Blue Line

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Missing people are never forgotten


November 5, 2014
By Danette Dooley

It has been said that the greatest fear in life is the unknown. Darlene Dunne of St. John’s, Newfoundland has been living that fear since August 15 – the day her son, Joshua Whalen, went missing.

Dunne sits at her kitchen table during an interview, trying to control her tears.

“Me and Joshua were really close. We’ve always been close. Even when we were apart,” she said, not shying away from the fact that her son is a drug addict.

“Joshua got in with the wrong crowd and got into the wrong things. He did three years up away. He served his time and then he came home.”

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The time “up away” was a federal prison term after being caught with weapons and body armour in 2009. He escaped in 2012 during a transfer to a halfway house. Two weeks after being reported missing, police issued a warrant for his arrest when he failed to show up for a court appearance.

Dunne said her son tried to fight his drug addiction. He yearned for a better life, she said.

“Josh took care of himself. He had a teardrop tattoo by his eye… He started having laser treatment on it. He wanted it gone…. I prayed for him every night. God watch over him and keep him safe and lead him in the right direction. But the direction he took wasn’t the right direction.”

Whalen had other tattoos as well. But not even a large tattoo of Jesus Christ on his upper body or his mother’s prayers could save him from what his mom fears is a drug-related murder.

Dunne knows her son, 26 when he disappeared, may have died because of his choices. While she held out hope at first that he would come home, as the days turned to weeks, her hope vanished.

If he was alive, she said, he would have contacted her. He’d never let those who love him suffer the way they are suffering, she said.

“I wake up and I live the same day…. are they going to find him. It’s an awful goings on. It’s a mother’s living nightmare.”

{Searching for answers}

Jake Basto was reported missing on August 9 from Makkovik, Labrador. The investigation is ongoing but the RCMP has scaled back the search until it can gather more information.

Local MLA Randy Edmunds offered his home as a secondary search headquarters in Basto’s disappearance.

“We were organizing search crews and the whole town were bringing over meals to our place. We just got them in, sat them down, fed them and then they were off again.”

RCMP “B” Division gets numerous reports of missing people, said S/Sgt. Boyd Merrill. Most are found quickly because searchers know their whereabouts. With others police gather all the information they can, try to establish a timeline for their disappearance and begin their investigation.

Names of the missing are put on CPIC and all files are kept active and reviewed annually.

{Faceless Dolls}

The St. John’s Native Friendship Centre (SJNFC) has been participating in a national initiative to remember missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The project creates hand-crafted felt dolls to represent each victim. In Newfoundland and Labrador the project includes all missing and murdered women and children.

The centre’s records indicate that from 1984-2014, 76 women in the province were reported missing or murdered.

{Dark side of prosperity}

With prosperity comes crime. People go missing. Some are found quickly. Those who remain lost – for whatever the reason – leave loved ones searching for answers.

Former RNC Insp. Connie Pike is familiar with the damage caused by relationship violence. Now executive director of the Coalition Against Violence, Avalon East, Newfoundland and Labrador, she said the first phase of dealing with the issue, she said, is to acknowledge it is happening.

“When we see the type of prosperity that we are experiencing now, there’s always a dark side to that, too,” she said.

“More money, more affluence creates bigger stresses for people and then there is a segment of the population that don’t have access to those types of funds… when housing costs went up it left more people in an unstable environment leading to other issues like addiction when they can’t handle the additional stresses.”

Crime costs Canada billions of dollars each year in “reactive costs” such as police intervention, judges, crown attorneys, lawyers, victim services workers and others involved in the justice system, Pike said.

The coalition’s focus is on early intervention and prevention.

“(This province) really has to invest in more prevention efforts… to make a difference up front before activities start evolving into these reactive pieces.”

{Education key}

Philip Hibbs hates October 15. His wife Debbie starts to cry with the mere mention of the date. The couple were visiting their daughter in Calgary Oct. 15, 2013 when the phone rang.

“We heard our daughter Ashley crying and screaming. We heard something moving in her bedroom. She was on her knees trying to get the window open for air. She was completely hysterical and we didn’t know why,” Philip recalled.

Ashley had just taken a call from her brother Chris with horrible news.

“The phone rang again and it was Chris… He said ‘Dad, is Ashley okay?'” I said, ‘I don’t know, we can’t get her to speak. I think we’re going to have to go to the hospital.’ He said, ‘Dad, you need to sit down.’ I said ‘Why?'”

He told how the the couple’s daughter Juliane and her fiance Vince Dillon had been shot and killed. The shooter – Juliane’s former boyfriend Brian Dawe, who then drove to a cemetery and took his own life.

Juliane started dating Dawe when she was 16. The relationship – a tumultuous and violent one that her parents tried to end many times – lasted over 16 years.

“We never stopped trying to bring Juliana home,” Debbie said.

“When she was 16 we were told by authorities they couldn’t go in and take her out. She had to come out on her own. I said to them, ‘how does she come out on her own when women who are in marriages that are being abused can’t get out,'” she said.

Dawe controlled their daughter, they said and alienated her from family and friends. She eventually found the courage to escape.

The Hibbs would like to see junior high school girls get more information about healthy relationships. Just as sex education has been introduced into the classroom, Philip said, students need to know the early warning signs of what could become an abusive and controlling relationship.

The couple will continue to tell their family’s story to help other girls understand the consequences of unhealthy relationships. It’s what Juliane would want them to do, Debbie said.

“People say we are so strong but we are not. This is so hard for us but we are trying to make a difference, to help other women and young girls. We are hoping that Juliane’s strength and courage will help people who are in abusive situations get out.”

dooley@blueline.ca


A lengthier version of this story first appeared in


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