‘We love you, Mackaylah’ Devastated family members, friends honour slain woman with daylong vigil
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/09/2022 (211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With some wearing shirts bearing her name and photo, Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin’s family and friends hugged and wept Friday while they visited the remote ATV trail where her body was found.
The Winnipeg woman’s parents and other mourners formed a circle around the site near Woodridge, where they honoured her with prayers and traditional singing and drumming.
About 100 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, the trail was one of multiple stops for dozens of loved ones during a day-long vigil for the slain 20 year old.
They also embraced in front of a house on Creekside Drive in Steinbach, where RCMP officers responded to a report of a homicide a week ago.
“It’s like a nightmare. It’s still not hitting us,” Gerard-Roussin’s tearful aunt, Shannon Fawcett, told the Free Press as the vigil began at a family member’s home in Winnipeg’s North End. “She was the brightest, most generous young lady. She had goals, so many goals. She didn’t deserve this.”
She was comforted by Crystal Zastre, who described her outgoing great-niece as an “angel” and a leader, who leaves a legacy of helping inner-city children through her work at Rossbrook House.
“I’m going to miss when she would come to my place and walk in the door with a smile. She was a bright little star,” said Zastre. “I can’t wrap my head around why someone would do something like this to someone so sweet. We’re going to make sure justice is served.”
Gerard-Roussin grew up attending programs and volunteering at Rossbrook House, a drop-in centre at Ross Avenue and Sherbrook Street.
She was employed as one of its youth workers before she was hired by a TD Canada Trust branch in Winnipeg.
Eager to help kids, she wanted to return to Rossbrook House and eventually become a child psychologist, Fawcett said.
A short time later, cries of “We love you, Mackaylah” echoed through the neighbourhood while the people who loved her posed for a group photo under a sunny sky.
Gerard-Roussin’s father, Kirby Gerard, held a framed photo of his daughter, taken when she graduated from Rossbrook House’s Rising Sun alternative high school program in 2021.
Family members and friends have been getting tattoos with angel wings and the words “Stay strong,” a message they have been sharing since police delivered the devastating news last weekend.
“She was the brightest, most generous young lady. She had goals, so many goals. She didn’t deserve this.” – Shannon Fawcett
After handing out long-stem roses, the group made the 70-kilometre journey to Steinbach in a convoy of vehicles that had red ribbons tied to door handles.
The ribbons are a symbol of awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
Some vehicles had messages such as “Justice for Mackaylah” and “No more stolen sisters” scrawled on side windows.
In Steinbach, speeches and traditional song and drum marked a gathering in front of the house RCMP were called to last Saturday at 1:40 p.m.
By the time officers arrived, the suspect had fled in his car, which contained the woman’s body, police said.
The car caught fire in a suspected arson when the man was arrested during a traffic stop on Highway 52, west of La Broquerie.
Police later received information that directed them to the ATV trail near Woodridge, where Gerard-Roussin’s body was found.
Josh Benoit, 20, of Winnipeg, has been charged with first-degree murder and indignity to a dead body.
He and Gerard-Roussin had been friends, her relatives said. And a woman who attended Tec Voc High School with them said they had been classmates.
Gerard-Roussin’s family had reported her missing, saying they last heard from her the night of Aug. 25, and she failed to show up for work the following day.
After visiting the Steinbach house Friday afternoon, relatives made their first visit to the trail where Gerard-Roussin’s body was discovered.
They held a traditional ceremony, Zastre said, to “keep Mackaylah’s spirit alive” and guide her to the spirit world. They built a memorial with pictures, flowers and candles.
Kevin T. Hart, Gerard-Roussin’s uncle and a former regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations, said a bright future was taken from her.
“She was getting through all of those challenges and obstacles being thrown at our young people, especially in the inner city of Winnipeg,” he told the Free Press. “She was already protecting other young girls out there and mentoring them.”
He thanked the family’s supporters, including strangers and families who have suffered tragedy, for their comfort, condolences and offers of food and wood for a sacred fire that burned for four days.
“I’ve seen a beautiful community come together,” said Hart.
The day’s final stop for the group was to be at Manitoba Legislative Building, where there were plans for a 9 p.m. candlelight vigil.
— with files from Jessica Lee
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.