— Photo by Bonnie Learning/The Labradorian
It’s been a hard road for Loretta Saunders’ family and it will only get harder when the preliminary inquiry for the two people charged with her murder takes place in Halifax July 21-24.
“My wife (Miriam Saunders, Loretta’s mother) has to testify, as well as my son and daughter, at the preliminary hearing,” Clayton Saunders, Loretta’s soft-spoken father, said in an interview this week.
“This will be the first time we will see (the accused). It’s going to be very stressful.”
Loretta, a 26-year old Inuk woman from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, went missing in mid-February of this year.
The Saint Mary’s University student was researching missing and murdered aboriginal women for a thesis and was to graduate this spring.
She planned to apply to law school and was three months’ pregnant.
Halifax police say Loretta was killed Feb. 13, the day she was last seen at a Halifax apartment she was subletting to the two people charged with her murder — Blake Leggette, 25, and Victoria Henneberry, 28.
Loretta’s disappearance triggered a search and public appeals from her family for help in finding the young woman.
Her body was found Feb. 26 in a median off Route 2, west of Moncton, N.B.
Clayton said he feels certain there will be enough evidence presented at the preliminary inquiry to warrant a trial.
But he and Miriam are somewhat disheartened by the fact the family was told there were certain things they may not be able to do while in court.
“We were told (by the Crown) we could try to wear T-shirts with Loretta’s picture on it, but that there is a possibility we may be asked to turn them inside out,” explained Miriam.
“They said it would all depend on the judge at the hearing.”
Clayton and Miriam praised Loretta for having turned her life around after a number of years of drinking and drug use.
“She got into a lot of bad stuff when she left home at first,” Clayton recalled.
“She did her high school upgrading in Hopedale, completing in just eight months what usually takes three years,” Miriam added with a smile.
“She was very smart. She was always studying,” Clayton said. “Every time we spoke to her on the phone, she was studying. She would even study when she was home on her Christmas breaks.”
Two scholarships have been established in Loretta’s name: one was set up by Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, and Darryl Leroux, assistant professor at Saint Mary’s University, to raise money for indigenous women attending university in Atlantic Canada; the other has been established by Saint Mary’s University.
‘A real princess’
Clayton remembers their daughter as being a “real princess” growing up.
“She was a very fragile little girl,” he said with a smile.
But he also recalls her wanting to be involved with some facet of law enforcement since she was about 10 years old.
“She said she always wanted to be a police officer or a detective. I told her it might not be a good idea, as she might see things she wouldn’t want to see,” Clayton recalled.
“So she made plans that she would go to law school. She always wanted to make a change in the world.”
Clayton said ever since that nightmare day in February, his family has received — and continues to receive — messages and calls of support from all over.
“My wife tells me she gets lots of messages on the computer, especially from young people, who say they are inspired by Loretta,” said Clayton.
“One young man recently messaged her to say he went back to school (because of Loretta).”
While the case winds itself through the court, Clayton said should the accused eventually be found guilty, the only sentence he wants to see imposed is life in prison with no possibility of parole.
“Loretta was such a kindhearted little girl,” he said quietly. “She had so many friends in Halifax, Hopedale and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. So many people loved her.
“But nothing will ever bring her back.”
Miriam said parents today — especially those from small communities — need to teach their children that not everyone is like the people they know at home.
“Kids need to be taught not to trust strangers,” she said, noting Loretta took in the accused as boarders at her apartment, as a means to make up a brief loss in funding for school.
“It’s up to parents to protect and teach their children before they leave home for post-secondary education.”
Will become advocate
She said once the court case is finished, she will start advocating for reform to Canadian law regarding the murder of pregnant women.
“I really want people to remember Loretta was three months’ pregnant (when she was killed), and she had planned on taking a year off once the baby was born, continue studying, and apply for the bar exam at law school,” said Miriam.
“She had actually asked me to leave my job and look after the baby while she attended law school, and I was going to do that.
“But the current law doesn’t recognize the baby’s death (as a separate murder charge). I want to see that changed.”
Miriam said her daughter was a caring person who loved kids and would never hurt anybody.
“I really believe God used her for a purpose. God gave her work to do on this earth. Her thesis was about missing and murdered aboriginal women, and it’s going to be finished by anyone who wants to finish it, within their own life. Unless people start helping to try to put an end to this (crime), it’s going to continue.
“Changes need to be made.”