Victim Impact Statement - Shelley Marshall
I would like to thank Your Honour and this court for allowing me to speak today. Before I begin my more formal statement, I have two comments to add.
Derek, I want you to know that when you were getting out of Headingley that Monday, November 19th, I begged Benjamin not to see you again. I told him I thought you weren't going to change your behaviour and you appeared to be getting more violent. He responded, "But Mom, he's getting out of jail and he has no one. He's my friend. I can't abandon him." And you came and took your friend Benjamin out to dinner and lured him to his death.
Luke, I want you to know that my family and I know exactly what you did, as do you and one day you will face a far greater judge than any our earthly world could offer.
To begin, on the day I had Ben, I was in labour for 22 hours. They put me to sleep at the end and I woke up asking, "Do I have a baby?" And they put him in my arms. He was wrapped tight in a yellow blanket; his eyes already brown, wide and staring solemnly at me. I remember it as clearly as yesterday.
Equally as vivid, I remember the evening the RCMP came to my door. I had been calling everywhere in desperation looking for him since the evening before and I knew from the news that a body had been found. I remember the two officers appearing at the door - their faces already telling me what I didn't want to know, but asked anyway. I remember my hands closing onto Sergeant Clarke's arms, pleading with him, "Please, please don't tell me my baby's dead." But I knew, I knew, even before I heard the words, "I'm sorry Mrs. Marshall." And that memory too, is burned forever in my brain, one that will torment me until the day I die.
I told them, "I have to go to him, he needs me to hold him," but they shook their heads - it was too late, there was nothing more I could do.
And with those four words "I'm sorry Mrs. Marshall" the nightmare began. I could do nothing more for Benjamin, no mother's arms or kisses could "make it better". And I promised Ben that night that I would be in this courtroom today, to face Derek and Luke, and share with them the story of a mother's loss.
It was just Ben and I from the time he was 18 months old and we shared a special bond and closeness. He was my everything and the thought that someone could take him away with a single, foolish, barbaric act is often more than I can bear - it can't be processed. There are too many whys to murder and no satisfactory answers to our pleas. One is just left to continually wonder if the people who did this gave a moment's thought to the terrible impact it would have on so many, not least, Benjamin.
I am left with only memories of my son and haunted by my remembrances of what has passed since that night, four years and eleven months ago, when my worst fears were realized. And while I would have preferred that my grief remain a private matter between me and God, this process has taught me that there is nothing private about murder. So I feel it is important, for Benjamin, to share it now so that all of you know what I will always remember.
I remember having to go to Ben's and Helen's apartment - the one they'd moved into only three weeks before - the one we'd just bought the new little table and chairs for. And now there was Helen and I, packing up the dishes and gathering up his clothes. I remember our falling, sobbing onto the bed as we gazed at all of Benjamin's shirts still hanging so neatly in the closet, ready for him, waiting for him, and he was not there.
I remember going to the funeral home to make plans, being directed into the room with all the coffins to choose from, and running out, fleeing to the outside of the building, because "My God, I'm supposed to be choosing my son's casket" - it can't be true, a mother doesn't bury her son.
Returning, I remember a family of a different culture coming into the hallway following a cremation and the women wailing. The funeral director held my arms, taking me into a private room, saying, "You shouldn't have to hear that." But I thought how wonderful, how wonderful to be able to express your feelings so clearly and honestly for I too, wanted to tear my hair and scream my anguish to the heavens.
I remember Benjamin taking his first steps at 11 months, running through the rooms on his chubby little legs, to catch my knees in a fierce hug, before running off again in laughter confident that I would be there to watch over him and protect him from harm. But, ultimately, I couldn't protect him. I couldn't save him. And each night I share my pain with God, begging Jesus and Mary to hold my baby, watch over my baby. And each night I say to Ben, "I'm sorry. Mommy is so sorry."
I remember Benjamin on his first day of school, dressed in new khakis, t-shirt tucked in and face shining, later to pose for a picture upon his arrival - shirt now untucked, hair already rumpled, but head tilted back, face agleam, eyes looking ahead to the future. But there is no future now, and no way of knowing then, that there were but 14 short years of life ahead of him.
I remember a friend calling shortly after Ben's murder, telling me, "Try not to live in the horror." But that is easier said than done. For it is the horror of the act of murder, that drives and compounds the grief of the loss.
