Candace Derksen's parents hold onto love with candles

The parents of a slain Winnipeg teenager lit candles to keep her spirit alive Wednesday night — just hours after a judge found the man convicted in 2011 of second-degree murder not guilty following a retrial.

Mark Edward Grant found not guilty at 2nd trial for 13-year-old's 1984 murder

You can see the glow in the living room from the window outside the Derksen family's home. Thirty-three candles are lit to represent the nearly 33 years since Winnipeg teenager Candace Derksen was found dead. 1:13

You can see the glow in the living room from the window outside the Derksen family's home. Thirty-three candles are lit to represent the nearly 33 years since Winnipeg teenager Candace Derksen was found dead.

Inside, a small crowd gathered. There was a couple who knew Candace, a filmmaker, a neighbour and a writer.

"We're celebrating the fact that people still remember Candace," said Wilma Derksen, speaking of her slain daughter.

"Candace loved people."

Candace disappeared in Winnipeg, on her way home from school, in November 1984. Following weeks of searching, the teen's body was found frozen in an industrial storage shed, not far from the family's home. 

For years the family was left without answers until Mark Grant was arrested in 2007. In 2011, a jury found Grant guilty in the teen's slaying and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison but the decision was overturned in 2013 by the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

The retrial came to a close Wednesday, with a Court of Queen's Bench judge ruling that Grant was not guilty. 

A small crowd gathered at the Derksen home Wednesday night to light a candle and talk. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

'Love is the way through'

Most of the people in the Derksen home were meeting for the first time, but all said they had been touched by the family's story. Elsewhere in Canada, people who know the Derksen family were also lighting candles — one in B.C. and another in Ontario.

"It's amazing," Candace's father Cliff Derksen said about the support his family had received from the community.

In total, 33 candles were lit to represent the number of years Candace Derksen has been gone for. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

Walter Janzen has been a friend of the family since the 1970s, when he got to know them through the church they attended. He met Candace when she was a baby but didn't see her again until her funeral in 1984.

He said he was surprised by the judge's ruling, but he's been moved by the family's strength over the decades. 

"They're truly an inspiration," Janzen said.

Dennis Ruchotzke said he developed a close relationship with the Derksens over the years and has always wondered how they found the strength to get through their daughter's death, years without answers and two trials.

Wilma Derksen said, "It's faith."

Wilma Derksen said faith has given her strength, but admitted a feeling of darkness has never been far away. To conquer that, she and her husband use love. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

"I think there's also a sense of desperation," she said, her eyes filling with tears. "We know the darkness that can overcome us and it's just a step away, and so our faith has taught us and given us a direction that love is the way through.

"By grabbing and holding onto love is our way of dispelling the darkness because murder just creates darkness."

The couple said they hope the Crown doesn't appeal Wednesday's verdict.

About the Author

Austin Grabish

Reporter

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg​ where he files for TV, web and radio. ​​Born and raised in Manitoba, Austin has had an itch for news since he was young. He landed his first byline when he was just 18. Before joining CBC, he reported for several outlets with work running across the country. He studied human rights in university and holds both a degree and diploma in communications.​ Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

With files from Samantha Samson