The news Wednesday that two young boys found dead in their home were victims of homicide has shocked residents of Millet, Alta., a community of about 2,100, 40 kilometres south of Edmonton.
"I just can't fathom losing two children at that age just starting their life," the town's mayor, David Gursky, said late Wednesday afternoon. "It's so hard to just accept this has happened and especially in our community, in any community, but especially ours. It's pretty tough."
The bodies of the two boys were found in their home by their father, Curtis McConnell, on Monday afternoon. A neighbour said he told her he had found the children in the bathtub.
On Wednesday, RCMP confirmed that Connor and Jayden McConnell, age 2½ and 10 months, respectively, died as a result of homicide. No charges have yet been laid in connection with the deaths.
In a written statement Thursday, the boys' godparents, Garth and Crystal Rapson, urged people to give the family and the boys "the honour and respect that they deserve."
"Remember them," they said of Connor and Jayden. "They were loving boys filled with joy, laughter and love for their family and friends. They were always smiling and laughing.
"Connor loved to get dirty and be active and play chase games and he loved his little friends. Jayden loved to eat and was making discoveries and growing daily."
Father posts messages on Facebook site
On a Facebook memorial page set up for his two sons, McConnell wrote about his grief early Wednesday.
"The questions go through your head: How do we move on? Why did it happen? Why now?," he wrote. "Nothing can undo what has happened. Just holding on the feelings I got from holding them. They loved me so much, and I loved them so much."
McConnell's friend, Cara Rotenburger, has been speaking with him since the boys were found. Rotenburger said McConnell told her he rushed to the house in Millet after Edmonton police told him his wife was in the hospital and that the children weren't with her.
"He was frantically searching the house for his kids," she said. "And then this door is locked and shut. He didn't know what's going on because his kids aren't anywhere in the house, and there's a door that's not normally used, shut and locked."
Edmonton police said a woman tried to kill herself by jumping off a Gateway Blvd. overpass in the south part of the city an hour before the boys' bodies were found on Monday. They have not named the woman nor have they confirmed whether the incident had any connection to the investigation in Millet.
RCMP confirmed a car found parked near Gateway Blvd. in Edmonton Monday is connected to the house in Millet, but they have not said how.
According to court documents, Curtis McConnell and his wife, Allyson, both 31, had separated in November and were embroiled in a custody battle over the boys. Allyson McConnell wanted to take the boys back to her native Australia, but her husband wanted them to stay in Canada.
A judge had ordered in December 2009 that the children remain in Canada for the time being and the parents share custody. The court also ordered Curtis McConnell to vacate the family home in Millet by the end of December 2009.
News of the homicide investigation has attracted attention from the Australian media, some of whom have sent news reporters to Millet.
"When the story broke, it was the lead story," Peter Stefanovic, a TV reporter with Australia's Channel Nine Network, said Wednesday. "Still today, 24 hours later, it's still a lead story, and I think it will dominate the headlines until the case is finished."