I remember for the first two years lying in bed at night, imagining Benjamin's final moments over and over in my mind, before the sleeping pills took effect. I wonder … Did he know? Did he see the gun? Was he confronted with that weapon by those he had considered friends? What did he say? Did he exclaim in shock, or anger, or fear? Did he try to run? I imagine his face as he felt the bullets tear into him. Did he have time to call out? Did he have time to call to God? Did he cry out for me? I see his body falling to the ground; his eyes open, staring and wonder, did he die right away? Were they standing over him, staring down at him as his life seeped away? Was he in pain for long? Was he in fear for long, my baby? And I wonder how anyone can take a life, especially that of a friend, and proceed to handle his body, proceed to wrap it in plastic and bind it with duct tape, and fling it in a car like so much baggage, and dump it along a road like so much garbage. "My Ben, my cherished baby, Mommy is so terribly sorry. So sorry that you went through this alone, so sorry that you were betrayed, so sorry that I wasn't able to be there with you … so sorry that you no longer have a life to live. And still, today, I cannot sleep without sleeping pills which help to keep the horror and the nightmares at bay.
I remember Benjamin's tryout for the A team in hockey when he was nine. He was smaller than all the other boys, but he skated with such enthusiasm, such courage and such determination to make the team. But then, Ben excelled at so many sports - soccer, tennis, basketball, badminton, golf, and his first love, hockey, that my memories of him contain a continuous reel of courts and fields and arenas. I remember his first goals and how the coaches always spoke of how he played with such incredible heart. And now his heart no longer beats and mine is fully crushed.
But it isn't just the heart that is wounded. The loss of my only child has affected the totality of my being - mind, body and soul. The sorrow envelops me. I am always tired, so incredibly tired. My mother said it best. "It is a weariness of the soul." The simplest, daily routines become difficult, as they require some thought and certainly energy and I have none to spare. The sadness numbs me mentally and physically. While I returned to work early, fearing I would go mad if I remained too long at home alone, I had to leave again in April due to depression. I lay unmoving, unsleeping, on my couch for a month. And even when I did return to the everyday world, it no longer held any meaning for me. I was but a disinterested spectator watching from a distance. Life as I had known it died with Ben.
Oh certainly I, as others felled by grief, put on a face of normalcy for the world. For that is what is expected of us, or rather needed from us. Friends and family want to see us better and we realize early on that exposure to our pain is too difficult and far too uncomfortable for others to be around. So we keep it for our private times and during the day pretend. "How are you Shelley?" "I'm fine thank you." "I'm okay" becomes the easier response. But for the record now I tell you, I am not okay. I will never be okay.
And I am constantly amazed at the body's ability to continue to manufacture tears, for I continue to cry on a daily basis. Sometimes the tears simply wash down my face, while other times a pain so great accompanies them, the mouth opens in anguish though no sound is forthcoming. But the worst is the "fall on your knees" cries of desperation for God to please, please stop the hurt.
There was talk after Ben died, of scattering his ashes at the lake, or finding a special place of internment. But I knew he would stay with me. I couldn't bear to be parted from him, and his urn is in my room, in a special place. It is placed beneath a crucifix and surrounded by his pictures; the special Mother's Day poem a 16-year-old Ben gave to me, and birthday candles. The candles represent the 21st birthday he did not live to celebrate, and all the birthdays he will never have. And when I die, my ashes will be mixed with his, so that both here and in heaven, he will be with his mother and no longer alone.
His mother. That title was the one I wore most proudly, for I had always wanted to be a mom. But what am I now? I still feel like a mom, but I have no child to love. And what do I say when I am introduced to people and they ask me, "Do you have children Shelley?" What do I reply? "I had a child. I was a mother." The enormity of the loss of that most important part of my identity was such that it took more than a month before I realized I would never be a grandmother. I will never attend my child's wedding or hold his child in my arms.
I mentioned earlier that Mother's Day poem I was so touched to receive. It was particularly meaningful, as Benjamin was 16 at the time and away at school in Saskatchewan, and he still thought of me. He picked out this lovely poem suitable for framing and mailed it to me. And I was so elated when it arrived by post. It didn't matter the cost eventually appeared on my statement of account from the school - my son remembered me.
I also remember the beautiful basket of flowers Benjamin brought me on the Mother's Day before he died. But there are no more Mother's Days for me. And each year now is filled with holiday days that only serve to pierce my heart and magnify my loneliness. What is Thanksgiving, with Ben not at the table? And what joy in Christmas, if I can't see my son opening his gifts under the tree. And now there are two other anniversaries that torment me - April 19th, the day he was born and November 23rd, the day he died.
