COLEMAN, Alta. — Friends and family of a father and daughter killed in the Crowsnest Pass area of southwestern Alberta last month released 100 white and lilac balloons into the sky following an emotional memorial service Friday.
The balloons, caught up in a blustery west wind, disappeared quickly through the mountains as mourners wiped away tears.
Terry Blanchette, 27, was found dead in his Blairmore home on Sept. 14, and a widespread Amber Alert was issued for two-year-old Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, who had been abducted earlier that morning.
Her remains were discovered in a rural area days later.
“Such a short life but what a beautiful life,” said Hailey’s grandmother, Terry-Lynn Dunbar.
“There was never a moment in her life she wasn’t surrounded by love. Everybody loved her,” she added.
“Hailey brought love and light into our hearts and souls. Rest in peace sweet angel.”
Amanda Blanchette remembered her little brother Terry as a carefree and active child.
She said he was a lifelong fan of both the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Blue Jays.
Blanchette said her brother’s life changed the day he found out his girlfriend Cheyenne Dunbar was expecting a child.
“He said I have big shoes to fill. He decided on that day to be the kind of father his father was. He became a man and father that day.”
About 300 mourners and 100 family members attended the public memorial at the local high school.
There were photos of Terry and Hailey at the front of the gym along with the balloons.
A Montreal Canadiens jersey along with a Blue Jays hat were there to symbolize Terry’s passions. Stuffed animals, a Little Mermaid dollar and a toy wand from the movie Frozen were there in memory of Hailey.
An RCMP honour guard attended the ceremony.
Mental health professionals were on hand encouraging people to seek help if they were having trouble coping with the loss.
“Grief is a full-body experience. Everybody grieves different,” said Lindsay Hope-Ross from Alberta Health Services.
Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter said he hoped this will help give residents of the close-knit mining community some closure.
“It’s really good for our community as part of the grieving process,” he said.
“It’s important that the families know that we are there for them and this is a good way of showing that.”
The shock of the crimes hasn’t worn off, said Painter.
A suspect, Derek Saretzky, 22, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, as well as with committing an indignity to a body. He is undergoing a 30-day psychiatric assessment and is to be back in court Oct. 29.
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press