Jessica Whitford gave up hope the person responsible for her sister’s death would ever face justice.
That changed last Thursday when RCMP informed her that Lydia Whitford’s foster mom, Lisa Marie Campbell, 26, had been charged with manslaughter in connection with the woman’s death.
Lydia, who was autistic and epileptic, was 18 years old when she died on July 14, 2016, while in care of Sandy Bay Child and Family Services (CFS).
Jessica said she always felt Campbell was somehow involved in her sister’s death. The allegations against Campbell have not been proven in court.
Though Lydia’s family strongly believed she was killed, her death wasn’t originally ruled suspicious. However, five months later, RCMP announced they were investigating it as a homicide.
Cecilia Sutherland, Lydia’s mother, said the last time she saw her daughter she noticed bruising on her arm. She said she told Lydia’s CFS caseworker she believed her daughter was being abused, but that nothing was done.
"They said they’d look in on it. That’s what they always say. But I don’t think they ever really did look in on it. They should have followed up on it. They were supposed to make sure my child was OK," Sutherland said.
The mother and daughter said they were denied visits to Lydia prior to the teenager’s death. Both said they were concerned about Campbell and didn’t want Lydia in her care, but feel as if CFS authorities ignored them.
Prior to their time in foster care, the two sisters were very close. Despite being split up while in the system, Jessica tried to see her sister as often as possible.
Not long before Lydia died, Jessica, 20, became an adult and got her own place to live. Her goal was to eventually get Lydia into her care, so she could take care of her little sister.
"I just wanted to take care of her, but I didn’t even get that chance," Jessica said. "I never really enjoyed life unless my little sister was around. Lydia was my happiness and that was taken. After that happened, it just really changed me."
She said Lydia’s death sent her into a dark spiral she’s only recently been able to get out of. She had blamed her mother and herself for her sister’s death.
"I made my mom think it was her fault and it wasn’t. I felt responsible, too. I just felt like I had no reason to live anymore. I was working so hard to get her in my care, but it just wasn’t enough," she continued.
On Monday, while sitting in Jessica’s Winnipeg apartment, Sutherland talked about the day Lydia was born.
"I cherish that day," she said, before she began crying.
"The more we talk about it, the better it will be," Jessica said to her mom.
Sutherland recounted the realization that Lydia was non-verbally autistic, as well as the first few terrifying seizures before the young girl was diagnosed with epilepsy. "But I never gave up hope," she said.
Sutherland and Jessica showed off old photos of Lydia and flipped through them while sitting on the couch.
"I just don’t like thinking about the way she went," Jessica says. "I can just picture her crying in pain, hear her crying in pain. I just don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to see that. You know?
"She was just like any other little girl. She liked makeup. She liked dressing up. She was very kind and gentle. When she hugged you, you’d get choked up from how hard she hugged you. She’d give you kisses. She was just so sweet and gentle."
While they’ll never be able to change what happened, the mother and daughter believe the best they can do now is be involved in the court process moving forward. They will attend Campbell’s trial.
Sandy Bay CFS did not return multiple requests for comment by time of publication.