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Closure for Candace

A gathering of family, friends and strangers brought an emotional mixture of grief, gratitude and grace to Cliff and Wilma Derksen's backyard after their daughter's killer was sentenced last spring

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2011 (2797 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Their guests began arriving on time, right around 6 p.m. They were greeted with smiles, hugs and handshakes from Cliff and Wilma and their daughter, Odia.

It was a cool evening. Temperatures were expected to drop to near freezing.

Chairs had been set up in a circle inside their gazebo. Guests quickly filed in, grabbing a drink, some chicken and salads that had been catered from the Derksens' favourite restaurant.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2011 (2797 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Left: The shed where Candace's body was found. Right: Mourners accompany her coffin to the gravesite.

Left: The shed where Candace's body was found. Right: Mourners accompany her coffin to the gravesite.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Their guests began arriving on time, right around 6 p.m. They were greeted with smiles, hugs and handshakes from Cliff and Wilma and their daughter, Odia.

Candace Derksen

POSTMEDIA

Candace Derksen

It was a cool evening. Temperatures were expected to drop to near freezing.

Chairs had been set up in a circle inside their gazebo. Guests quickly filed in, grabbing a drink, some chicken and salads that had been catered from the Derksens' favourite restaurant.

It was nearly 7 p.m. when Cliff and Wilma spoke to the group. It was time to get started.

Wilma explained how thrilled she was to see many friends, some old, many new, on such an important day in their lives.

Wilma suggested they go around the circle, each person taking a few moments to describe who they were and what had brought them there.

This was for the benefit of the entire group, some 50 people strong, who certainly did not all know each other but had come together on this night for a common purpose.

Wilma also wanted to know what they were thinking after such a monumental event, the sentencing of Candace's killer.

Finally, she asked everyone to provide a single word, or two perhaps, that best summarized their thoughts and feelings.

It was going to be an emotional evening.

 

Pallbearers carry Candace Derksen's casket though blowing snow on Jan. 24, 1985.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Pallbearers carry Candace Derksen's casket though blowing snow on Jan. 24, 1985.

— — —

 

"There is no jubilation in the moment," their first guest began. Gerry Michalski was a longtime family friend who also happened to be their pastor. He expressed the deep hurt and anger he felt at hearing about Mark Grant's twisted past for the first time in court earlier that day.

He told the gathering he felt "dirty" upon hearing of Grant's hatred towards women.

Michalski's wife was next. She described the evening as a celebration of "the end of a chapter." And certainly the beginning of a new one.

They continued around the room. One woman described her feelings of the day as "shock and awe." Another spoke about a strong feeling of bonding she had experienced throughout the ordeal, a coming together of "family." Another woman used the term "connecting."

"Generosity," said Lisa Phommarath, another good friend of the family. "My thoughts were just how generously you gave of your time during your own hearing and trial. And Cliff, as well."

"Exhale," said Misty Blake-Knox.

Brian Campbell called the evening a "new beginning." He described Cliff and Wilma as "amazing."

"Once in a blue moon, justice happens," said Bernie Bowman.

 

— — —

 

Wilma Derksen places roses on her daughter's grave following the conviction of Candace's killer last February.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Wilma Derksen places roses on her daughter's grave following the conviction of Candace's killer last February.

Darkness had begun to fall and there was a chill in the air. Nobody seemed to mind. Everyone took a short break to stretch, refill their glasses and grab some blankets.

Chris Rutkowski had guests reaching for a dictionary when he used the term "revenant" to describe his thoughts.

"The word itself means 'one who returns' and it also means 'one who returns after a long absence.' In some definitions, however, the word implies something much more; it refers to a soul or spirit who has come back to complete some unfinished business or for carrying a message to those alive on Earth. In some ways, Candace did indeed come back for closure and to give comfort to her family and friends that night. There was something left undone: grieving with her mother and father, bringing justice and giving permission to 'go on,' " Rutkowski said.

Irene Froese met the Derksen family after Candace's killing. She had worked at a grocery store on Henderson Highway in Winnipeg that employed several girls from Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, Candace's school.

She told the gathering how the case had always weighed heavily on her mind.

"We saw the girls and the strain they were under. We also had three daughters, and could never imagine anything like that happening to us," Froese said. She used the word "awesome" to end her remarks.

Heidi Friesen had many guests fighting back tears as she spoke about the weekend sleepover with Candace that never happened.

She told the gathering how she'd met Candace at the age of 11 and they quickly became best friends.

And how now, on the verge of turning 40, she still felt a deep connection to Candace.

"My best friend is forever 13 years old," she said.

 

— — —

 

Mark Edward Grant

HANDOUT PHOTO

Mark Edward Grant

The image of Candace Derksen's laughing, smiling face is forever frozen into Dave Wiebe's memory.

