Thursday, 27 April 2017

Ashley Simpson: One Year Gone

Courtesy of Fred Bowering
It's hard to believe a year has gone by since Ashley Simpson disappeared without a trace from her home in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.

What a world we live in.

In honor of our Ashley, I am posting some thoughts from her family. Please add your thoughts and prayers. If you have a little extra in the bank, perhaps you would consider contributing at Go Fund Me to help her father, John, who will soon be on the road back to Salmon Arm to look for her.

God Bless.

John Remembers:

Well, Ash, my girl. It's been a long, very long year with so much confusion, heartache, pain and sorrow. One would think we would break, end all the drama that has been made since your disappearance. We walk the talk and breathe you every moment of our lives. Your sisters are all in a very bad spot with you gone and no answers as we all hope every day is that we will wake from this nightmare.

Amanda Langlois Remembers:

I can't believe it's been one year. One year since you were taken from us. I really wish we would all wake up and this nightmare will be over. I hate that I'll never see you again. I hate that my girls won't have you to look up to. I hate that they cry at night cause they miss you. Lucy said the other night that she wished you would come home. "Auntie Ashley never leaves us this long!"

How do I explain to her that you are never coming back? This has been the most trying year of my life.

Amy Simpson Remembers:

This has been the hardest year of my life. I still can't make any sense of what's happening. I have changed so much this year, wondering, going over the last time I spoke to you, saw you. I can't believe it's been a year. Some days are numbing, most days are angry but always wondering what I could have done differently. None of us will be the same, things seem so lifeless without your laughter. Your presence is in everything I see around me. I am so thankful for that! We say NEVER GIVE UP but some days are harder than others. I miss you so much. I love you my sister.

Julie Major Remembers:

It is a heartfelt day for my family. Today marks one year since Ashley Simpson went missing. Not a day has gone by that we have not thought of you or wondered: are you going to walk in the door? Where did you go? What happened to you? How does this happen to such a beautiful soul or anyone for that matter? We like to think of you as on an adventure and that you just lost track of time. But one year... I think not.

Rose Remembers:
Ashley, you changed us. You shook up the world, made us feel all the feels. Please know that this world will never forget you, and we will never stop fighting for justice.
For you, and little Nathan.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Ashley Simpson: Bye for Now

Dearest Ashley:

I've never met you, but I've gotten to know you.
Through your wonderful parents, John and Cindy.
Through your incredible and messy gaggle of sisters, and your friends.
What a wonderful girl you were, what an amazing woman you became.
Thank you for letting me in.

You taught me much over this year.
Maybe taught is not the right word.
Maybe you reminded me.

Reminded me of what's important.
Family. Loyalty. Sincerity. Love. Understanding.
Giving back.
Giving of ourselves.

Through encounters with death, loss and illness, we are reminded about the importance of living the hell out of our lives, because we never now where the road ends.
We never know when it's time to attend our last bonfire.
You have reminded me of that, every month, every minute, every second that we have spent together.
In this space.
I've never met you, but I see you.
You know that.
In my mind's eye.

You are in a pool of light, in a meadow, where the grass is always green.
Where animals play and birds sing.
In your world, there is no pain, just love.
I see you there holding on to Nathan, keeping him safe until he can be with Whitney again.
You are smiling that million dollar smile.
Hi Dad, Hi Mom.
What is up?
Stop wasting your time being angry, or sad.
It's okay.
There's another cake to make. Another fish to catch.
Another bonfire to light.
No need to save me a seat.
I'm right here.
I'm in the bonfire.

Keeping you warm, and giving you light.

On this dreary Easter weekend, as we try to till the still hardened soil, and contemplate our plants, and as we try to wrestle spring from winter's icy grasp, we are reminded that you are never gone just changing shape and manner.
Like the seasons.
You are now part of the Earth now.
And Mother Earth will take care of you.

In the coming weeks, your Dad will come for a visit.
He will try to find you, physically find you, to bring you back to your family.
It is my sincere hope that he is successful in his quest.
And your family can finally find closure.
Regardless of the outcome of John's journey, my hope is that he will see you there.
In the depth of the rapid waters, in the sunlight on the mountain top.
Another person I know lost a beautiful daughter.
He continues to remind us, daily, that his daughter is not gone.
"I see her in rainbows," he says.
Aye, rainbows.

On this dreary day, I return to the place where we have met once a month -- at least -- for a year.
I come here to say Goodbye, but just for now.
It is time for us to part company, for me to move on to other pursuits, and for you to spread your love and wisdom, and to keep watch over Nathan.
This has been a year of great uncertainty and pain.
We stand on the precipice of a new and scary world caught up in hysteria, handwringing, and fake news.
Ugliness has taken hold of our world.
Time is running out.
Let's not waste a day on negativity.
Let's not catch cancer of the spirit.

