There is a sense of being an alien in a strange land because there
are so few people who can comprehend the depth and breadth of that
kind of loss.”
The grief that comes from homicide is complex, he said.
“Homicide can be unprovoked, it’s violent and most of the time it’s
for no reason. It brings up questions around safety and the side of
our society that is so violent.”
Four months after her 20-year-old daughter Kristen Deyell was shot
to death in Mexico, a broken hearted Cher Ewing turned to grief
“I thought being a violent death, the Calgary police department
would have something, but no,” she said. Instead, Ewing was referred
to a hospice-run program. The closest thing she could find for
survivors of her kind of loss was a support group for bereaved
parents who had lost children to illness.
She welcomed new friendships and support the group offered, but the
darker pall of murder clearly set Ewing apart from the group.
“When I received a call from the Rockyview saying they were going
to start a bereavement group targeting violent death, I didn’t
hesitate for a second,” said Ewing.
“The group is exactly what I had been looking for.”
When a loved one is murdered, words of comfort and compassion from
others can be clumsy.
“Murder is not something people like to talk about,” says
Stehwien. “Family and friends feel uncomfortable with my intense,
deep pain, my tears, my anger and the rage that comes losing a loved
one to murder.”
She says over the past six weeks, the grief group has replaced
absent family members and friends who disappeared from her life
after her son’s funeral.
“When I meet mothers who have lost their children to murder, we
don’t feel like strangers. We have that common ground. The tears
come, the hugs come, you feel their pain and they feel yours and it
breaks the ice right there.”
Trithart agrees, remembering the debilitating exhaustion and
“It is such a cruel club we belong to,” she said. “It’s a very
lonely road. You live because you have to at first. I feel like I
don’t fit in but you have to keep going. We have to learn how to fit
The changes a murder brings to a family are profound, she said. The
horror of violence is not easily forgotten.
Murder casts its dark shadow on social lives, too.
As she struggles to come to terms with her sister’s killing, Esther
Halton has seen her own close friendships fade.
Her 40-year-old sister Dorothy Halton was strangled to death by a
former boyfriend in Ottawa on Dec. 11, 2004.
“They just can’t handle it,” said Halton. “But other people have
really come forward and been more generous and really connected.”
Few friends can comprehend how murder changes the lives of those
who have lost loved ones.
“What I found the most amazing is how people would just give
advice, or expect you to start a new cause, or go out there and just
pick up where you left off,” said Trithart. “They’re not even
expecting you to change, but you do, and you just feel so empty
inside like no parent should ever have to.”
Stehwien has shared the same experience from those who don’t
“They’re angry that you’re not who you used to be. I’m an outcast.
A lot of my friendships are done. Only those that walk in my shoes
can truly understand. The homicide grief support group has become my
lifeline in the midst of my horrific violent storm. I feel their
deep compassion, sensitivity and care. We share the same pain, anger
and feelings of isolation. We have the same questions and we have
the same needs,” she said.
Those feelings of deep despair and loneliness motivated grieving
mothers to seek each other out not just for comfort, but for
“We all find each other after a while. Slowly but surely, we find
each other,” said Trithart. “You don’t have to defend your children
to those people. We’re all going through the same thing. People are
so judgmental, those who think you should get over it and move on.”
Parents worry about their children falling prey to disease, but
nothing prepares them for the destruction homicide wreaks on their
“As mothers, we know that sickness can happen. A car crash is an
accident. But it’s not like murder, it’s not at the hand of someone
else. Somebody took a knife and stuck it in my son. That is a
deliberate act,” said Stehwien.
“It’s a daily nightmare. It replays in my mind. I think about the
people standing around and watching,”she said through tears.
“People don’t want to talk about murder. We need each other. We
need to fight our fight together.”
Homicide thrusts its victims and survivors into the public eye.
Families say seeing coverage on television or in headlines adds
another painful layer to their grief. Images of yellow crime scene
tape, police, and even suspects is hurtful to take in, they say.
Through the eyes of their loved ones, homicide victims are so much
more than the sum of what they were doing the day they were taken.
They are the sum of their entire lives.
“You automatically get a stereotype of what kind of person you
might be,” said Trithart. Her son Tyler died from a single punch during a
pre-arranged fight, but he did not have a
reputation as a fighter.
“We all come from normal families and none of us understand why
murder happened to us,” said Stehwien.
Issues of justice are also unique to homicide victims’ families.
