Manitoba

'A sweet person with a kind heart': Friends, family gather to remember young homicide victim

Family, friends and community members gathered at vigils in Steinbach and Winnipeg Friday, to honour the life of Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin, a 20-year-old First Nations woman who was killed last week.

Body of Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin, 20, was found on remote ATV trail

A man in an orange hoodie and a woman in a pink hoodie close their eyes and embrace as people around them hold candles on the steps of the Manitoba legislature.
Kirby Gerard and Melissa Roussin embrace during a vigil for their daughter Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin, 20, whose body was found near a remote ATV trail south of Woodridge, Man., last week. More than 200 people attended the vigil in front of the Manitoba legislative building Friday night. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Tobacco, flowers, and a teddy bear lay on the street in front of the house in Steinbach, Man., where police believe 20-year-old Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin was killed last week.

Family, friends, and loved ones embraced and shouted "we love you Mackaylah" at the sky during a vigil on Friday afternoon.

Theresa Gray wants her granddaughter to be remembered as "the beautiful child that she always was."

"She was kind, she looked out [for others], she worked hard," Gray said.

The young First Nations woman was reported missing to Steinbach RCMP after she was last seen on Thursday, Aug. 25, in the southeastern Manitoba city.

On Saturday, Aug. 27, police responded to a call about a homicide at a home on Creekside Drive in Steinbach.

When officers arrived, the suspect and victim — now identified as Gerard-Roussin — were not there. Her body was later located near a remote ATV trail south of Woodridge, Man. 

Police have arrested and charged 20-year-old Josh Benoit with first-degree murder in her death.

After Friday's vigil in Steinbach, police escorted Gerard-Roussin's family to where her body was found.

"It was a very raw moment for us, but we're very strong as a family," her uncle Kevin Hart said.

Loved ones held a ceremony, said prayers and created a memorial for Gerard-Roussin.

A man holding a photo of a young woman stands in the foreground, surrounded by several other people wearing black T-shirts bearing another photo of the woman.
Mourners in Steinbach, Man., wore T-shirts bearing the photo of Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin, to honour the 20-year-old homicide victim. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Earlier this week, a Winnipeg youth drop-in centre, Rossbrook House, shared condolences on social media after learning about Gerard-Roussin's death.

Her cousin, Lawrence Zastre, has fond memories of going to Rossbrook House with her every second weekend.

Along with their other cousins, they'd play basketball and "manhunt" (a hybrid of tag and hide and seek). But as they got older, they grew apart. 

"I saw her not too long ago … I was helping her move into her new apartment, and she asked me if I wanted to hang out," Zastre said. "I never had the time to. And I kind of regret that."

Gerard-Roussin went on to work for Rossbrook House, with the goal of becoming a social worker.

Four sombre women hold candles at night.
More than 200 people attended Friday night's vigil in front of the Manitoba legislative building. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

In Winnipeg, more than 200 people gathered at the Manitoba legislative grounds for a candlelight vigil.

The large turnout, her uncle said, speaks to how loved Gerard-Roussin was, and how many lives she impacted.

Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin's uncle said the large turnout for her vigil in Winnipeg Friday night was a testament to how loved she was. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"We're thankful for the outpouring of support from community organizations and strangers alike," he said.

"This is someone that was so full of life, so headstrong. She loved to laugh. It's just so heartbreaking that [she] was taken from us in such a tragic way."

Friends and family gather to remember Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin

5 months ago
Duration 1:35
Tobacco, flowers, and a teddy bear lay on the street in front of the house in Steinbach, Man., where police believe 20-year-old Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin was killed last week. Police have arrested and charged 20-year-old Josh Benoit with first-degree murder in her death.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jenn Allen

Reporter

Jenn Allen is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. She studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch with her at: jenn.allen@CBC.ca.

With files from Austin Grabish

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