Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/9/2020 (641 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Jenny Dethmers was on her way to pick up her mom with her partner, her stepdaughter and their baby when their minivan was struck by a pickup truck fleeing from police in the William Whyte area on Saturday afternoon. She was pronounced dead in hospital that day.
Dethmers spent the morning decorating her house for Halloween, then called her mom, Candy Volk, and told her she was going to pick her up so she could show off her newly decorated house.
It would be the first Halloween for Dethmers' 10-month-old son, A.J. She was adamant it would be special, even if possible COVID-19 restrictions prevent kids from trick-or-treating.
That was Jenny. She was very creative, and she always went out of her way to make things special for the people she loved. She was helpful and kind, and she spoiled the people closest to her. The pandemic wasn’t going to ruin her son’s first Halloween.
"They didn’t have enough gas, so they turned around to go to the Shell station, and they were hit," Volk said through tears on a telephone call from Children’s Hospital, where she has been with A.J. since Saturday afternoon.
"She was supposed to be here, and she wasn’t answering her phone, so I was getting mad. I always used to say to her, ‘Why do you have a phone if you don’t answer it?’"
Not long after, Volk went on Facebook and saw photos and videos of a horrific two-vehicle crash that happened at the intersection of Boyd Avenue and Andrews Street, just a few blocks from her home, at about 1:30 p.m.
"That’s how I found out, from Facebook. I asked my son, ‘Is that your sister’s van?’ And he said no, but I had this feeling. I just knew in my heart that it was her van," Volk said, weeping softly.
Volk made her way to the scene of the collision, where her worst fears were confirmed. She remembers speaking to a police officer, giving her daughter’s name, and being told the mangled van was her daughter’s. Then, things went black. She doesn’t remember what happened after that.
Her world crumbled.
Dethmers grew up in the North End. She was her mother’s miracle baby, because Volk was told she wouldn’t be able to have more kids after her son was born. Seven years later, in March 1990, Jennifer was born.
"I always wanted a little girl named Jenny," Volk’s voice softens. "Back then, you didn’t name kids abbreviated versions of names, so I named her Jennifer. I used to call her my little miracle, because that’s what she was. She was my miracle."
Dethmers attended Machray School and R.B. Russell Vocational High School, where she excelled in anything creative. She had a close circle of friends she grew up with and often referred to as her sisters or cousins. She was a big part of her community, taking part in vigils and walks for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls with her mom.
When she was 14 or 15 years old, Dethmers created her own memorial walk called For Them All, Youth Honouring Youth. She set up a series of events to honour young people who had gone missing or were lost to murder, suicide or drug addiction.
Volk remembers telling her daughter the name didn’t sound right. "It should be For All of Them," she told her. But Dethmers laughed and told her mom she liked the name. That’s how she talked, and that’s what she was going to call it.
"I never thought we’d have to have one (a vigil) for her," Volk said.
The mother and daughter were close. Dethmers and the baby would come to Volk’s house for dinner every night. That was their routine. They would eat and visit, and then Dethmers would get A.J. ready for bed. Then, they’d head to Tim Hortons for a cup of decaf coffee before calling it a night.
Later in the evening, as Volk was trying to sleep, her phone notifications would start going off, waking her.
"My phone would be pinging every night around midnight because Jenny would be tagging me in some funny meme or a video of A.J.," Volk laughed, reflecting on how endearing and annoying those midnight notifications were.
"My phone’s not pinging anymore."
In talking about her daughter, Volk’s love for her and strength is evident. Even in her darkest hour, her focus is on remembering how her daughter lived, not how she died.
"She was my best friend," Volk said. "She was helpful and kind and sweet. She had a sailor’s mouth, and if you pissed her off, boy you better run."
Volk said Dethmers was coming into her own. She gave birth to her son on Dec. 3. Her last trimester of her pregnancy was rough, but she relished her role as a mama bear. Volk said Dethmers thoroughly enjoyed being on maternity leave and the time it allowed her to spend with her son.
She was kind and protective and would do anything for her little boy. She often shared videos of A.J. on her Facebook page. He was her whole world.
Dethmers had already bought a tote full of Mickey Mouse decorations for her son's first birthday and his Christmas outfit for this year, telling her mom how excited she was for his first Christmas. "She said, ‘Mom, he’s going to be crawling around, pulling your tree down.’"
Now, Volk sits with the little boy in hospital, praying he recovers from the massive injuries he suffered in the crash. He’s still in critical condition, but he’s not getting worse, she said. It’s day-by-day now, not minute-by-minute. A good sign, and a little bit of hope in this tragic situation.
Volk said she is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike, as she pours over countless Facebook posts and tributes to her daughter, and fields messages, calls, food donations and visits from people showing up to show their support.
"So many people have shown up and reached out to me, and I am just so overwhelmed," she said. "We miss her so much."
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project
Shelley Cook is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press and manages the paper's Reader Bridge project, which seeks to expand coverage of underserved communities.