Manitoba

Godson of Winnipeg man killed in North End home hoped to give him a safer place to live

The godson of a Winnipeg man found dead in a North End house this weekend wanted to give him a safer place to live, but couldn't find him.

Jason Peter John James struggled with meth addiction, homelessness before he died

James Sawatzky, 30, wanted his godfather to move in with him but wasn't able to track him down. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The godson of a Winnipeg man found dead in a North End house over the weekend wanted to give him a safer place to live, but couldn't reach him in time.

Jason Peter John James, 40, was "violently assaulted" in a house on Pritchard Avenue in what police say was a homicide. Although he didn't have much family in Winnipeg, he used to be close with his godson, James Sawatzky, 30.

"He took me to Boo at the Zoo and stuff like that. Like he put in the effort. As young as he was, he actually put in the effort to be a part of my life and he was there," said Sawatzky, with tears in his eyes.

Jason John Peter James, 40, was found dead Saturday in a house on Pritchard Avenue. (Jason John Peter James/Facebook)

The two hung out and played pool together often in recent years. James had been "like family" to Sawatzky's immediate family growing up, as their mothers had been very close.

But after James' parents died in 2015, Sawatzky heard less and less from him. James spiralled deeper into his drug addiction, which included meth, said Sawatzky, and eventually "disowned" their family altogether — everyone except him. James lent him some money so he could buy his girlfriend a bed.

"He was my godfather, I was his godson; we were happy about it."

This past summer, they ran into each other at the Dollarama on Main Street. 

"He was a lot skinnier than before, like you could tell that he was into whatever, but he was happy being who he was. He knew that he was doing it but he didn't do anything stupid to do it. However he got it, he got it," said Sawatzky. "He knew he had troubles and stuff like that and when he was ready to stop he was going to get help to do it and everything."

James called to ask if he could stay with him, but Sawatzky had to turn him down because he didn't have a place of his own.

A week ago, he moved into a house in Fort Garry and left messages for James on Facebook and at the number he had for him. James hadn't given him an address and never responded. On Monday night, Sawatzky found out he'd been killed.

"It sucks because I wondered where he was and stuff, because I wanted him to come and stay with me so that I could help him, and that was the plan as soon as I had a place … ​you sit there and wonder how he's doing and … he's gone," said Sawatzky, growing emotional. 

"This was my chance to be able to help him and unfortunately, because of the circumstances, I kind of just ran out of time."

Officers went to the house after someone called and requested a well-being check on James. The person who called was connected to the residence and was concerned that James needed medical assistance or was in distress. Sawatzky said he doesn't know why James was attacked.

A hand-printed note, attached to the back door of the 2½​-storey house on Pritchard Avenue, is directed at "all you people that are constantly here all the time" and tells them to F--k off.

Sawatzky believes his godfather wrote the note posted on the door of the house on Pritchard Avenue. "If you bothered him and pissed him off, he'd tell you." (Warren Kay/CBC)

"This is not a drop-in center, Salvation Army, etc. so go home and chill there," it states. "Call or message who it is first that you are trying to see, and don't show up unannounced or you will not be welcomed here."

Sawatzky believes James wrote it.

"He was straightforward. If you bothered him and pissed him off, he'd tell you. If there was something you needed to know, he'd tell you." 

For him, at least, that trait had a lasting impact.

"Just the fact that he went through the effort to make me feel like I actually mattered."

The body of Jason Peter John James was found in this house on Pritchard Avenue. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Sawatzky's mother Cher, whom James regarded as an aunt growing up, said people might be quick to assume that because of his lifestyle, he got what was coming to him. She said there was both good and bad to James.

"He wanted to straighten out and do things on his own and prove to the world he could do it. Unfortunately, when things hit the fan, he made a little bit of a downwards spiral," said Cher Sawatzky.

There were a string of deaths in the family, she said, beginning with James' own infant daughter several years ago. 

"Tragedy hit him. And he was having a really hard time recovering from it." 

Police said on Tuesday the house often had people coming and going at all hours and it's unclear whether James lived there or was visiting. Police spokesman Const. Rob Carver said he does not believe the building was a rooming house.

No arrests have been made yet but police said they are working to identify suspects. The Sawatzkys hope anyone with information comes forward.

"You want a resolution. You want not only for your family but there's other people out there going through the same thing. And every time that information is given to solve one, hope is given for another," said Cher Sawatzky. 

She said donations can be made in James' name to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.

Winnipeg police are busy investigating three homicides they say are not related. 2:23