Edmonton

'They just look at us like we're monsters': Serenity's former guardians speak out

The former guardians of a girl whose death in 2014 prompted an emergency debate in the Alberta legislature say their lives have been a nightmare since her death. 

Great-uncle and aunt deny four-year-old was abused before she died

Serenity in undated photo on her mother's Facebook page. (Facebook)

The former guardians of a girl whose death in 2014 prompted an emergency debate in the Alberta legislature say their lives have been a nightmare since her death. 

Ever since Serenity's case was made public, the guardians, her great-aunt and great-uncle, say they've lived under a dark cloud of suspicion, rumours and innuendo. 

"I've been called a child rapist," the great-uncle told CBC, speaking publicly about the case for the first time. "I've been called a pedophile. Called a child murderer."

Serenity died at age four in 2014 following injuries sustained while she was living in a kinship care arrangement at Maskwacis in central Alberta.

CBC News is not naming the husband and wife, both 58, in order to protect the identity of Serenity's surviving brother and sister.

The couple agreed Monday to an interview with CBC News outside the Wetaskiwin courthouse. 

Serenity's former guardians speak to the CBC's Janice Johnston outside the Wetaskiwin courthouse Monday. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

The great uncle said as a result of the media publicity surrounding the case, he's lost friends, family and employment.  

"More or less my whole reputation," he said. "My whole life."

"It's just been terrible, awful for my husband and myself," the great-aunt said. "All our children, our grandchildren. All our family. 

"They just look at us like we're monsters," she added. "We can't even go to Walmart without somebody swearing at us."

'No one ever touched her'

More than three years after Serenity died, the couple was charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life, a charge which was stayed by the Crown last month.

By then, media reports had quoted medical reports suggesting the little girl had been physically and sexually abused and and was severely malnourished.

Media reported Serenity weighed only 18 pounds at death and her hymen had been broken.

This photo of Serenity was taken by her mother in September 2014. (Supplied)

"They're all lies the media have been saying," the great-aunt said. 

Because of a publication ban that covered the couple's preliminary hearing, they felt powerless to correct the misinformation; however, an autopsy report given to CBC by Serenity's mother this week indicates the little girl was closer to 25 pounds when she died.

The medical examiner also noted Serenity's hymen was intact. 

"She never ever got harmed," the great-aunt said. "Her hymen was intact. Nobody touched her. No one ever touched her."

The medical examiner determined Serenity's cause of death was blunt head trauma and its complications, but the cause of the head trauma was never confirmed. 

The former guardians have always claimed her fatal injury was the result of a fall from a tire swing. 

"It hurts to be accused of something you didn't even do," the great-aunt said, tears running down her face. "It was an accidental death. A tragic accident that happened. They turn around and blame us like we did something to her. We did nothing but protect them and help them."

Serenity's siblings told a caseworker they were often deprived of food and were hit with wire hangers and other objects. They said their sister was beaten on multiple occasions for acting up and "stealing" food.

The great-aunt denied those allegations. 

"Those are all lies too," she said. "I have so many kids and so much groceries. Why would I hide food from just one child? That's all lies, of course." 

She insisted she did not cause any of the bruises that were found on Serenity's body, but suggested the little girl and her siblings often played roughly together. 

'She didn't know the truth'

The relationship between the couple, who feel like they've been made scapegoats in the case, and Serenity's biological mother has broken down completely, they said.

"All I've ever wanted is for the truth to be told," the great-uncle said. "People have been giving her false information. She has been led on. She didn't know the truth. 

"I hold no grudges against her. It's just what the government has done to hide whatever it is that can clear this whole thing up."

The staying of the charge against them hasn't changed the way they're treated in their community, the great-aunt said.  

"They used to greet us all the time," she said. "Now people just turn away and walk away from us. 

"But they don't know the truth. We do. We know we didn't do anything wrong. We're innocent."

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston