- Category: news
- Created: Tuesday, 15 October 2013 14:13
- Published: Tuesday, 15 October 2013 14:13
- Written by Administrator 3
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By Brent Wittmeier, Edmonton Journal
SAMSON CREE TOWN SITE — They stopped between two stuccoed bungalows, the place where Teagan Johnson was found dead; there they knelt down, touched the earth and prayed.
About 250 Samson Cree First Nation residents gathered Monday evening for a candlelight vigil to remember the latest young victim of apparent violence on the reserve, and to trace the short route home that the 15-year-old would never complete.
At the spot where Johnson’s body was found early Saturday, they burned sweetgrass and dropped cigarettes and white roses. Another few hundred metres on, the group stopped at the red split-level house where Johnson lived with his mother, Terri. They said goodbye, releasing blue and white balloons with messages referring to him as a “lark.”
His aunts thanked the crowd for coming, and told Johnson’s friends to keep playing hockey and to become “the men that you’re meant to be.”
“When you’re missing him, pray to him, he can hear you,” said Marie Small. “He may not answer you, but he’ll guide you.”
Tina Northwest, a band member who helped organize the vigil, said the idea came after a small group of women gathered to talk about what happened to Johnson. Her daughter knew him, waited at the same bus stop, and had told her mom that “he was a good kid.”
After another death on a reserve with a violent history, parents and community members are searching for answers, Northwest said.
“How can we address the issue of our children taking each other’s lives, kids killing kids?” she said. “We can’t do it alone.”
Northwest is hoping for faster RCMP response times and better communication between band departments, but said that some of responsibility comes down to such things as parents keeping their children home at night, away from gangs.
Families need support, she said: “We need to address the addictions, the neglect.”
Forensic investigators and the RCMP major crimes unit scoured the open area where Johnson was found by police and paramedics Saturday. He was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday.
Johnson’s death follows a long history of violence at the Samson Cree town site.
In February, 16-year-old Levonne Baptiste was shot and killed in a death the RCMP suggested had gang connections.
Police later arrested Lindsey Allen Bruno, 19, who was charged with second-degree murder and possession of a weapon dangerous to the public.
Violence and gang activity in Hobbema attracted national attention in 2011, when five-year-old Ethan Yellowbird died after a bullet fired from outside the house hit him in the head as he lay in bed.
Two months after Yellowbird’s death, his 23-year-old aunt, Chelsea Yellowbird, was also killed in a drive-by shooting.
In the wake of the deaths, the Samson Cree Nation began a concerted effort to make changes in the community, including passing a bylaw allowing the community to evict anyone deemed to “present a danger to the health or safety of the community.”
In May, three teenage gang members involved in Ethan Yellowbird’s death were given the maximum youth sentence for manslaughter. Court heard that the teens all came from homes filled with violence, drinking and drugs, and were in and out of foster care.
In April 2008, toddler Asia Saddleback was struck by a stray bullet as she sat at her family’s kitchen table. The 23-month-old survived, but the bullet remained lodged between her liver and spine.
A 20-year-old gang member was later sentenced to 13 years in prison for Saddleback’s shooting.
Samson Cree First Nation is one of four First Nations that comprise Hobbema, a community of about 14,000, located 100 kilometres south of Edmonton.