British Columbia

Fatal Christmas Eve beatings leave family mourning troubled couple in love

When Nellie Willams saw two suspects beating her boyfriend François Shurie, 37, in Duncan on Christmas Eve, her mother believes that the 29-year-old tried to cover and protect him, screaming at his attackers.

'She would fight to the death for anyone she loved and unfortunately she proved it'

Nellie Williams died after she and her partner were attacked Christmas Eve in Duncan B.C. in 2019. (Linda Williams)

When Nellie-Rae Willams saw two suspects beating her boyfriend François Shurie in Duncan on Christmas Eve, her mother, based on witness accounts, believes she tried to jump in to protect him, screaming at his attackers.

The 29-year-old Ditidaht First Nations woman died four days after the brutal attack in her small hometown. Her 37-year-old partner died the night of the beating.

More than six months later, the couple's double homicide is described as targeted and remains unsolved by the RCMP.

François (Fran) Shurie and Nellie Williams in Duncan B.C. (Linda Williams)

On Facebook, sister-in-law Susie Cusson described Nellie-Rae Marie as a "little warrior." 

"She would fight to the death for anyone she loved and unfortunately she proved it," wrote Cusson.

When her daughter died, so did Linda Williams' hope that she would see her take on the family legacy of carving totems.

"I miss her so much," said Williams, 58.

She wants justice and to understand why it took so long for authorities to contact her.

"They treated Nellie like she was homeless and she had nobody, but I'm still here," said Williams.

People leave flowers and messages for the couple who were beaten here in Duncan B.C. in a Christmas Eve attack. François John Shurie, 37, died that night. His partner Nellie Williams, 29, died four days later in a Victoria hospital. The case remains unsolved. (Linda Williams)

RCMP identified two persons of interest soon after the Christmas Eve attack that happened around 11 p.m.

Witnesses caught the men on video just metres from the scene near Trunk Road and Government Street, as first responders worked to save the injured couple.

Williams believes Shurie was the first attacked.

"They were happy because they just got word they get to see their their baby girl Christmas Day," she said.

Williams was trying to help the pair escape their lifestyle of drugs and petty crime.

People who knew Kaslo B.C.-raised Shurie describe a kind, funny, caring man who was skilled at building.

'My heart goes numb'

The couple had a daughter, and a plan to turn their lives around within five years.

"It was like those two fell in love and no one could get between them," said Williams.

In his obituary, Shurie's family wrote a goodbye to the "sweet little boy we knew" who loved his child and remained kind despite a hard life.

Linda Williams, 58, carves totems, like the seven generations before her. She hopes to make a totem in memory of the daughter she lost at Christmas. Nellie Williams died after she was beaten in Duncan. (Linda Williams)

In Duncan, witnesses often approach Williams. She says they say they watched the fatal fight that left her daughter with multiple injuries, including a broken jaw.

"I talk with different people downtown. Some of them seen it. Some of them heard her screaming and crying and asking for help. My heart goes numb when I talk about this," said Williams.

Growing up in Duncan, she says, her daughter Nellie played soccer, biked and skateboarded.

When she was 13, she had her first child.

Williams says Nellie's life spiralled downward after she was beaten "black and blue" by a former partner and lost custody of their children.

Five of William's grandchildren are now in the care of foster or adoptive families.

This is another tragic loss for the Nuu-chah-nulth woman.

In 2010, her brother, 50-year-old John Williams, a celebrated carver, was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer. The shooting was ruled unjustified and the City of Seattle paid the family $1.5-million.

Eight years later, her 36-year-old son, Daniel Williams, died of an opioid overdose.

'You act like I'm not even here'

RCMP say they spoke to Williams on Christmas Day and broke the news about Nellie.

At first, all hoped Nellie would make it.

Williams said she went to Victoria General Hospital after church Dec.25 with a prayer cloth and candle to pray by Nellie's bedside. But she only got to the door of Nellie's room where she said she saw four nurses around the bed of the young woman who was restrained and struggling.

She said she was wasn't allowed to visit because of the ongoing criminal investigation and never got a chance to see or talk to her, as she'd hoped.

After surgery on Dec. 27, it became clear that the Duncan woman would not survive. RCMP investigators knocked on her mother's door that afternoon.

Williams said she spoke to the doctor and saw her daughter before she died, but Nellie never regained consciousness. She said it made her angry that she was not contacted sooner, so she could have said goodbye.

"I thought … how could you? How could you not let me see her that night? Why did you stop me from seeing her? Why did you wait until she died? I'm her mother. You act like I'm not even here."

Dec. 28, police were notified that Williams was dead, and the investigation shifted from aggravated assault to homicide.

These days, Williams keeps busy.

She buried the couple side-by-side at the Duncan Indian Road Cemetery and is planning to carve a totem in memory of her daughter who she believes would have made a great mother "given half a chance." 

She keeps urging police to investigate, hoping the attackers are found, to give her daughter a sliver of justice.

The Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit told CBC the case is ongoing. They urge anybody with information to call 250-380-6211.

Nellie Williams had a difficult life but kept smiling, says her mother Linda Williams of Duncan B.C. (Facebook)
Ten years ago, totem carver John Williams was shot dead by a Seattle police officer and the killing was later deemed unjustified. The City of Seattle paid compensation to his family.

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. @ybrend