Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Loved ones, even strangers pour love into memorial

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Phoenix Sinclair's grave is no longer unmarked.

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.

"Phoenix Sinclair, loved in God's heaven," reads one note.

"Phoenix: We will make sure no child has to endure a plight like yours," reads another.

"You will never be forgotten, little angel. Rest in peaceful slumber bright star. You are home now. XOXO."

Last week, the child's Brookside Cemetery resting place held only a small concrete disk marking plot 1104. There was no headstone, no flowers and no indication this was where the murdered girl was buried.

Make no mistake: 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.

Kim Edwards, Phoenix's former foster mother, fiercely defends the girl's memory. She has established the Phoenix Sinclair Foundation, an organization aimed at helping other families in conflicts with the child welfare system. She learned through bitter experience how difficult that can be.

An inquiry into the death of Phoenix and the involvement of child-welfare workers is expected to begin late this year or in early 2012.

Eileen Cormack is one of those who visited the grave. She says she has never been able to get the murdered child out her memory, haunted by the evil the child endured in life and in death.

"It's shame, the shame that we so let a child down. When I sat at her grave I was almost speechless to reach out to this little girl."

Cormack left the rubber duck, a little plastic bucket with a shovel and a teddy bear wearing a Justin Bieber shirt.

"I thought, would she be getting to the age when she'd think, 'Ah, Justin Bieber'?"

That's exactly how old she'd be.

"I just want Phoenix to be able to say, 'I lived, and I'm here. You can visit with me here.' "

Lynda Miller spent three hours trying to find the grave. She bumped into someone else who was searching. Together they found her.

"That little princess is no longer without her own special place," she wrote in an email. "I know for sure that at least two people remembered Phoenix today!"

Derek Watt had a very personal reason for visiting the grave. His 20-year-old daughter died in March. She was moved by Phoenix's story, he says.

"What I'm trying to do is things in her (his daughter's) memory," he says. "She really cared about people. I want to make sure I carry that on. Her whole life was giving to others."

So he dressed up in his good suit and set out to find the grave. He failed on his first attempt but is going back with teddy bears, candles in jars and matches in a waterproof container.

"If people want to light a candle when they say a prayer, I want to make sure they can."

It may be difficult to fully explain why strangers want to pay tribute to a child they never knew. Some of it, as Eileen Cormack says, is guilt and shame. How can a child in this province die so terribly and so alone?

Part of it is simply the tragedy of a life snuffed out before it really began. Parents fear the death of a child more than anything else, an unnatural occurrence that completely separates you from your moorings.

In the end, visiting Phoenix's grave and leaving tokens of a happier childhood allows us to apologize, to remember, to find a positive focus in a life so rent by horror. It really is telling that child and her family that we will never forget.

Because if we do, this could happen again. It will happen again.

 

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2011 B1

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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