The slow moving wheels of the criminal court system coupled with
the traumatic experience of testifying in court are hard to bear.
But in some cases, there is no justice.
Since Stehwien’s son was stabbed to death, his killer has roamed
free. Not having a suspect behind bars for stealing Shoulders’ life
has only made Stehwien’s grief heavier.
“No one has been arrested. How could I live in the same city where
my son’s murderer lives free? I thought I was losing my mind,” she
said. “It’s like having a nightmare and when I wake I realize it’s
Ewing has endured the most public battle for justice in her
daughter’s shooting death.
“As it stands, most of the information is kept hidden from us,”
said Ewing, who revisited Mexico seeking answers about who shot her
daughter as she was leaving a Guadalajara nightclub in 2004.
Initially, Ewing was told by
police her exchange student daughter’s death was an accident, and
that she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing
can describe the frustration Ewing felt when she learned the suspect
was linked to organized crime and the illegal drug trade, she says.
Investigators shared little information, she says.
“I can understand that there is information that is sensitive. My
reply to this position is there
isn’t anyone in the world who wants these people caught and brought
to justice more than we do, no one.”
“What gives them the right to decide what we should know and what
we should not? What gives them the right to this information while
we are left out in the cold wondering what is being done?”
Shortly before Christmas,
Ewing received the call she’d been waiting for. Mexican police had
charged a suspected shooter in her daughter’s death.
Even when there is justice, it comes with an emotional price.
Erica Wieser was 16 when her brother, Jason Wright, was shot dead
by a stranger near Electric Avenue in 1996.
Wieser remembers sitting through her brother’s murder trial and the
added hurt of
defence arguments which
portrayed her brother as a bully wanting to fight a stranger for no
But she tries to put it in perspective — her brother’s killer was
convicted of second-degree murder.
“For some of the moms there’s been no justice, at least there was
justice done,” she said.
The 17-year-old Chestermere teen whose single punch killed Tyler
Trithart was found not guilty of manslaughter.
For years, Tyler’s mother has struggled to understand how one boy
was freed while her boy is gone.
“There was no justice. What did that show those 90 kids standing
around watching it happen? I just live with it now. I want my boys
to have a good life like we gave Tyler a good 16 years.”
Helping survivors maintain a focus on the future is a job Pickering
knows all too well.
Pickering was a grief counsellor in Banff when the murder of young
taxi driver Lucy Turmel shook the mountain resort in 1990. Turmel
was discovered stabbed to death, lying in a pool of blood in the
middle of a road.
Faced with a crush of reporters and a dozen traumatized cabbies to
debrief, Pickering experienced the complicated waves of pain caused
“Maybe it was a foreshadowing of how my life would somehow be
directed to be involved in this area in the future,” he said,
“It seems the future is here.”
Pickering says his ultimate goal is to provide timely access to
grief support to mitigate
further impact on an already stretched health-care system. If
support groups can reach bereaved people early enough, they may
avoid the mental and physical breakdowns connected to extreme grief.
As a teenager, Erica Wieser had the added trauma of witnessing her
parents’ day-to-day struggle with grief.
“It was hard as a child going through it and watching your parents
go through it,” said Wieser.
“I remember walking upstairs at the funeral home and my mother
dropped to her knees. There was nothing we could do. As a family,
you want to be able to help each other. I was a kid, I had no idea
how to help my mom.”
Whether it has been a month or 20 years, sorrow lingers forever
“It’s not about closure or getting over it,” said Pickering. “The
work of grief is about finding a way to invite and acknowledge that
loved one to journey with us into the future in a life-affirming
Wieser still struggles with her brother’s absence.
“The pain isn’t as intense —
I’ll never forget that day — but now it’s bittersweet. I do still
Her first steps to join the
bereavement group have been
a comfort already, she said.
“The people are so real. They truly understand and it was nice
being in a room with them. The emotions are the same, even if they
are from 10 years ago. I will never forget it, hopefully one day the
pain won’t be as intense as it is.”
Trithart is looking forward to more families participating in the
program, particularly the loved ones of Calgary’s latest homicide
“We all belong to this club we don’t want to belong to. We didn’t
have a choice. Our kids didn’t deserve this.
“It gives you hope. I just want some hope back in my life. This
group gives you hope. If you can help somebody else, maybe you’re
doing some kind of good.”
