Five years ago, a senseless tragedy sent shockwaves through southern Alberta. On Dec. 15, 2011, three people were killed by Derek Jensen in a murder-suicide.
The victims were Tabitha Stepple – a Lethbridge woman- along with Tanner Craswell and Mitch MacLean, who moved to Alberta from Prince Edward Island to pursue their childhood dreams of becoming professional baseball players.
“I will never forget that day as long as I live,” Tanner Craswell’s aunt, Leona Turner, said. “It’s still surreal, it’s like a movie. Sometimes I wonder, ‘did it even happen?’”
Craswell and MacLean were en route to the airport in Calgary that day to head home to Prince Edward Island for the holidays. They were being driven by Craswell’s girlfriend, Shayna Conway, and her friend Tabitha Stepple, when their car was hit from behind just outside of Claresholm.
Stepple’s ex-boyfriend, Derek Jensen, opened fire on the car, killing Craswell, MacLean and Stepple before taking his own life. Conway was the only survivor.
Half a decade later, the families still feel a hole in their hearts where a loved one should be. Mitch MacLean’s parents, Irwin and Dianne MacLean, are doing their best to recover through support groups.
“Every time we go we think, ‘oh, we don’t need to be here,’” Dianne said. “But every time we go, we cry. So I guess we do need to be there.”
The pain has lessened but still remains.
“My counsellor said to me, ‘once you cry, then the next time you cry is the distance between the next one,’” Irwin said. “It shows you’re getting better and there’s a lot of truth to that.”
Across the country, many have paid tribute over the years to the two young baseball players who were killed. The Toronto Blue Jays honoured them at a home game on April 8, 2012. In southern Alberta, the Prairie Baseball and Vauxhall academies as well as the Lethbridge Bulls, play memorial games every year, all in an effort to maintain a special legacy.
“The showing of love that we’ve received from Lethbridge and Calgary -everybody – Edmonton. We’ll never be able to thank all the people that played a role in our healing,” Dianne said.
Tanner Craswell wanted to be a pro baseball player and his aunt Leona Turner wants his legacy to live on through other athletes. At the start of the 2017/18 school year, the Tanner Craswell Memorial Award will be handed out at Holland College in Charlottetown, P.E.I. A cash award of $500 will go to a deserving player on the Holland Hurricanes baseball team.
“I think Tanner would be really proud of that, I know he would,” Turner said. “I think it’s what he would want us to do. He’d want us to help someone else, like he was helped along the way.”
While the young lives were taken far too soon, the families are making certain they’re never forgotten.
“He had a great work ethic,” Dianne said of her son through tears. “He was so unassuming, he never bragged. He was so special to us, we wanted him to pursue his dreams and that’s what he was doing. If you work hard enough, your dreams can come true – it’s just his life got taken before he had a chance to see that happen.”
“We didn’t want him to be forgotten,” Irwin said “And I’m pretty sure that isn’t going to happen.”
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.