April 29, 2009 would turn out to be the worst day of our lives.
My daughter, Jessica, and her three young children were living in an extremely abusive relationship. We were trying to get her and the kids out but had nowhere to bring her.
The shelters in Edmonton were full, with wait times of two or more months to get in. We didn’t have any places in Sturgeon County where we lived for her to go to.
We were so frustrated and scared.
She didn’t have time to wait any longer, the situation at home was becoming dangerous. They needed to get out now.
With a safety plan in place and no other choices, we decided it was time for her to leave.
I would never see my daughter alive again.
Somehow, he found out about her plan to leave and lost control.
He brutally attacked and strangled her to death in front of their three children.
I wouldn’t believe it at first. I was supposed to pick Jessica and the kids up at 8 p.m. after we were done work. Instead, what I saw was like a scene from a movie.
There were police officers everywhere. Three very traumatized children and my husband in shock. We were all in shock.
I remember the media contacting us a day or two later. It’s all such a blur. They asked if we would be interested in doing a news story. We were contacted by quite a few TV news stations and newspapers.
It was all so overwhelming.
It was a hard choice for us to make. There are so many aspects to consider.
How would it affect us?
How would it affect her kids?
Would it compromise our safety?
As a family, we sat down and discussed the impacts of sharing our story. We decided to do an interview for the news a couple of days later.
We hoped sharing our story would help someone in some way. We never intended for our grandchildren to see the news, but it came on during a commercial while they were watching TV.
I’ll never forget their faces. They were horrified. We rushed frantically to turn off the TV, but not before they saw their dad being led away in handcuffs into a police car.
For awhile, I felt horrible about agreeing to do that interview. I didn’t want to put our family through more pain than we were already experiencing.
It was hard seeing it on the news over and over. There was also so much going on at the time. The kids were struggling, we were preparing for Jessica’s funeral and we were being questioned by the RCMP. So we decided not to do any more interviews.
I struggled with that a lot. I was so angry and hurt. I wanted to scream.
I wanted everyone to know what had happened to my daughter.
In today’s world how could this still be happening? Why were so many women and children being turned away from women shelters? What was going to be done to fix the lack of beds? But I kept quiet.
I started sharing our story a couple of years after Jess’s death, to people around me.
I could no longer keep quiet. I was seeing news stories and articles about other women who had lost their lives due to domestic violence, and it saddened me to see things hadn’t changed much when it came to keeping our families safe.
Women’s shelters still had wait lists, sometimes turning up to 2,000 women and children away.
People encouraged me to speak out, to raise awareness. I’d never done anything like this before and it wasn’t easy.
I could never get through telling her story without crying. But the more I shared her story, I noticed things starting to change in me.
I’d always believed, “Why would anyone want to listen to me? How would I ever be able to make a difference?”
People were listening though.
It gave me the courage to move forward. It also gave me the courage to face my own past of fleeing an abusive relationship.
Most importantly, it gave Jessica a voice.
During this process, I began to heal. I’ve met so many brave families going through very real, very hard things, and their courage inspires me every day.
Sitting here today, 10 years after Jessica’s death, I am glad our family found the courage to tell her story. As hard as it is for our family to hear over and over, we have also seen the positive that has come from it.
My daughter and I shared a dream to one day open a safe haven for families fleeing domestic violence.
A home where they would begin a new journey of hope and healing.
In January 2012, a group of women inspired by her story approached me. They wanted to help fulfill that dream, and as a result the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation was created.
In September 2018, we started construction on a 9,000-square-foot home in the Sturgeon County area for families affected by domestic violence.
We are scheduled to open Jessie’s House in early 2020.
It’s tragic that Jessica lost her life that day.
Sharing her story has allowed us to remember who she truly was — caring, loving and generous. She had a beautiful voice and a great sense of humour. She had a huge heart and was cherished by all who knew her.
Her story will continue to help families find hope and courage for years to come. For our family, it’s a huge gift to have this legacy in memory of Jessica.
For more information on how you can become involved with the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation visit our website at www.jessicamartelmemorialfoundation.com.