November 18, 2019

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Family of boy on life-support embraced by love at vigil

The parents of the three-year-old boy who was repeatedly stabbed Wednesday were surrounded by love and support at a vigil outside the Health Sciences Centre Friday afternoon.

Clarice Smith and Doyle Straight Jr., left the bedside of their son, Hunter Haze Straight-Smith, who was on life-support, to go to the vigil. Family members tried to console the sobbing parents, and attendees were invited to line up and offer them words of comfort and gestures of support.

"The Creator is the only one who can carry us through this," said Angeline Flett, who organized the vigil. It included traditional prayers, songs and a drum circle. About 80 supporters huddled under grey skies in freezing temperatures outside the main entrance of the hospital.

There, a shrine to Hunter was set up on a giant Adirondack chair, with chocolate bars, a blue teddy bear and blue flowers. A poster with photos of the boy smiling and playing said "RIP Hunter." The boy had multiple blood transfusions since being rushed to hospital on the verge of death early Wednesday. He has suffered severe brain damage. The family told the Free Press Thursday they expected Hunter would be taken off life-support in the coming days.

A photo of Hunter Haze Straight-Smith at a vigil for the held for the young boy in front of the children's hospital at HSC in Winnipeg on Friday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A photo of Hunter Haze Straight-Smith at a vigil for the held for the young boy in front of the children's hospital at HSC in Winnipeg on Friday.

"We can't do this alone," Flett told the crowd, as First Nation Indigenous Warriors in camouflage uniforms stood watch. She acknowledged the anger and pain people are feeling. The attack on the boy while he was sleeping at a home on Pritchard Avenue followed the shooting of a toddler on Sunday and the stabbing death of 14-year-old Jakira Eastman-Moore at a Halloween party on Saturday.

"We need strength," said Flett. "There's so much going on. We need to come together."

Family spokesman Darryl Contois said Hunter's parents were struggling because he's expected to be taken off life-support. "Nobody wants to let go of their child," he said.

Police charged 33-year-old Daniel Jensen with attempted murder. Jensen is the on-again, off-again boyfriend of Clarice Smith.

In July, Jensen was charged with assaulting Smith with a weapon and uttering threats. He was released on bail and a no-contact order was issued barring him from being with, or contacting, Smith.

Hunter's mom, Clarice Smith, weeps and is embraced by family and friends at the vigil Friday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Hunter's mom, Clarice Smith, weeps and is embraced by family and friends at the vigil Friday.

Jensen also faces one count of causing bodily harm, as well as seven charges for breaching court orders. He’s been detained in custody. The allegations against him have not been proven in court.

Contois, who is a friend of Hunter's grandparents and was with them at the hospital, said he saw the boy last summer and he was happy, outgoing and inquisitive.

"He was always talking, always asking questions," said Contois. He and Hunter's family and those who knew him are "heartbroken."

"No child deserves to get hurt," Contois said, urging people to control their anger and emotions. A band councillor from Brokenhead Ojibway Nation thanked people on behalf of Hunter's family for showing their support.

"This is a reminder that we need to protect our children and everybody's children," said a tearful Naomi Nicholas, who said she was grateful she got to sit with the little boy earlier in the day.

A toy bear is left by mourners at the vigil.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

A toy bear is left by mourners at the vigil.

New Democrat MLA Nahanni Fontaine, also thanked the crowd on behalf of the family.

"The family just wants to thank every individual that is here and that has stood with the family in the last many days. They thank everybody that has sent love and support and kindness, not only from Winnipeg but from all over Manitoba and all across Canada," Fontaine said at the vigil.

The vigil was attended by fellow New Democrat Bernadette Smith and NDP Leader Wab Kinew, who didn't speak to the crowd but offered support and condolences in Ojibwa to Hunter's mother and grandmother.

"I want to remind everybody there will still be many, many more days of support for the family," Fontaine said. "That's what we do as Indigenous people, we stand with our families, we stand with our people when our people need our support and our help. That's what we do as Manitobans... I encourage everybody to remember the family, remember the family will continue to need support and that we lift and honour Hunter today."

For Skye Bear, who doesn't know Hunter or his family but lives in the same neighbourhood with her five-year-old son, Jordan, it was important to go to the vigil and show support for another mom and child.

"They're not alone," said Bear. "The community cares."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Doyle Straight Jr. (Hunter's dad) is comforted at the vigil.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Doyle Straight Jr. (Hunter's dad) is comforted at the vigil.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
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Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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Updated on Friday, November 1, 2019 at 10:03 PM CDT: updates story.

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