There is only time for positive words and thoughts.
I am old.
I do not have time to waste.
I will think of you often as a pursue my journey.
When I am lonely or uncertain, I will return here for a visit.
This time I will be a reader, not a writer.
Tell you friends to come here and leave messages.
We're open 24 hours a day, no waiting.

Love, peace!

Your cousin, Rose

Dearest Readers:

I have created a Facebook page where you will receive regular updates on Ashley and Nathan.
Please join, share and donate.
Never Give Up.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Ashley Simpson: A Community on Edge

While the first anniversary of the disappearance of Ashley Simpson weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of her friends and family, the community of Salmon Arm, British Columbia remains on edge.

There have been reports of other strange doings in the place where she was last seen.

In recent days, two women have told their friends that they were nearly killed by a black pickup truck. One incident happened this week, the other happened last fall.

"I've been hearing some odd stories in the community lately," said one of my sources. "Two nights ago (April 12), there was an incident where a woman driving alone was run off the road on Yankee Flats Road by a black pickup truck. Police were involved."

Both Ashley and her neighbor, Deanne Wertz, lived on Yankee Flats. Both women disappeared without a trace within weeks of each other last spring. Neither have been found, though the RCMP say the cases are unrelated.

My source says a neighbor told her about her friend who was walking along Salmon River Road last fall, and a black pickup crossed the yellow line and aimed his truck right at her.

"She was able to jump out of the way into the ditch, and the truck swerved back onto Salmon River Road and took off. She didn't report it because she didn't have a plate number and only knew the truck was black.

"It made me start to wonder how many times something like this has happened and not been reported. Just thought I would share with you, not sure why. But obviously something awful is going on here and women alone seem to be targeted."

Coincidentally, three people were arrested this week after a black pick up was stolen.

By the looks of this story, the two stories appear to be unrelated...except for the fact, in both cases, a black pickup was involved.

On Ashley's anniversary, women continue to feel unsafe and on edge.

Best not to walk alone in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.

Ashley left her home alone and was never seen again. Deanna, an experienced hiker, went off and was never heard from again. Other women have gone missing in the area. Caitlin Potts disappeared in June from the area, and there are other open cases that you can read about here.

Maybe the Highway of Tears didn't take them.

Maybe their killer is local.

Regardless, a black cloud holds steady over this small community. And people are looking for answers.

To catch up on this story, please read this excellent series in the St. Catharines Standard.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Rob Lenarcic Needs a Kidney

Guest blog by Dawn Simpson

I arranged with Rose to do a guest post about kidney donation when an old schoolmate’s urgent need for a live kidney tugged at my heart strings.  

I don’t know much about organ donation; I’m just a single mom who edits copy for a living. My life is extra busy because I’m also in school and struggling with my own baggage. But when I started following Ottawa resident Rob Lenarcic’s story two weeks ago, and then heard that his condition had gone from bad to worse, I wanted to set aside some time to get word out and offer support and some possibility of hope to this kind man.

I remember Rob from my small-town school in Winona, Ontario, where everyone knew everyone. He was a friend of one of my best friends and was always chatty and cheerful and smiley. But now, at the age of just 48, Rob is in Stage 4 kidney failure.

Rob before weight loss

How he got there he describes on his Facebook page “Find a Kidney for Rob” But I’ll outline it briefly: After suffering kidney damage from diabetes due to obesity, Rob lost an unbelievable 200 pounds directed at improving his health and getting him on the kidney recipient list. But after that incredible accomplishment, he needed to have reconstructive surgery to remove excess skin to position him better to receive a new kidney, should one be available, decreasing his odds of severe complications. However, after a GoFundMe raised just a fraction of what he needed to cover this surgery, he still went ahead with it, with plans to cash in RRSPs to pay for it. This procedure, though needed by Rob to get him closer to a kidney transplant, was not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

The financial stress on top of what he must be enduring in this life-threatening state must be overwhelming. But I have seen his cheerful posts, and have been touched by the hope and optimism that come through in tone and in his words. This is a gentle man with a sense of humour who really wants to live and to make a difference.

