'No words, no language': Douglas Garland victim impact statements
'How can a kid who is only five years old die?'
Douglas Garland was sentenced Friday in a Calgary courtroom to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years in the deaths of Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson Nathan O'Brien.
The judge called the murders "brutal and senseless and planned."
Relatives went further.
Below are the powerful and raw victim impact statements from some of the people affected by the murders.
Nathan O'Brien's mother, Jennifer O'Brien
Two and a half years removed from the tragedy, I still fight the darkness that threatens to take me down. It seems the pain is never ending, something that I did not ask for, resulting in heartache that has not lessened since the murder. Our family has faced public pain and our privacy completely taken. I still hurt and ache. My feelings seem to change day by day. Some days I am angry, some days I just cry and other days I feel like a superhero knowing I am choosing to continue my life. The life I had before will forever be altered. The first one stopped the moment I walked in my parent's house. It is not possible to go back to my old life because it has been distorted and torn apart. I have had to seek out a new way of life, a completely new way of living.
I have turned to the Lord asking him to hear me, know me and walk with me. Asking for him to lift burdens, show the way and give strength and courage to our family. Asking for a shield, to give us life again and be greater than everything else coming at us. My faith comforts me knowing I will be one day reunited with my loved ones, that good will triumph over evil, that love will win over hatred and that life will triumph over death.
I remember sitting at our family supper table for the first time, only able to focus on the empty chair. There is and there will always be a missing space in our lives. Doug has taken so much from my family and I. The overlying feeling for years has been grey and dismal. I have trouble finding joy in the simple pleasures of life, knowing that I will never feel joy 100% again. I experience grief and happiness at the same time. I feel blessed when Nathan's friends come over to play or I attend one of their hockey games, but I also feel sad watching them grow, knowing I will never watch my own son grow, or score the winning goal that wins the hockey game.
Early on in my grief I felt completely zapped of energy. And any energy I did gain, I gave it to my boys. I'm much more exhausted by life now, finding it extremely hard to focus, maintain a career and raise a family. All things I use to take so much pride in. I cry for my son Luke who was thrust into traumatic loss and now grows up without his brother Nathan, his best friend and his grandparents. Luke taught Nathan everything he knew and showed so much grace and compassion towards him. So much so, I remember thinking how grateful I was to have him as Nathan's big brother. It pains me to think of what Luke has endured, he has had to deal with so much. I am so proud of him and the strength he has shown. No child should ever have to face what he has had to face. Through all of this he has continued to go to school and play hockey.
Max will only have the videos we captured of him and his brother. He will never experience jumping on the trampoline with Nathan again. All he knows is what we tell him. My husband spends so much time with him going through photos and videos, something I simply cannot do because it is all too raw.
To the media: The way some of you (not all) have chosen to go about your job reporting on this trial has severely amplified the pain and suffering on my family.
Sharing photos of my childhood home with my family's blood spilled will forever be digitally available to haunt us. Forcing us to endure a fight to keep the photo of my dead parents and son Nathan from getting into your hands was downright cruel. I can only hope that one day your work will cause enough public backlash that other families are not impacted the way we have been from your less than honourable work.
Year one was a blur of shock. Year two has proven to be extremely difficult as the shock has worn off and reality has begun to sink in. And now two and a half years later I sit in a court room reliving the horror and in the same room as the man who killed my family. The whole experience has been long, challenging and as I mentioned earlier the fight from the media to share photos of my dead parents and son has proven to be very cruel.
Grief has done a number on Rod and I. We are both living in so much pain and grieve very differently. Together we have learned to give each other so much grace, somehow moving through it. It has been the grace and compassion from people that has sustained us.
From my point of view Doug Garland will never receive the justice he deserves here on earth. I take comfort in the fact that he will be locked behind bars for life and will never hurt a family like ours again. [Court redacted]. My mom, dad and Nathan will never have the sunshine on their faces again, get lost in a new movie, or share in special events. [Court redacted].
I am thankful for the verdict that has been rendered. I feel that the jury's decision of murder in the first degree on all three counts means our loved ones have received justice. I would like to convey my deepest gratitude to the jury, judge Gates, Prosecutors Shane Parker and Vickie Faulkner, the Calgary Police Department and the detectives who have so diligently worked on this case. I have gotten to know many of these amazing people over the past two and a half years and have been inspired by their professionalism, dedication and the devotion they have shown.
Nathan O'Brien's father, Rod O'Brien
It is impossible to ever formulate any words in any language to describe the pain and loss of what Nathan had to endure or the devastation that is left behind by never, ever being able to see our son again. No words, no language, it is not humanly possible to describe the loss of Nathan.
Nathan's brothers are his best friends and he was and is the bridge of our family. Nathan's older brother was who Nathan looked up to and wanted to be with and idolized. They were the very best of friends and always looked out for one another. They played together and were the kindest brothers had ever seen to one another. They played and played and played as brothers should.
