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Balance the Scales and Focus the Camera - The news of my sister's murder

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Delilah and Loretta Saunders [Photo: Delilah Saunders]
Delilah and Loretta Saunders [Photo: Delilah Saunders]

Trigger Warning: The following article speaks candidly about the death of Loretta Saunders.

By Delilah Saunders

It's hard to fathom a loved one going missing. It's even harder to learn of their homicide through a text message. The news of my sister was delivered to me by the media asking for an interview. How could someone be so callous and ready to pounce, when detectives didn't even have the chance to contact us, the family? The details of my sister's murder were then released almost immediately.

There are no words for how these instances made me feel.

I was extremely hurt, but I'm glad we didn't have to sit through the trial with 'live tweets' documenting of our every move. My family and I have personally and collectively experienced a great amount of insensitivity at the hands of certain broadcasting companies.

After the initial shock and the bad taste left by the insensitive and sensationalist approach certain broadcasters had faded, I began to understand why the media conducts themselves the way they do. They are just doing their jobs.

That being said, not all victims have the support or mental and emotional means to endure this sort of behaviour. It makes me wonder how many families were silenced by this unfortunate mixture of circumstance.

Personally, I wish media outlets were sensitive to that. I wish there was a sense of compassion in the media circuit where the families who are dealing with a very traumatizing experience were humanized and not treated like just another story. Dealing with the media was a learning experience and I can now understand why so many families avoid them at all costs.

As for the court system, it was easier on our family as compared to other cases that make it to the court room. In my sister Loretta's case, the perpetrators pleaded guilty at the last minute. This often isn't the case, as many families are never even given the chance to lay their loved one(s) to rest, due to the lack of media coverage and response from law enforcement which raises awareness and community actions. According to a report the RCMP released in May 2014 there are still 164 missing Indigenous women. These statistics are likely skewed as many women go unreported or police fail to file reports.

My mantra before the trial, and in those supreme court pews was, "I am civil, I am sweet, I am doing this for something bigger than myself".

I sat feet away from Victoria Henneberry. The woman who has been sentenced to life in prision with no chance for parole for 10 years for 2nd degree murder. She aided her ex-boyfriend, Blake Leggette, who killed my sister. I sat, chewing honey roasted peanuts, with the full knowledge that she has a peanut allergy. Mentally, I struggled with regurgitating them onto her or in her vicinity. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I were to spit out those peanuts, I'd be no better than her or him. But then again, how am I any better by preparing peanut soup in my mouth?

I struggle with my imagination, of thoughts of how Loretta died. I constantly feel a lump in my throat and react to it by squeezing my trachea.

I wish that I had been there to protect her, or die with her. I can feel Blake creeping up on my sister. I can feel how she felt when the attack began. I can feel the struggle between them.

That apartment was our home. We'd fought in there before, we'd laughed, had epiphanies, and realizations. We painted our nails as we talked about our dreams and boyfriends. I've cooked for her while she studied, and her for me.

I miss her bakeapple cheesecake, and her perfect steaks which I cannot emulate. We made crafts by the window and shared awe at the gorgeous view of the sunset together. That was our home and those two murderers tainted that.

At one point, in court, I screamed out at Victoria and Blake. I hope in screaming at them, they heard Loretta’s voice too.

I’m often told I’m a lot like her in many ways, including her laugh, which is why laughing has become such a bittersweet thing in my life. I hope that will ease up in time and I'll embrace the cadence our laugh shares.

When I took the stand in court, to read my victim impact statement, I was unable to read what I felt was of the utmost importance surrounding Loretta's case. I opted to read the family press release because I didn't want people to forget what Loretta's life was about. I also chose this because nothing I could write in my own victim impact statement would have been free of black ink and censorship. Everything I felt I wanted to say would have been redacted and drawn over with a thick black marker.

Even their guilty pleas could not content me or allow me to hold my composure.

I screamed at them after I struggled to read the family press release. I couldn't utter anything coherent, I could only shriek obscenities at them.

The need to address them directly shot out of me.

I went off script in the pageantry laden courtroom, where the two who brutally murdered my radiant, vibrant, pregnant sister, were so protected and their every need taken care of.

I screamed, "I'm not feeling very fucking civil, I'm not feeling very fucking sweet! Do you know what you've done?! You stole my sister!"

The entire room was blocked out by my fierce anger but I stormed out, without spitting the peanuts in Victoria's face.

I guess I am civil after all.

To contact Delilah via email: delilah@homicidesurvivor.ca

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