But while these memories are primarily coloured by overwhelming sadness, there is anger too. Not often, as anger requires energy and is difficult to sustain. But I have experienced moments of intense rage, the kind that has seen me leap from my bed at 3:00 in the morning and storm into my living room where, in my mind's eye, I confront the killers and spew at them my words of hate and venom. And I would be less than honest if I did not admit to having found comfort early on in fantasies of revenge. Nor do I apologize for these moments. Any parents know the anger that arises when someone is intentionally cruel to their child -- but for someone to take your child's life? Take those feelings and magnify them a thousand fold and you will have some small idea of the fury that takes hold of me. I am angry that my son is dead. I am furious that my family and I have had to sustain this most grievous of wounds, that our lives have been so irrevocably altered. I am livid that my mother, Benjamin's grandmother, must live with this shadow on her final years, that Helen and Benjamin's brothers must cope with such a traumatic death at such a young age, and yes, I even resent having to stand here before you today, that I have even had to face the daunting task of preparing a Victim Impact Statement.
And I have so often wished that I could have died in his place. For death would have been preferable to enduring this life without him. The most unnerving thought at his funeral was my realization that I could not take my life to be with him, as I could not add to my family's already excruciating pain. Yet I so often wanted to die. I felt my place was with Ben, that others could get along very well without me but my son needed me. And what purpose could life here hold for me without him? But I also knew I did not want to commit such an ultimate act. So I instead asked God to take me in any way He saw fit, that my work here was done and I was ready to join Ben. Other times, in anger or despair, I weakened and planned out my death, and my note -- a final message for the perpetrators of this crime and for this court to read, "Here is my body. You took my life with his. This is my Victim Impact Statement."
So why am I still here? Certainly, because I had an obligation, a promise made to Ben to speak to you today. But much more than that, I owe my continuing ability to wake up each morning and meet each day to the constancy of God, and to His ever-present love and support. People have said to me, "I don't know how you do it Shelley. You've been so strong." But I have just shared with you my weakness, and my anger and despair. Clearly, it is not my strength. It is a strength imparted to me by God. It is God who carries me. And that is the greatest blessing in all of this and an important one for all of you to know, for whatever crisis you may face in your life. Our prayers are answered. We truly never have to face any tragedy alone. I assure you, God has heard it all from me and throughout, He has soothed my anger and dried my tears and always, in my heart of hearts, I know that Benjamin is safe in His embrace. But it is my very faith in God, and my gratitude for His kind and merciful ways, that creates my second most difficult struggle. The struggle to forgive. For Jesus did not just tell us to "love our friends," he asked us to show love and compassion to our enemies. And this has troubled me so much that at night when I say the Lord's Prayer I alter it - "Forgive us our trespasses as we try to forgive those who trespass against us." In fact, early on I told God I would never forgive those who killed my son, nor did I wish Him to contemplate such forgiveness. But time has passed, and I accept that there is no sin God will not forgive if sincere remorse is shown. And I have even come to accept that for Derek and Luke, a time has been given to them to reconnect with God and to experience His mercy. And I wish that for them. But I am merely human and I have not yet reached that place. But I believe with prayer, and through the grace of God, that moment is attainable, and there will come a time when I can look at those who took Ben's lifeand say with truth and honesty, "I forgive you." I regret it isn't now.
Still speaking of my faith, a further struggle in all of this has been in having to come face to face with evil, for murder is an act of evil. I knew of course, before Ben's death, that bad things happened in the world. But in my world, Good is supposed to overcome Evil, and Ben's murder shook the very foundations of my belief in the greater good, for with his death it seemed so apparent that evil had won. I was wrong. For while his death made me face the worst in human nature, it also let me see the best. I witnessed such goodness in the outpouring of support from friends and strangers. I witnessed such goodness in those who worked so long and hard to bring Ben justice, and in those who, as a result of Ben's death were able to change their path in life for the better. I have been able to see that God truly does "work all things together for good." My final hope now is that through this tragedy, I will be able to find renewed purpose in my life, that God will be able to use my sorrow and my pain to transform the lives of others for the better. And that hope also sustains me and allows me now to pray with some measure of comfort and acceptance, "Thy will be done."
I have one last remembrance to share. Ben and I, as with so many children and their parents, had a special nighttime ritual. He would come into my room to talk, to be followed always by this final exchange:
But there are no mornings now, and no words to adequately describe the depths of my anguish. Your Honour, I kissed my baby in his casket. What more is there to say?
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