Coping with loss

Andrea Gunn
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Family of Jason Skinner still asking 'what if,' battling with unanswered questions one year after his murder

Mary Ellen Skinner Giles says her nephew's name will never be forgotten. Not only does her grandson carry the namesake of Jason Skinner, she says his life is remembered every day.

One year ago, Skinner had been killed, his life extinguished many years too soon. Then 34, he had been battling addiction for some time, and last spring, had finally taken steps to turn his life around.

A Harbour Round native, he was living at a house on Eighteenth Avenue in Grand Falls-Windsor owned by a local homelessness network, with plans to go to seek help for his addiction. But he would never get that chance.

Police found Skinner on April 14, 2013, badly injured. He was transported to hospital where he later died as a result of his injuries. A short time later, Pamela Pike and Wanda Ash were arrested and charged with first-degree murder in relation to Skinner's death.

Now, one year later, Skinner's family is still left with questions, with "what ifs," and trying to pick up the pieces and cope with the loss of their loved one.

"Someone else took away his right to turn his life around," Giles told the Advertiser. "What if he had gotten his life finally turned around? What would have happened? What could he have been?"

Giles said this past year has been a series of firsts for his family, his first birthday and first Christmas without him, and now the anniversary of his death.

"Trying to cope with the firsts is plagued with 'What's happening next?' in the court system, so you're never really getting a chance to grieve properly because his death is still imminent in your mind," she said.

Though Skinner's parents Melvin and Wanda work in Alberta for part of the year, they still try and get to every court proceeding they can. This year on what would have been Skinner's 35th birthday, the family celebrated in a courtroom during one of Ash's appearances. They sang happy birthday to their dead family member as she was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.

"His family has tried to be at every court proceeding, whether it's a court appearance whether it's a bail hearing, because they have so many questions," she said. "It's like watching a train wreck where you know there's going to be all kind of carnage at the end that you probably shouldn't see because it's going to give you nightmares, but yet you have to know the details about what happened."

Since Skinner's death, one of his alleged killers, Pamela Pike, has been released on bail. Wanda Ash has not sought bail, and just last week a preliminary inquiry into the case confirmed there was enough evidence for her to go before the Supreme Court on first degree murder charges.

Finding out Pike would be released on bail was difficult for Skinner's family, Giles said.

"If we had a son or daughter behind bars we would want the exact same thing, to be able to see them, but it doesn't seem like justice is served when you're accused of taking someone's life and that person is lying in a cold grave. The best his parents can do for their son is put flowers on a grave," she said.

"Then you have (Pike) who can walk around and breathe the fresh air; she can hug her mom and dad. My brother and his wife would do anything to be able to hug Jason, even if they didn't agree with anything he did, to just be able to hug him and make sure he's OK. And they can't do that."

Though Giles said it brings some level of comfort knowing Ash is going before the courts with the maximum charge, Jason's family reserves some level of compassion for the families of the two accused.

"Right from the beginning, because they have dealt with a troubled son, Jason's parents have felt compassion for the other parents," Giles said. "I find it incredible, watching my brother and his wife go through all this, and yet one thing they've always wanted to put through is they don't want another parent suffering for this."

Meanwhile, she says, Jason's parents still want justice.

"At the same time by saying that they don't want to take away from Jason's life because they do want justice. When (they) say 'I want justice for my sons death' that does not mean that they don't feel for the families and what they're going through, it's just compassion and justice are two different things."

Though the justice system moves slowly, Giles said for the most part her family is pleased with the way things have progressed in the courts. She said it's a difficult thing to have to go through for any family, and it's especially hard having to go through everything twice.

Giles said the family, as vast and spread out as they are, are taking everything a day at a time, trying to support one another, and doing their best to cope with the untimely and painful loss of their loved family member.

"His memory will live on and his name will live on and his story will live on, but unfortunately, he doesn't live on, and we just have to get through the best way we can."

Organizations: Supreme Court

Geographic location: Harbour Round, Eighteenth Avenue, Alberta

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