So, too, are the circumstances of their final moments together on that school playground.

"I met Candace at camp and was very attracted to how full of life she was," Wiebe told the backyard gathering.

"She was great to be around, always smiling and just had a way to make you feel good to be around her."

Wiebe proposed a toast, asking everyone to consider the incredible impact Candace had on their lives.

"She blessed us all with her positive attitude and just the way she loved life to the fullest. People were clearly important to Candace and she was just someone you wanted to be around. So, Candace, for all the smiles you shared, for the infectious way you loved life, and for all that you were during your short time with us I ask us all to raise your glass in this toast for Candace."

 

— — —

 

Among the crowd on this night sat three people who had only just met the Derksen family — but who had played a pivotal role in the case.

All three sat on the jury that convicted Mark Grant of murder.

They had come to the sentencing hearing for Grant, seeking closure to a case that had deeply impacted them.

A chance meeting in the hallway with Cliff and Wilma had led to an open invitation to drop by their home for a visit.

And while the jurors were forever prohibited from speaking about their deliberations, there was nothing to stop them from post-trial socializing.

The first juror to speak was a young man who told the group he had grown up in Ireland, only to marry a Canadian woman and become a landed immigrant.

He discussed being 8,000 kilometres away when Candace was killed and knowing absolutely nothing about the case until the trial began.

But he described being haunted by the chilling facts, overwhelmed at his responsibility and grateful for the opportunity provided by the Derksens to share in this special night.

The second juror was a young woman who had grown up in North Kildonan and was close to Candace's age at the time she vanished. The woman — who had been deemed impartial during jury selection and accepted by Crown and defence lawyers — said she was deeply moved at the strength and courage shown by the Derksens throughout their ordeal.

The third juror, another young woman, fought back tears as she discussed the impact this case had on her. She described how she struggled to get through each day of the trial, her anxiety and depression becoming almost too much to handle.

"After the first day of court, walking to my car, I got in my car, burst into tears, called my husband and said, 'I don't know if I can do this.' Was it going to be like this every day, I thought, with the pictures, all of the witnesses, and having to look at that person in the prisoner's box every day that has committed an unspeakable horrific crime. Was I naive in thinking that somehow it would be different? I didn't know. After a week of getting acquainted with my new friends and what felt like was a new way of life, it was getting harder, not easier, as somehow I thought it might. I found my depression creeping back quickly, my anxiety levels heightened and my obsessive and worrisome thoughts were there constantly," the woman told the gathering.

A noticeable hush had fallen over the group.

"As the trial continued, I started paying more attention to the people in the gallery," she continued.

"Then it hit me, here I am worrying if I could get through this trial and here was the Derksen family who had lived this horrific nightmare for over 26 years. I felt so silly.

"A thought overwhelmed me: was there another reason that I'm on this jury, other than to bring justice? Could it be to help me within, to learn to deal with my own issues? I guess I would have to wait and see.

"After the trial was over, I was an emotional wreck. I was so obsessed with reading, listening and watching everything surrounded with the trial over and over again. I just couldn't let it go.

"Being included and being able to talk with all of you about the trial has definitely helped to bring some closure to this experience. I am absolutely grateful that I was selected and able to help bring justice for your beautiful Candace and for your family.

"It has been an honour to be able to talk and start to get to know all of you."

 

— — —

 

They finished going around the yard. Every guest spoke about what had brought them here.

All that was left was to hear from Cliff and Wilma.

But before they shared their thoughts, the family brought out several bottles of Dr. Zenzen, a sparkling wine accented with tiny gold flecks.

They popped the bottles and filled dozens of beautiful flutes that were distributed to the group.

Everyone gathered in a circle, holding their drinks out and proposing a series of toasts.

"To Candace," said one guest.

"To old and new friends," said another.

"To love," added a third.

 

Excerpt courtesy of Great Plains Publications

(www.greatplains.mb.ca)

Candace Derksen, 13, vanished without a trace while walking home from Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute on Nov. 30, 1984. Her frozen body was found inside a storage shed on Jan. 17, 1985, following one of the largest police and public searches in Winnipeg's history. The notorious case would remain unsolved until May 2007, when Mark Edward Grant was arrested thanks to advancements in forensic science and DNA analysis. Grant was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury last February.

Free Press justice reporter Mike McIntyre has spent much of the past two years working with the Derksen family and others closely connected to the case on his latest true crime book, which was formally released this week. Journey for Justice: How Project Angel Cracked The Candace Derksen Case is now available in bookstores ($11.95). The 340-page paperback, published by Great Plains Publications, documents the Derksen saga in vivid detail.

This is an edited excerpt from the book.

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

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