Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

In death, Phoenix still just another number

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Last week, a woman contacted me who was concerned about a grave in Brookside Cemetery.

The one where little Phoenix Sinclair was finally laid to rest.

Tessa Emery was moved to think about the plot because she had read my column from last week about Kelly Larkins of Brookside Memorials donating a marker for the numbered Brookside grave of Wilson Hall, the 63-year-old uncle of "Homeless Hero" Faron Hall.

Which is also what moved her to email me last Thursday.

Tessa wrote that last year she was reading a story about Phoenix and she noticed the photo accompanying the article showed the murdered five-year-old's grave, marked only by a small, flat disc.

And the number 1104.

Tessa said she still remembered the number because it was the last four digits of home she grew up in with her parents.

Then Tessa got to her point.

"The government has probably spent millions of dollars on the inquest, re: her death, and no one can put a couple thousand dollars towards a proper headstone for this young child who was a victim of the 'system.' "

Apparently that's not quite accurate.

But Tessa had more to say.

"I called the Brookside Cemetery shortly after reading the article to see if I could pay for a gravesite myself."

Tessa was prepared to use her income tax return money.

"I was told that only family would be able to pay for a gravesite. I believe Phoenix was a ward of Child and Family Services when she died, so how about they pay for her marker?"

That, Tessa concluded, was "the very least they could do."

Actually, the provincial government's welfare department doesn't pay for grave markers; only burials.

But I get Tessa's point.

Before responding to Tessa, I went back in the Free Press archives to see what there was about the issue of Phoenix Sinclair's numbered grave.

I found a column headlined No flowers for Phoenix where my colleague Lindor Reynolds addressed the lack of a marker with Phoenix's name on it. Less than a week later, Lindor wrote a followup column, accompanied with a photo of the little girl's numbered grave, surrounded by an outpouring of affection.

"Phoenix Sinclair's grave is no longer unmarked, Lindor's second column began. "Where once there was nothing but scorched earth and weeds, there are now teddy bears, rubber ducks, flowers and dolls. A princess crown sits next to a heartfelt poem. Large flower-shaped garden decorations dot the small plot. There are bouquets of flowers wilting in the sun..."

Of course, Lindor didn't mean there was an actual marker on Phoenix's grave.

"Make no mistake," the column continued. "She has not been forgotten by her family and friends. She's anything but forgotten. Her biological father has purchased a headstone. He just can't bring himself to have it engraved and placed. Not now, it's too painful and too soon."

On Thursday, I forwarded that column with those words "too painful and too soon" to Tessa.

On Friday, Tessa responded with another email:

"My co-worker and I went to go visit Phoenix's gravesite to give our condolences during our lunch hour. After the help of a maintenance man, we found her marker under a pile of leaves. Still just a marker -- 1104 -- two years after that article was written. Looks like she was forgotten about again."

It was Kim Edwards, who was Phoenix's caregiver in her early years, who told Lindor more than two years ago the child's father, Steve Sinclair, still couldn't bring himself to have the marker that was purchased for Phoenix inscribed and put in place.

Lindor wrote Edwards believed Phoenix's father would deal with the headstone after the public inquiry.

It's coming, Edwards assured Lindor, back in the summer of 2011.

It will just take time.

Time?

It's been eight years since Phoenix was beaten to death and initially buried in what amounted to an unmarked grave by her mother and the woman's common-law-husband. It's been five years since the two were convicted of first-degree murder. And it's been four years since Phoenix was buried at Brookside Cemetery in what is, but for the number 1104, another unmarked grave.

It's the family's business, of course, if and when they place a name on the grave. But to me it feels wrong that four years later the body of a little girl abandoned by the child welfare system lies in a grave marked only by a number.

A number that symbolizes the way the system treated her in life.

And now the way she is being treated in death.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2013 B1

History

Updated on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 11:04 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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