A gut-wrenching email from Austyn Godfrey’s mother Michelle spurred me to hold a second vigil on the first anniversary of Austyn’s death.
Michelle still doesn’t know how her daughter died. What she knows is Austyn didn’t end up in the Glenmore dog park on her own (She did not drive.) Michelle was adamant her daughter didn’t do it to herself either.
Austyn’s elusive autopsy report is something Michelle hasn’t been able to get her hands on, leaving the woman in agony. It haunts her to know her daughter’s remains were discovered abandoned, or discarded, in a parking lot under the cover of night.
Living more than 4,000 kilometres away, Michelle is left out of the loop, and she’s totally gutted by her never-ending grief. She has little strength remaining.
As a mother myself, I didn’t want Austyn to be remembered as just a body found in a remote area outside city limits. She was a vibrant, beautiful young woman with much charisma and potential, adored by her family and friends.
I met her buddies at the first vigil at Evangel Church last year, but this time I held the service in the courtyard of the Kelowna Law Courts.
It made me feel safer having the venue there. Her killer is still on the loose. Austyn named a man on her social media accounts whom she considered harmful to her just days before her death. With that in mind, I determined that any sketchy person would think twice before coming around, especially if they had a warrant out for their arrest.
The second vigil was completely different from the first. Instead of her young friends present, an older generation of strangers attended. They were mostly from my denomination, along with Charnie, a former drinking buddy of mine from back in the day.
Charnie and I went from bar hopping to a Bible study together a few decades later. We had a second chance, Austyn did not.
The attendees from my church family were elderly and led lives on the straight and narrow, unlike me. They weren’t judgmental. Compassion motivated them and they wanted to pay their respects.
A couple of strangers wandered over, having heard about it on the radio. None of us knew Austyn, but we were all deeply disturbed by her appalling death. We hoped to show Austyn’s family Kelowna’s residents cared.
One man stood out. His presence was unnerving until I noticed his face was contorted with tears streaming from his eyes. It was Austyn’s uncle Jason from Alberta.
He was clearly heartbroken. We texted a few times but we had never met. Jason held up a cell phone to record the event, and unbeknownst to me, Michelle was watching via FaceTime.
After I quoted some startling statistics on femicide in Canada, I read a poem I wrote about Michelle and Austyn. It described how they quarrelled the last time they were together. Michelle tried to protect Austyn from a group of shady looking new companions her daughter brought home. Sadly, Austyn didn’t pay heed and soon thereafter came out West. Mother and daughter wouldn't see each other again.
Assistant Pastor Arturo Gonzalez of the Rutland Adventist church spoke after me. He shared that violence against women is on the rise. God’s way is the only way to stop such tragedies, he said. The minister prayed for comfort for the family, and for those responsible to be held accountable.
He implored that they would repent for their actions. Afterwards, both he and I gave Jason a reassuring hug.
Later, when a reporter asked how I felt about her friends not showing up at the vigil, I recalled how messed up they were over Austyn’s death. Perhaps they couldn’t bring themselves to attend a second time.
I learned later that a few of them also passed away the same year, from a drug overdoses.
In October 2022 in B.C., there was an average of nearly six deaths per day from illicit narcotics. The age range of the victims as between 30 to 79, with 70% being males.
Whether drugs played a direct part in Austyn’s death, I don’t know. She may have lived a high-risk lifestyle, and may or may not have been trafficked.
According to her relative, a woman known as K.C. believed Austyn was using some kind of street drug and one of Austyn's friends, Lilyanna Arient, said Austyn got caught up in something she didn’t deserve, according to one media report.
While Austyn suffers no more, her mother Michelle certainly does, and in the most horrific way.
She told me on our FaceTime chat, “I wouldn’t wish this kind of pain on anyone.”
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.