The day of the surgery came. Keeping watch on his “Find a Kidney for Rob” page, I wondered how it had gone, but didn’t see any new posts for a number of days. Then, eventually, the alarming news came that Rob’s kidney function had dropped from an already low 15% down to a mere 10%. He went from dire to desperate, and, on April 5, about a week post-surgery, Rob had one of the worst days he’s had. He wrote, The surgery may have permanently damaged my kidneys. I'm now going into renal failure with only 10% kidney function left and a creatinine level of 535 (over 5x the normal level of toxins in the blood).” Rob goes on to write, “PLEASE TO EVERYONE THAT SAID THEY WANTED TO GET TESTED, I'M AT THE END HERE, AND NOW IS THE TIME TO PUT YOURSELF TO THE TEST. I'm not sure how much longer I’ll be hanging on.”

So Rob needs a kidney. Desperately. He wants to live, and he’s only 48, for goodness’ sake. In his particular situation, he needs a live donor, because he’s not likely to last the 5-6 years it would take for him to move to the top of the list for a kidney from a deceased donor. Rob shows an incredible spirit of optimism, and he’d love to look forward to life decades down the road. He’s come so far, and to be cut off at the knee now seems so cruel a fate.

Information on live kidney donation for Rob at The Ottawa Hospital in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, can be found here, in case you’d like to see if you’re a match. And you don’t have to live in Ottawa to be a donor for Rob.
or call 613-738-8400 ext. 82778 or ext 81744. To register to be an organ donor for post-life donations, it takes about three seconds for Ontario residents.

And Rob is still accepting help on his GoFundMe page; he has had the reconstructive surgery but is still paying for it.

Rob did not ask me to write this post. In fact, I haven’t seen him in nearly 30 years. But small-town glue is strong, and you never forget the ones you grew up with. I contacted Rob and asked him if I could share his story, and he humbly agreed. He said that if his story can help even one person manage their life choices better, he will have succeeded.

Please share Rob’s story in hopes that the next blog post I write will be the story Rob’s new kidney.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Ashey Simpson: Resolution and Reconciliation

I got an email from Ashley Simpson's dad yesterday who is lining up the ducks, getting ready for his quest to find his daughter who disappeared a year ago from her home in Salmon Arm.

John Simpson was originally going to drive across the country but now he's decided it would be cheaper and faster to fly out and rent a car. He's got about a month before he has to return to Huntsville to take up his summer duties as the cook at the Longhouse. He says he's hoping it won't take that long but he's prepared to keep looking as long as he can.

John wants, no needs, some sort of resolution. He's hoping for the best, and expecting the worst. That's what happens when your daughter disappears without a trace. The cops have no leads they are willing to share with the family. The answer is always the same: they're looking at the evidence.

This will be a lonely quest for this kind and loving man who has spent the winter in agony. He told me not long ago, he had to pull over while driving because he "lost it". Most days, he wakes up crying so having a quest gives his life purpose. John also finds comfort in supporting local charities who advocate for missing and murdered women and is hoping to set up a foundation in Ashley's name.

As the father of a missing girl, he needs to do something. He needs to ensure that her life continues to having meaning, and that what happened to her will never be forgotten.

Cold comfort still.

When John gets to town, he is hoping to mend a few fences. The last time he was out in Salmon Arm, he and his posse arrived shortly after Ashley disappeared. Words were exchanged with Ashley's boyfriend Derek and her landlord Brent Cox.

Somebody, not John, even uttered a death threat against the boyfriend. As a result, he left town and is not allowed to see his kids without supervision.

It's understandable. People were upset. Why didn't someone go after her? Why did they wait so long to report her missing? Why did it take seven days before the cops and rescue went looking for her?

Certainly, there is enough blame to go around.

But none of the vitriol has been helpful. Last time I heard, people are still innocent until they have been proven guilty.

Social media has been a blessing and a curse in this case.

Terrible things have been said in Facebook groups. Fingers have been pointed. Feelings have been hurt.

But out of the ashes, perhaps there is hope. The parties out in Salmon Arm have agreed to meet with John. While the meeting might not exactly be a kumbaya moment, at least maybe there will be some kind of closure.

And that's something.

I'm betting John will be surprised when he gets there, when he sees how much the people of this little burg are hurting. It's not just Ashley. Two other women are missing; one lived across the street.

There's a chill in the air. Is there a homegrown serial killer in the area, even though the cops say the three cases are unrelated? Will another woman go missing? Have these women met their fate on the infamous Highway of Tears?

Ashley Simpson's case has left scars not just on our family members but on the people who live in this small community.

I spoke with Elaine Cawson Bowman who is the ex-mother-in-law of Ashley's boyfriend Derek. She is mother to Alex, and grandmother to his children, and has known Derek since he was 14. She helped her daughter put up posters around town after Ashley's disappearance. Elaine and Tara have never stopped looking for Ashley, and have been quick to notify the RCMP of any leads, including one about a suitcase found up the mountain. (The cops say that evidence is unrelated.)

