As bundles of balloons were released on the shores of Okanagan Lake in Vernon Wednesday evening, one of them got stuck in a tree momentarily.
“Ashley wants to stay,” someone said, pointing overhead.
A candlelight vigil was held at Kin Beach Feb. 1 on the one-year anniversary of the death of Vernon teen Ashley Wadsworth, who was murdered by her boyfriend in the U.K. Close to 70 people came out on a cold winter evening in memory of Wadsworth, and to hear a message of caution for those who may be victims of domestic violence.
Wadsworth’s mother, Christy Gendron, gave a short but touching speech before her other daughter, Hailey, read a poem through tears.
“I want to thank everyone near and far who has helped us through this difficult tragedy, and a special thank you to Julie Taylor and her family for always keeping Ashley’s story and memory alive,” Gendron said.
She explained Taylor’s grandson, Liam Taylor, also died from a violent stabbing in the same neighbourhood of Essex as Wadsworth’s murder, almost exactly two years apart and at the same age of 19.
“Liam’s angel day was yesterday,” she said.
Gendron said Liam’s grandmother arranged a vigil for Ashley in England one year ago, even though she had never met Ashley; she was just touched by her story and the similarities it bore to her grandson’s death.
“She was a ray of sunshine, always laughing, singing and dancing. She is sorely missed every single day. Our lives will never be the same. Ashley, you will never be forgotten, you are with us every day,” Gendron said.
After the candles were lit and the speeches were done, four colours of balloons were released into the darkening sky. The yellow balloons were for Ashley, her favourite colour; green balloons were for Liam, his favourite colour; purple balloons represented domestic violence; and white balloons honoured all of the victims of violence.
“If anything can come from this — and I know Ashley, that’s who she was, to help people — and if her story can change anyone’s decision if they’re getting ready to leave, if you’re in a violent situation, man, woman, doesn’t matter, if you’re a family member and you’re talking to them and you get that gut instinct, trust your gut,” Gendron said.
“Because even if they say ‘don’t, we’re fine, I don’t want to leave,’ when that person decides to leave — we booked her flight — that’s the most dangerous time. Because that person’s going to lose control.”
Kristie Wadsworth, Ashley’s aunt, gave a short speech, saying: “If anything today we can remember Ashley’s beautiful smile, contagious chuckle and her ability to love her family and friends unconditionally. Her memory will never leave any of us and we will always be able to hold her close to our hearts. We will hold you in our hearts until we can hold you in heaven.”
Gendron hopes Ashley’s death can save the life of a person facing domestic violence. She suggested someone in that situation make a code word with a family member or friend, know all the emergency numbers if travelling overseas, and do a background check using Clare’s Law to see if a person who may be a romantic partner has a history of violence.
“Do your research,” she said.
Gendron said the gathering and the number of people who showed up was “beautiful,” and the outpouring of support from people in Vernon, England and all over the world has helped the family get through the hardest time of their lives.
“Just the fact that we’ve gotten this much support for Ashley, she would be honoured, we are honoured, we are so grateful to the community for all the help.”
Jack Sepple pleaded guilty to Ashley’s murder last September. He was sentenced to life in prison and will serve a minimum of 23 and a half years in jail.
The murder took place just days before Ashley was going to return home to Vernon.