Nathan's younger brother only got to know and experience Nathan for 21 months; he only had started being able to start playing around with his older brothers for 6 months as he was just learning to walk and keep up. Nathan adored his little brother and could not walk by him kissing him or hugging his little brother. Now Nathan's little brother will never have a memory of his brother except what we show him or tell him due to his young age.
Nathan and his brothers always got along, and we as parents were enamoured by their spirit and kindness. This was the best part of our lives, watching and learning from Nathan and his brothers. Now they are left with an everlasting loss of their best friend and brother and a love that was meant to be.
I am constantly asked by them:
Why did Nathan have to go to heaven? Who hurt Nathan? Why did Nathan die? Why can't we see Nathan?
I have no answers to give my son's questions of why they can never see Nathan again, or why they can't grow up with their best friend, or be at his wedding, see Nathan's kids. Nathan more than anything wanted to be a dad; he talked about it often and was excited for his life. All of that is now taken from Nathan.
In fact, when I leave here today, my wife and I will go home to only two sons day in and day out for the rest of our lives. There are no words what Nathan's brothers have to endure daily or the loss of a perfect life that Nathan was. No words, no ever?
In the spring of 2014, I noticed a change in Nathan's conversation with me. Nathan had begun to ask me questions about heaven, before he would go to sleep. I asked him if school was talking about heaven, he said no. He kept asking me on a number of occasions in spring 2014 about going to heaven and what it was like there?
Nathan: What can you do in heaven? What is heaven like? Can you fly around in heaven?
I told him in heaven, there are only joy, happiness, and love. You can be a superhero and fly, play forever surrounded by your family at all times. Nathan then told me that he would be there to welcome us into heaven. I told him he was mistaken, it was his parents honour to welcome him into heaven, as he had to grow up and become a dad and live to be very old.
It makes me wonder why Nathan was asking about heaven, except that I now believe God had begun to reassure Nathan that he would be there to take care of him forever in paradise.
My Last Day with Nathan:
What do you think it is like being told someone has taken your son? Coming home to an empty bedroom with Nathan missing and fearing the worst. Or having to tell his brothers, Nathan and his family are missing and have been taken. Then having to tell them their brother and grandparents have died and gone to heaven, and we can't even bury him with the dignity they deserve.
My last day with Nathan produced an event that I still haven't been able to fully reconcile and probably never will. The message has provided the ultimate truth of where my son Nathan is.
The message was so profound that on the last day I saw my son Nathan, I had to stop to two occasions later in the day to try and comprehend what had just happened earlier with Nathan. I had to stop building a desk to try to understand the message I had heard and acted upon, I also walked away from a golf driving range with a half bucket of balls left due to the fact I could not reconcile what had just happened or how profound it was. I also received a phone call on that Sunday from my wife checking in from her parent's house, I only got to talk to her and Max, Nathan was playing at the park. Internally I felt that all I wanted to do was to talk to Nathan; I could feel the need to hear his voice with every part of my body and soul.
I had made my family breakfast and said goodbye to Nathan at the table as he was getting ready to go for the day to his grandparents. I told Nathan I loved him and said goodbye to him at the table. Nathan went to the stairs waiting to leave for the day, when I went pass him on the stairs I didn't say goodbye again as I had just told him at the table, just 30 seconds earlier.
As I proceeded to walk up the stairs past Nathan, I now know I received a message from Nathan's angel or (God) that was with Nathan on his last day. I was physically stopped from going up the stairs and the message was clear, profound and one of mercy. "Make Sure Your Son Knows You love Him." I went back to Nathan and told him again "I love you, and I am so very proud of you, don't you ever forget that," for the second time within a minute. I then spent the rest of the day and months and years trying to reconcile that moment with Nathan and God.
Upon trying to reconcile and make sense of the last moment with my son there are a couple of truths that I now know:
1. God knew Nathan leaving us for the last time and for whatever reason showed mercy to provide truth of his existence and that Nathan is in heaven surrounded by unimaginable love and joy, free from pain and tears, always surrounded by his family, waiting for us to welcome us into heaven with him.
2. God let free will reign even though evil was decided, what it really means that what we do in life, we will have to answer for, and those who choose evil will get an eternity of evil forever, all time never relenting. That is the punishment that waits for this act and loss of life that is beyond our comprehension. A life sentence on earth is nothing compared to what waits for you.
Alvin Liknes' brother, Allen Liknes, Sr.
I want to thank everyone that was involved in the process of seeing this through the investigation and the court process. I thank God his family turned him in.
Alvin and Kathy Liknes' son, Jeff Liknes
There is not a day I wake up and do not think about what was taken from me. I still often get dreams about them and feel the happiness I did when they were around. Then reality steps in and I feel the weight of the world that I will never get used to drop on me. I will feel that every day for the rest of my life for no reason at all.
