For months, the 12-year-old boy kept secret the horrific 2005 torture and murder of Phoenix Sinclair.
Now 20, he told the inquiry into the little girl's death he regrets being too afraid to tell anyone about it.
"Now that I'm older, I realize how bad that looks -- how bad it makes me look," said Karl Wesley McKay's son, who testified Monday along with his mother and brother. "If I could have, I would've changed all that."
A publication ban prevents the three from being identified. They testified at the 2008 murder trial of McKay and Samantha Kematch, Phoenix's mother, and said they were harassed because of their connection to McKay. They've got jobs and go to school where no one knows about their past. Inquiry commissioner Ted Hughes granted their request for the identification ban.
The young man dredged up the memory of Phoenix's murder for the inquiry.
"I saw Karl beat her for 15 or 20 minutes in the basement" while Kematch sat on the stairs watching, he said. "I was peeking around the corner," he said. "I was just a little kid. I didn't know what the (heck) was going on." When it was over, Kematch and McKay went to his grandfather's home on the Fisher River reserve, he said. The boy went to check on Phoenix in the basement. "She wasn't breathing. She was just laying there. I touched her. She was all cold... "
When he told anyone about the abuse that led to her death and what adults did with that information have been central questions of the inquiry. It is looking into how Phoenix, who was in and out of provincial care from the time she was born in April 2000, slipped through Manitoba's child welfare safety net and how her June 2005 death went undiscovered until March 2006.
The young man said he didn't tell his older brother, who wasn't in Fisher River when Phoenix was killed, about the murder until much later. His older brother didn't tell their mother about Phoenix's murder until they were at a walk-in clinic on Feb. 28, 2006, Manitoba Health records indicate. When they got home, his mother asked the younger son who witnessed Phoenix's death if it was true. She contacted Intertribal Child and Family Services on March 6, 2006, to report her son saw Phoenix killed at McKay's home on the reserve.
The inquiry also heard she contacted child-welfare agencies long before that with concerns about her sons' safety and the abuse of Phoenix. On Monday, she struggled to keep her emotions in check and recall which agency she called, when she called and what information she divulged.
"I don't remember what I said." The woman, 42, wept through much of her testimony. She recalled a violent McKay threatening her with a machete and trying to push her and their infant son down the stairs before she ended the relationship and moved out with the children 15 years ago.
In April 2005, she sent the younger of their two sons to live with his father on Fisher River First Nation to get him away from bad influences in Winnipeg. McKay, Kematch, their newborn daughter and Kematch's daughter, Phoenix, moved to the reserve from the city that spring.
Her son told her on the phone and by Internet that McKay and Kematch were mean to Phoenix. The older son, who was 14, joined his brother at his dad's on weekends and summer break that year. During a visit home to Winnipeg, the boys told her in a restaurant about Phoenix being shot at with a pellet gun, choked unconscious and beaten by McKay and Kematch, she said.
"I didn't know what to believe," she said. "I notified a CFS agency." She couldn't recall which agency she called or when and how much detail she provided.
Her youngest son said he remembers telling his mom at a restaurant about Phoenix being abused, but it was long after he and his brother moved home from the reserve in July 2005 and Phoenix was already dead. There was snow on the ground, he said. She said she remembers calling 411 to get the number of Fisher River CFS and being told they were "short-staffed," but somebody would get back to her. "Nobody ever got back to me."