'It weighed on my heart': Candlelight vigil for dead Fort Saskatchewan boys draws hundreds

More than 300 people gathered at a candlelight vigil in a Fort Saskatchewan park Wednesday evening to honour the lives of two boys killed in the city last weekend.

One-year-old Ares Starrett died Saturday in Fort Saskatchewan. Police have charged Damien Christopher Starrett with second-degree murder in his son’s death. 

That same morning, 15-year-old Jesse McPhee was struck and killed while crossing an intersection in the city.

“As a mom, the way it weighed on my heart, it was very heavy,” said Kayla MacGregor, one of the vigil’s organizers. “And I know that Fort Saskatchewan is a very tight-knit community, so I know that it was affecting everybody.”

McGregor grew up in Fort Saskatchewan and said she has known the Starrett family for a long time. While she doesn’t know McPhee family personally, she said she wanted to help.

“I felt the need to reach out and do something for both families, and it turned out very well,” she said.

On tables set up in Carscadden Park, candles and flowers framed photos of the two boys. Attendees were encouraged to leave their condolences using supplied notebooks and pens.

The night was cold and the ink in the pens kept freezing, but people continued to line up to sign the books, dipping the pens into candles to warm them first so they could share their thoughts.

The vigil organizers also collected donations to help with funeral costs for the families. MacGregor said those donations will be split between two GoFundMe campaigns already underway.

Hundreds attended a vigil Wednesday night in Fort Saskatchewan to honour the lives of two boys killed in the city last weekend. People held candles and offered messages of condolences. (Jennie Russell/CBC)

At one point in the evening, there was a moment of silence for Starrett and McPhee, before dozens of balloons were released into the evening sky.

‘It shows a lot of respect’

Kevin Elonaissi said he attended in part because he used to work with Starrett’s mother, but also because he has a young son of his own, just 10 months old.

“I could imagine it on my kid as well,” he said. “So it’s pretty hard.”

He said he was heartened to see the large turnout.

“It shows a lot of respect. There are a lot of people that are good, kindhearted people to come out here in the cold and respect everything that has been going on.”

Kevin Farnsworth said he felt compelled to come to the vigil because “community is everything.”

“When it comes to community, everybody shows up,” he said. “It’s like a big family in the end.”

Second-degree murder charge laid

In a news conference about Ares Starrett’s death, RCMP said police responded to a 911 call on Saturday evening of a child in medical distress. The boy was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Damien Starrett, 30, is also charged with the assault of another of his children, who police said suffered non-life threatening injuries.

Starrett has a long criminal history that includes convictions for assaults, possession of a controlled substance, attempting to obstruct justice with a bribe, refusal to give a breath sample, mischief, and tampering with a vehicle.

He is currently in custody and is scheduled to appear in Fort Saskatchewan provincial court Thursday morning.

Police allege a 54-year-old woman was driving the vehicle that struck McPhee. At the time, they said drugs and alcohol were not considered factors, and they have not yet laid any charges. 

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