Grandmother mourns death of teen twins in Fort Mac

Barb Sweet
Published on June 30, 2011
Nina Heath holds a picture of her twin grandsons, James and William Beck, in her South Brook home. The 17-year-old brothers were killed in Fort McMurray Sunday.—Nor'wester photo

Nina Heath learned her grandsons were dead on Facebook. The South Brook, central Newfoundland woman went on William Beck's Facebook site Sunday morning and saw a picture of him and his identical twin, James, with guns pointed at each other.

"I typed in, 'Oh my God. I hope those guns are not real.' And he never got back to me," Heath said Wednesday.

"I scrolled down and saw all those 'rest in peace' and 'condolences.' I went in total shock. ... They are gone from me forever."

The terrible news had been posted before Heath's former daughter-in-law could call her. Heath's son had been the boys' stepfather.

The 17-year-old twins were pronounced dead at hospital after RCMP officers were called to a Fort McMurray skateboard and sprinkler park just after 11 p.m. Sunday on a report of an assault.

Police have released few details of their mysterious deaths, but Heath said there are suspects.

She said she also believes the deaths were gang-related.

"I really do. Because they were acting out. ... They were dressed in gang attire. James had a title, 'Majestic Beck.' A lot of their pictures were all gang-related. 'Live rough, live tough,' and all these sayings. It's only the past couple years they got into that."

She said when she expressed concern at one point, James replied, "Oh Nan, don't worry about us, we're cool."

They lived downtown in public housing projects in the roughest area of Fort McMurray, she said.

"Out there, it's a very fast-paced life," Heath said. "It's crazy up there. ... They got themselves into something that was too big for them."

But Heath said the boys always watched out for people, and told her she was the only grandmother they ever knew.

"They wouldn't sign off without saying 'I love you Nan,'" she said.

Heath's son Darren married the twins' mother when they were toddlers, and the couple was able to get them out of foster care, Heath said.

The boys' biological father was not involved in their upbringing, she said.

When the boys were five, the couple came to Newfoundland for three years for school - Darren took auto mechanics and Laurie Beck studied office adminstration. Heath continued to dote on the two boys when her son and their mother divorced after nine years.

Heath's former daughter-in-law, who pretty much raised the boys on her own, is devastated, she said.

Heath's son is also shaken by the deaths, even though she said he hasn't been as involved in their lives since the divorce.

A memorial service was being planned for today in Fort McMurray and a funeral service for family and friends within a couple weeks after the bodies are released.

Heath wasn't sure she would go to the funeral.

"Right now I'm emotionally drained. I don't know if I can," she said, her voice breaking on the phone.

"I don't want to see the bodies. It hurts too much. I want to remember them like I last saw them."

Heath has made the trip to Fort Mac every two years to see her daughter there, as well as William and James. She spoke to the boys in April by phone, as they were away on school break. But she and her husband, Wilbert, planned to see them in September and bring them to see her daughter's baby.

"It's hard to go back up," she said.

Both boys were in Grade 11. William wanted to be a truck driver, but James didn't talk much about future plans, Heath said.

They were inseparable, she said.

"I can remember having them here living with me. They could not sleep unless they were in the same bed," she said.

On a Facebook in memoriam site, friends and acquaintances remembered the boys as tough, but also left comments about their caring nature and loyalty to others.