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Cortney Lake’s family raises Christmas tree in her memory; hopes to draw attention to violence against women

Cortney Lake’s son, Oliver, puts an ornament on the tree at a tree-lighting ceremony Thursday evening at St. David’s Park in Mount Pearl.
Cortney Lake’s son, Oliver, puts an ornament on the tree at a tree-lighting ceremony Thursday evening at St. David’s Park in Mount Pearl. - The Telegram

By Juanita Mercer
The Telegram

Some say that finding a dime means a deceased loved one is looking out for you.

“We found a dime under the tree,” said Donna Walsh, Cortney Lake’s aunt. “For anyone that’s a bit spiritual, we felt her presence here today.”

Lake’s family held a tree-lighting ceremony Thursday evening at St. David’s Park in Mount Pearl to honour Lake’s memory and to shed light on the issue of violence against women.

“We put all purple lights on it,” said Lake’s mother, Lisa Lake. “Purple is not only Cortney’s favourite colour, it also symbolizes violence against women. And if there were more stricter laws, Cortney would be here with us tonight.”

The 24-year-old mother of one has been missing since June 7, and police have classified her disappearance as a homicide. Her family and concerned citizens continue to search for her body.

Lisa Lake says the family and those helping with the search have become very close, calling them “family.”

That group of searchers, dubbed Search Angels, are also working with Lake’s family to raise awareness about violence against women. The group and Lake’s family teamed up to raise money for the St. John’s Women’s Centre.

The centre’s co-ordinator, Natasha Bader-Densmore, accepted the donation at the tree-lighting ceremony.

“It’s going to fund our newly developed ROAR (Rebuilding Ourselves After Abusive Relationships) group. That’s a sixteen-week therapy group for women to work on the pain and the issues, and the things that come from the impacts of violence,” Bader-Densmore said

Hours before Lake was last seen, her former boyfriend, Philip Smith, pleaded guilty to assaulting her, breaching orders to stay away from her and her mother, and distributing intimate images of her.

At the tree lighting, Lake’s family recalled some special Christmas memories.

“Last Christmas, she and I went to Costco,” said Walsh. “She loved going shopping at Costco. She never had a membership, so it was always, ‘Aunt Donna, are you going to Costco today? Pick me up.’ So we’d go to Costco, and she’d just buy all kinds of Christmas stuff. She just loved it.

“And she wanted to go early — her tree was up in November last year. And then when it was up, she’s like, ‘Why haven’t ye got your trees up? Come on!’ And she’d rally us all to get into the Christmas spirit. So, that’s what we’re doing tonight.”

Walsh says the family and searchers will continue looking for Lake, but notes winter is coming and snow will put a halt to the searches.

She says that will not stop them from advocating for other women and keeping Lake’s memory alive. The family is already planning an event to mark her birthday in February.

Meanwhile, the tree will remain lit with purple lights throughout the holiday season.

“So hopefully as cars pass by here, they’ll look in and see the purple,” said Walsh. “(They’ll think), ‘yes, violence against women has to stop.’ But Cortney Lake is remembered as well.”

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