"We never stop thinking about Ashley," she said. "My daughter really liked her. She said maybe Derek found a good one this time."

Part of the blame, and all the misunderstanding, has to be laid at the feet of the local RCMP who instructed residents not to speak with the Simpson family. That created bad blood right from the get-go.

Elaine is hoping to talk to John when he returns to claim Ashley in whatever form he finds her. Brent Cox has also offered to talk to John. He says he wants to set the record straight and clear his name.

Hopefully, the cloud that hovers over Salmon Arm will eventually be lifted.

At the very least, whatever John finds, I hope he discovers some peace in the kindness of strangers.

And reconciliation.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Ashley Simpson: Dreamcatcher

A year ago, Ashley Simpson was looking forward to returning to her home in Niagara to attend her sister's baby shower. She'd been facing some challenges; she'd left her job in Northern, B.C. and moved to Salmon Arm, the hometown of her boyfriend Derek who wanted to be close to his kids.

She was waiting for Derek to give her some scratch, enough to get home where her big and loving family were missing her.

Her parents, John and Cindy, were concerned about her, so she made sure she sent them posts and photos. John joked that the girl with the gypsy tattoo was "the selfie queen". She was always posting and talking to her parents, her sisters, and her close friends.

John is a working stiff, a guy who cooks for the ships and boats that travel along the Welland Canal. Last spring, he was looking forward to his summer job at the Longhouse in Huntsville where he could relax a bit, and fish the lake for dinner. Ashley always came along, and he couldn't wait to spend time with her. He'd agonized about the fact he'd taken Ashley out to B.C. to work in the bush, and he anxiously wanted to have her home. Ashley had finally agreed to return to her roots because she and Derek were constantly fighting over money, and that fact he was always messing around on her.

Last March, I was winding down a job as an editor for a medical publishing company. I'd decided to take a job in retail to lose a bit of weight, and to pay off some bills. I was feeling a bit blue, but looking forward to a new addition to my own family.

This time last year, I was blissfully unaware that John and Ashley even existed -- even though they were my cousins. And I was too busy sulking in my little bubble, frankly, to care.

Reminds me of a John Lennon joint.

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

Facebook can be a magical thing. It can destroy lives and reputations, and it can bring people together. In my case, it has helped me reconnect with my father's family, whom I didn't know at all. My dad, Russ, died in a car accident when I was a baby, and my mom rarely visited his kin.

The Simpsons are a large mess of a family. My dad had eight brothers and sisters. When I was little, I used to go to Grandma Simpson's for Christmas. After a while, the Christmas visits stopped and I'd see Grandma, a dour Scottish lady once a year, when my mom would bring me for tea and homemade shortbread.

I did know my cousin Dawn because her mother and mine were good friends, and we would go to my brother's lacrosse games together. I was also aware that my uncles had separately adopted a gaggle of kids, and vaguely remembered two little girls who used to come to play on our farm. The rest of the kids were a mystery to me.

My cousin Julie was one of those kids, and she connected with me on Facebook. Slowly, I began to get to know the rest of those adopted kids who had themselves reconnected in the last few years after they'd found their birth mother.

Last year, at the end of April, I saw some strange activity on Facebook. Julie's brother, whom I had not yet met, was frantic. His daughter Ashley was missing. She had left her boyfriend, and taken off down the road with no money, nothing. It wasn't like her, everyone said. She was joined at the hip with her dad, and her family. There was no way she would stop talking to them over Facebook.

Her disappearance left everyone scratching their heads. It didn't help that Derek didn't report her missing to the family until a couple of days later.

Salmon Arm isn't a place were one hitches. It's a place of bush and creeks and no street lights. And Yankee Flats Road, where Ashley and Derek lived, was in the middle of freakin' nowhere. Ashley was wicked smart, and tough. She'd worked at logging camps and on ships. She wouldn't just traipse down the road hoping that someone would pick her up. There was no one to pick her up.

Being a good journalist aka busy body I quickly insinuated myself into the mix. I started writing about these people based on what I'd seen on Facebook. To say I got backlash was a huge understatement. I was trashed all over Facebook, and deleted my posts. People didn't like them. They didn't like what I had to say about St. Catharines, where I grew up. I described it as a "place of leaving" because a lot of us got out of Dodge after high school because we didn't see a future there.