To stay connected to her departed daughter, Ewing told her grief
group that she enrolled in a sewing class to learn how to make a
quilt. Using squares of Kristen’s favourite smiley face shorts,
terry cloth bathrobe, pajamas and soccer jerseys, she painstakingly
poured hours into the project. Now, when she has a bad day and
misses her smiling daughter, she can wrap herself in memories.
“How do you find the energy to do everything that needs to be done
when some days it takes all the energy you have just to get through
the day?” she said.
“Somehow we will find a way.”
© 2006 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.
20 years after mom’s murder, numbness has replaced shock
Sun Feb 19 2006
The first time her mother was nearly murdered, Tamara Peaker
was 13 years old.
“I was in the house when it happened. I witnessed my mom bleeding
head to toe,” said Peaker, now 36.
Peaker’s mother, Bonnie, was stabbed 33 times by her common-law
husband John Charles McColeman at their Nanaimo, B.C., home. Bonnie
survived the vicious attack and he served 13 months in jail.
After McColeman was released, he broke into Peaker’s house on Aug.
3, 1984, and got drunk waiting for her mother to come home.
Bonnie fled when she spotted him, but McColeman chased the
35-year-old outside onto the street and killed her. He stabbed her
more than 80 times.
It’s now been more than 20 years, but for Peaker, an only child
without a father, the shattering experience profoundly altered her
“My experience has meant growing up overnight. My childhood was
taken away from me,” said Peaker, who moved to
Calgary a few years ago.
“I only have a couple of memories of my mom. I don’t even remember
what her voice sounds like. I don’t know her quirks or nuances. I
barely even know any of her personality traits.”
Peaker’s friendly smile and easy, explosive laughter belie her
years with a darker struggle fraught with self-doubt.
“I never knew my mom as an adult or as a woman. It has meant not
learning how to bond with other women. This is something you learn
from your mother,” she said.
“It has meant avoiding conversations about my family life. How do
you tell your friends at the age of 16 that your mom was murdered?
It has been a lifetime of just wanting to hug her again.”
Joining the Rockyview hospital’s homicide grief support group has
been a meaningful first step for Peaker to finally connect with
others who can relate to her heartache.
“The support group is a safe place to find out that your suffering
is not unusual. It’s a place to meet friends with a common thread
and understanding of a life-altering experience.”
Part of the insurmountable grief Peaker endures is a dreaded
anticipation of being contacted by the courts when her mother’s
killer applies for parole — again.
In January 2000, Peaker and her mother’s relatives attended
McColeman’s courtroom bid for early parole through the faint-hope
“It was terrifying,” said Peaker, who returned to her childhood
home of Nanaimo, to testify and face the killer as a grown woman.
“The anticipation of waiting to see him in the courtroom had my
stomach in knots. There he was. I just stared at him.”
The judge rejected McColeman’s application and the killer must now
wait until August 2009 to re-apply for parole, when he will have
served the standard 25 years for first-degree murder.
Peaker continues struggling with darkness and pain, but she says
listening to the grief support survivors share their recent losses
gives her some perspective on her own loss.
“That raw feeling does go away. The shock lasts for years and it
gets replaced with a numbness,” she said.
“But I cope and am a lot gentler with myself.”
Dr. Dorothy Halton: Jan. 25, 1964 to Dec. 11, 2004
Sun Feb 19 2006
It’s fitting that a music scholarship and donations to
women’s shelters are being made in Dr. Dorothy Halton’s good name.
Halton, an accomplished musician and emergency room doctor,
achieved much in her 40 years.
Her life was cut short when on Dec. 11, 2004 she was found
strangled in her Ottawa condominium on the Rideau Canal. The
Calgary-born doctor’s abusive former boyfriend, Burns Coutts, 36, a
senior policy adviser with Environment Canada, was charged with
But before his trial started, he hanged himself in custody at the
Royal Ottawa Hospital.
The fact that Halton’s killer would never face a judge and be
convicted only added to the family’s pain.
“It made us actually feel sick. He had no remorse and he was
worried about himself and his name,” said Esther Halton, Dorothy’s
“We have no doubt that he did it. But having it on the record is
important. It was first-degree murder, it was planned. This was not
a heated battle, he came there prepared. This was not just a random
Grief has been a frequent visitor to Esther’s family, which has
seen the loss of a brother and key clan members.
The murder of her sister, however, is the cruelest and most
“I just couldn’t handle it. Death is part of life and it’s very
tragic, but this was so overwhelming. You just can’t understand why
it’s so upsetting to you, it’s so overwhelming.”
