Edmonton murder conference helps victims' families learn how to heal
'I think that's what makes everybody share, because everybody does have a story,' victim's mother says
The grief never really goes away.
Dianne and Mike Ilesic lost their son to a killer nearly five years ago.
On June 15, 2012, Brian Ilesic, 35, and two other armoured guards were shot to death during an ATM robbery at the University of Alberta's HUB Mall by their co-worker Travis Baumgartner.
For the Ilesics, getting involved with a local support group for families of homicide victims was a major step in helping them learn to cope with the loss.
'You now know what a broken heart is'
"It's not just an expression. I think that's what makes everybody share, because everybody does have a story."
About eight months after their son was murdered, the Ilesics were encouraged to join the local support group. Initially, they were hesitant. But Mike Ilesic said it turned out to be one of the best decisions they ever made.
Eventually, they started to attend meetings, and opened up about their story, which at the time received a lot of media attention due to the high-profile nature of their son's murder.
'They almost have a mask of grief on their faces"
"Basically, when we have our meetings we can get together in the group and speak our minds," Dianne Ilesic said. "If we want to cry, nobody holds that against you. It's very private and normally whatever is said in the room, stays in the room."
The Ilesics helped organize the Touched by Murder conference. The families of homicide victims help bring in speakers, academics and law enforcement officers.
This is the second conference the Ilesics have attended.
"We met many people who had the situation that was so new to them you could pick them out," she said. "They almost have a mask of grief on their faces. And those that have journeyed a bit further, it's lifted more."
The two-day conference in Edmonton is being attended by families from across Western Canada.
While most know who killed their family members, others are still searching.
Lorraine Blyan and her sisters attended the conference for the first time. The women lost their mother 49 years ago on the Enoch reserve.
'I had to do a lot of healing'
The murder is still considered a cold case. But Blyan said the RCMP have told her that because some of the original suspects are now dead there's not much that can be done.
Soon after her mother's death, Blyan and her sisters were split up. Some were adopted, others went to foster homes.
"It's been hard, and even though it has been 49 years, when I talk about her I have these hurt feelings," said Blyan
"I had to do a lot of healing, too, like going to sweat lodges, seeing psychologists. Because I had turned to alcohol and drugs ... and I had post-traumatic stress disorder, just everything. It was a really tough life, growing up without her."
'Stuck in their grief'
A lack of closure is one of the biggest problems family members face when a murder isn't solved.
"Survivors will tell you themselves, we're just different," said Ashley Wellman, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Missouri, and one of the keynote speakers at the conference.
"When we don't have a resolution, there's a grief that almost becomes this suspended animation, where they're stuck in their grief," said Wellman, who researches the impact of cold-case homicides on families.
"Something that I think people may not know about homicide survivors is that they're incredible human beings who are fighting to make sure that our families are safe, to end violence in our communities," Wellman said. "These are the strongest human beings that I've ever had a chance to work with."
The Edmonton police have 183 unsolved murders from 2014 or earlier registered with the historical homicide unit.