Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Message of 'understanding' preached

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A group of mostly mothers and children held a vigil Thursday.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

A group of mostly mothers and children held a vigil Thursday. Photo Store

Under a chill wind and storm-tossed skies, there were tears, there were babes in arms and many young mothers at a vigil Thursday night for the children of Lisa and Brian Gibson.

"We're a group of mommies on Facebook and we were talking about what we could do; we're all feeling a little helpless and we felt a need to do something for Lisa and those poor babies," said vigil organizer Lauren Hope.

Lisa Gibson, missing since Wednesday morning, remained the subject of a massive police search in Winnipeg Thursday night.

The 32-year-old mother was last seen at her Coleridge Park Drive home where police, summoned by a 911 hangup, found her three-month-old baby boy and two-year-old daughter in a bathtub Wednesday. Police later confirmed the children's deaths.

That harrowing scene, widely reported, was followed Thursday by confirmation that Gibson was being treated for postpartum depression at the time of the children's deaths.

It was a combination that moved the Facebook group of young mothers to organize the vigil.

Along with neighbours, 30 to 40 people huddled under the sheltered alcove at the front doors of the Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary and Middle School on Bedson Street in Westwood.

"I didn't know her but I feel saddened," said a woman who gave her name as Vivian while waiting for the vigil to begin. "She would be a few years older than our daughter but she could be any one of our daughters."

In the half-hour event, the group first observed a moment of silence and then sang Amazing Grace, reading the verses off damp sheets of paper they'd copied for distribution.

The hymn, with its yearning lyrics of redemption, was a deliberate choice of song, organizers said.

"We want to send a message to the family and to Lisa that we understand," Hope said. "We want to take the stigma out of postpartum depression and we want to de-fictionalize motherhood. We don't come out of the hospital with our hair all coiffed.

"If there's a message we want to get out it is that mental illness is not an illness one is, it's an illness one has. If you need help, seek help and don't judge."

As the last strains of the hymn died away, the mothers, standing in a semi-circle, opened an impromptu talking circle to share their thoughts. Several spoke.

"How many of us have been there?" asked Sharon Blady. "How many of us have felt postpartum depression?" As Blady raised her hand, others joined her. "How many of us wonder, 'There but for the grace of God, go I?' " she said.

Compassion was No. 1 on the minds of the mothers.

"It is so important we not vilify Lisa," said Karen Cyr. "It's our greatest fear that a mother would harm her children. Lisa needs our support and our help."

On Thursday evening, the Gibson home remained cordoned off behind police tape, still guarded by cruisers with a mobile forensic van in front of the house. A growing memorial of stuffed animals and flowers on the corner paid tribute to the tragedy.

The corner lot saw a lot of traffic, with passing cars pausing an extra beat at the stop sign. Despite on-and-off rain showers and the wind, the spot drew a stream of foot traffic.

"I just had to come. Some people might think you're being nosy but in this case, it's just so hard to comprehend... this makes it real," said a woman who gave her name as Lucy.

"I just can't grasp how two little kids..."

She said she has a grandchild a few months older than the three-month-old boy who died.

Groups of police officers walked along Assiniboine Avenue, which joins the corner at Coleridge Park Drive and Bedson Street. Others canvassed neighbourhoods blocks away and neighbours on streets from Sansome Avenue to Rouge Road said police had conducted searches Thursday in their yards.

"They're still looking as far as I know," said one homeowner at the home of an immaculately landscaped lot on Rouge and Assiniboine.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2013 A5

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Updated on Friday, July 26, 2013 at 10:05 AM CDT: Corrects spelling of Blady

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