To help Halton’s legacy endure, a Kiwanis Music Festival
scholarship has been created, according to Esther and her husband
Joe Hillaby. Halton, a talented piano and flute player who enjoyed
creating her own compositions, remains an inspiration to Esther’s
daughter, who is also very musical.
Man stabbed to death at party ‘innocent’
Sun Feb 19 2006
Dateline: PORT COQUITLAM, B.C.
Source: The Canadian Press
PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. — A young man stabbed to death during a
house party in Port Coquitlam tried in vain to run away from at
least four pursuers during an out-of-control brawl involving dozens
of young people.
“He was an innocent person,” said Kim Blanchard, whose home
overlooks the house where the fight spilled into the street on
Blanchard said she watched as 20-year-old Jesse Penner tried to get
away from the violence at about 11 p.m.
“At 11 o’clock, all hell broke loose. There were at least 50 to 60
kids. They were fighting. The girls were as violent as the boys
were,” she said.
“I heard (Penner) say, ‘I don’t need this, I’m out of here.’ ”
Penner was chased down a lane and cornered against a garage door
about 100 metres from the party. He died in an ambulance on the way
Fire crews later hosed away blood from the ground and door.
Blanchard said the partiers scattered when police arrived.
Police arrested several people at the scene for public intoxication
but had yet to officially link the party with the murder on
“At this time we have not identified any suspects,” said Const.
He said the drunks were arrested for their own safety and would be
released when deemed sober.
Kristen Deyell: Feb. 24, 1984 to April 23, 2004
Sun Feb 19 2006
Source: Calgary Herald
Kristen Deyell was celebrating a friend’s birthday when she
was shot to death outside a Guadalajara nightclub.
The vivacious 20-year-old Mount Royal College student got into a
car outside of Balibar moments before it was sprayed with bullets.
Deyell and a local man were both killed. Deyell’s mother, Cher
Ewing, was in Mexico at the time visiting her daughter, who was
enrolled for a semester at the Instituto Technologico y de Estudios
Superiores de Monterrey.
The son of Mexico’s most wanted drug baron was named as a suspect
in Deyell’s murder last June.
On Dec. 22, Ewing learned that Ivan Guzman Salazar had been
“It was the best Christmas present we could have gotten. I had a
really good cry. It felt like the pressure valve had been released,”
Recently a group of Kristen’s friends joined Ewing to watch a movie
and play cards. Maintaining a connection with her daughter’s friends
is important, Ewing says.
Framed photographs of the beautiful brunette decorate the house,
and Kristen’s beloved Jeep sits in the family garage.
“We can’t get rid of it, she just loved it.”
Ewing recently dreamed she was talking with her daughter in her
living room. She asked Kristen what she liked best about being
alive. In the dream, a sparkle winked from Kristen’s eye. When Ewing
rephrased the question, the sparkle twinkled from Kristen’s smiling
“It felt good to dream about her.”
Jason Wright: Nov. 16, 1976 to Feb. 24, 1996
Sun Feb 19 2006
Source: Calgary Herald
On what would have been Jason Wright’s 30th birthday, glasses
were raised high in a toast to what might have been.
Wright, gunned down in cold blood with a sawed-off rifle during a
brief argument after Electric Avenue bars closed on Feb. 24, 1996,
only made it to 21. He died in his friend Kurt Panich’s arms outside
a Macs convenience store on 5th Street and 11th Avenue S.W.
Although his senseless death at the hands of a stranger happened a
decade ago, family and friends mark his birthday each year and try
to imagine he’s with them on special occasions.
“On every anniversary, I go down to his site and bring flowers,”
said Wright’s sister, Erica Wieser, 26.
Wright’s killer, then 19-year-old Adam Cain Peri, was convicted of
“I don’t remember him showing any remorse in court,” said Wieser,
who was just 16 when her brother was killed.
Two years to the day he shot Wright dead, Peri was accused of
taking part in a vicious jailhouse beating of another inmate inside
Drumheller Institution. He was acquitted of that attempted murder
Loved ones can hardly believe Wright, a Henry Wise Wood high school
grad who was poised to enter a manager’s position at Sally’s Spirit
Wine & Beer Shoppe in southwest Calgary, is really gone.
“It’s still hard,” said Wieser. “But my life has been OK. His best
friend is now my step-brother, and it’s nice we have him in common.”
She keeps photos of her brother out where she can see them.
“He’s a memory that lives on.”