I replay the sound of my sister's voice, the morning after their disappearance, on the phone as it happened every day of my life. The home where I grew up is now replaced with blackness and grief. Memories of where I used to play and sleep are now covered in blood. A sanctuary of happiness and safety is something Doug also took with him along with the 3 people I love. Everyone I will meet that knows of the situation will only know my family through the images on the media. My life has become a story that makes people proud that even I wake up in the morning. This is not a life meant for anyone in the world. No one can relate and I find it hard to speak about because I already know their answer and how lost they would be to try and communicate with me. Because of this I rarely reach out and it tears more of my soul the more I try to cover it up.
I lost everything I know and care about overnight. Then still, somehow, lose more when my family stops talking to me or people lose touch because the glue of my mom and dad holding the family together is replaced with financial backlash and little sympathy. Family is fragile and it makes me sad that one man, that's been locked up in his own mind, can spread darkness with no remorse. Emotionally I will never return to who I once was, though, I will try every day to show that he will not take everything from me and the hatred in his eyes will wither away while the light will rebuild who I once was. The love of the people who helped me through this will make me more of man and a Liknes.
I miss my mom with her unconditional love and unbiased advice. She made me into someone I know she is proud of. I will never forget her beauty or soft healing touch. She was an angel that walked and now she's an angel that flies. My dad was as caring as anyone I have ever met. He loved his children and grandchildren and I envy his sympathetic way. I find it hard to write about people that I feel needed a lifetime to learn from. My parents were taken from me when I needed them the most. I'm so grateful to call them my parents, as well as the time I got to share with them and their stories that will forever hold true to my heart.
The City of Calgary has and continues to fight for what's right. It is astonishing how everyone came together to not let this go without justice. People worked so hard for years to prove that love and determination will always win. I don't feel hatred because hate is as strong as a word as love. Hate will lock me in my own mind and turn any thoughts into horrific ones. I've seen firsthand what hate can do to someone and I have never witnessed something so truly ugly and demonic. I'm learning to cope with the grief but I will never truly be free unless look I past the hateful thoughts and see the love that people share.
I hope the right decision is made and that no other family will ever have to feel what this man has done to the dearest nephew I've got to know and my loved parents that will forever continue to guide me. I love you, Mom, Dad, and Nathan.
Alvin Liknes' daughter, Nancy Liknes
Just after his fifth birthday, my son and I were in our kitchen having lunch when, out of the blue, he asked me about his cousin Nathan. "Mom," he wondered aloud, "How can a kid who is only five years old die?" Startled, I took a breath and in the pause that followed, he became more specific.
"What happened to Nathan? How did he die?"
I didn't want to terrify him with the truth about vicious acts of utterly, dehumanized cowardice and cruelty. Acts perpetrated over nothing, although of course there could never be any reason to do such things.
I answered my son's question vaguely and expressed how happy I was that he had mentioned his older cousin, then I asked him to tell me what he remembered about Nathan.
Our son was three when they disappeared but he still retains some memories about them. We talked about how good Nathan was at stuff. Nathan was a boy who was brought up surrounded by love which I think helped to make him the confident child he was. The kind of boy who would get in there and always do his best. A child with immeasurable faith and trust in this World.
Our son is more timid than his older cousin was and whenever we were visiting my family here in Calgary, I always loved when Nathan, his brothers and his parents joined us at the house so that my son's relationship with them could continue to develop and grow. I had also hoped that our boy would be inspired by Nathan's playful, fun-loving and fearless ways.
I asked him if he remembers the time when Nathan and Grandma Kathy came to visit us in our town. I showed him another video, this one of his Grandma Kathy glowing with pleasure as she rode along on a trolley with her two grandsons. She was the person to whom animals and children flocked because I'm sure they could immediately sense that Kathy was a pure-hearted and kind woman. She was the one who started our family habit of saying, "Love ya" at the end of every telephone conversation and I will always hear her voice in my head whenever I say that to a member of my family.
I couldn't tell if my son actually remembered the stories we talked about or if he was just saying that he did because he knew how much I wanted him to. Of course we have pictures of them everywhere but I will always strive to ensure that he knows more about them than just what they looked like. I will always work to fill the gaping hole their physical absence has left in our families with stories of their warmth and love.
For their sake and for the sake of my son, I will not allow this to ruin our lives and will work to have the happy life I know they would want all of us to have.
I continued by telling my son more stories about his grandpa Alvin. About what a hard-working innovator he was and all the cool things he did. I described my dad's integrity, his grace and his humility and how he taught us not to judge others. I don't know if anyone could ever be as courteous as my dad was, but I work every day on my son's manners so that he too will be a thoughtful, intelligent gentleman like my dad.
I hear Alvie's voice in mine all the time, when I use one of his funny sayings or when I find a way to laugh, especially at myself. My dad walks with me always and I'm grateful to be his daughter and my son will know that too.
Our lunch was finished and it was time for us to get back to what we had been doing before, but before we did, my son had one more question for me.
"Now that I'm five, is the same thing that happened to Nathan going to happen to me too?"
I studied my son closely for a moment, noticing how small a five-year-old is, how totally innocent and defenseless one is at that age..
"No," I told him. "No, it is not."
With files from Meghan Grant