A couple days after I deleted my post, I got an email from Amanda Haveman, who was an honorary daughter of the Simpsons. She said Ashley's mom wanted me to keep on going, and keep writing even though some of the things I wrote might have hurt at the time.

Since then, the Simpsons have adopted me, as kind of a family biographer. They wanted me to keep Ashley alive, in the face of the cops who didn't seem to care. The story of Ashley is all too familiar to families across this country who have lost their sons and daughters in a most mysterious way.

Her story has touched many. Since her disappearance, my blog has had more than a quarter of a million hits. Don't say people don't care.

Mostly, people fear.

The Simpsons have been terrific.

They are brave and wonderful people who work for everything they get, and who love like there's no tomorrow, because sometimes there isn't a tomorrow. Ashley is a constant reminder of that.

Last year, too, my daughter's friend lost her mom who was in her early 40s. Gayle was beautiful, wonderful and full of life. She died suddenly after having a seizure. At the funeral, we all got a card. It said: "She lived, she loved, she laughed, she left."

When I think of Ashley, I think of those words.

Since I began to write this blog, I've told Ashley's story to anyone who would listen. My words have cast a net across the country and beyond. I've gotten to know people in Salmon Arm, Idaho, Halifax and my hometown. Thanks to Ashley, this poor orphan girl finally feels like she has a family.

Last week, another tragedy struck with the cruel death of little Nathan Dumas. Ashley was like an aunt to Nathan, and Cindy and John were like second parents to his mother, Whitney, who wrote lovingly about Ashley in this space.

We are all now connected by tragedy, loss and love.

Call me crazy, but it's like Ashley spun a Dreamcatcher, and brought us all together here, in cyberspace and on Facebook. Her death tests us everyday, in every way.

It's made us all better people. She's sprinkled us all with the dust of her memory, and we are forever linked in her memory.

She is our Angel, and we will never forget her.

Not this year, not next.

Not ever.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Whitney Dumas: We've got you

Last week, Whitney Dumas joined an exclusive club that no one ever wants to join.
It's been said that there is nothing worse than a parent outliving a child.
There is one thing worse. Little Nathan, who was about to celebrate his eighth birthday, lost his life at the hands of his stepfather, the guy who took him to Disney, who bought him food, who took him to school. His future was ended by a person he trusted to protect him.
And now Whitney must raise her other two small children without their brother, and without their father.
What an ungodly mess.
Today, Whitney and her family said goodbye to Nathan.
Look at this face.
Who could hurt this little boy?

Most of us cannot know what this feels like, to lose a child, especially in this manner.
Over the past week, people across Canada have been touched by this story. Grant LaFleche, who works at the St. Catharines Standard, told me today that his story ran in newspapers across Canada. People across this vast land were touched by it, and raised over $25,000 for this family. As a nation, we are in collective shock that this kind of thing is even possible.
As I told Whitney's friend Amanda last night, Nathan has touched a nerve. The police chief of Niagara had difficulty holding back the tears at a news conference. Paramedics and cops are no doubt seeking help for PTSD. And a poor bank lady, who was just doing her frickin' job, is still in hospital after Nathan's dad stabbed her because he blamed her for his financial woes.
(I have decided not to speak or write his name again. He can rot in jail, or hell, as I'm concerned.)

Thankfully, Whitney is lucky to have the Simpson family, her second family, to lean on.
My cousins Cindy and John know what it's like to lose a child to violence.
It has been almost a year since their daughter Ashley Simpson disappeared from the house she shared with her boyfriend, Derek Favell across the country from where her family lived in Niagara.
In a strange twist of fate, Whitney was Ashley's best friend. Last May, she dropped everything and travelled across the country to join the search.

It's unusual for parents of slain children to know one another.
As it turned out, Whitney is an honorary daughter of the Simpson clan.
Ashley and her sister Amanda have been friends  with Whitney since they were little kids. Whitney spent nearly everyday with the rough and tumble Simpson clan, talking around their legendary bonfires, playing cards, getting into the trouble, getting bailed out.
Little Nathan was there, too, always in the mix, eating the vast amount of food put out by John and Cindy and Ashley
Tonight, there are two faces missing beaming in the light of that bonfire.
And there are three broken parents, and three families. The Simpsons, the Dumas and the family of Whitney's ex-boyfriend.

I have that image seared in my brain.
The bonfire will never be the same again.
Unspeakable. Heartbroken. No words.
It's good to know that Whitney, Cindy, John have each other.
It's good to know that the Simpsons will wrap their loving arms around Whitney, as she did them a year ago.
They can look in each other eyes, and say "I've got you."
Sometimes that has to be enough.