Family of murdered woman left in dark by province
It's unclear whether Cathy Bawn's death was ever reviewed by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee
Cathy Bawn's last day seemed ordinary.
Misty Folkins has a copy of a surveillance tape that shows her mother's final shift at an east Saint John gas station on June 26, 2015.
It shows her greeting customers, doing her weekend shopping and enjoying a visit from her three grandchildren.
Later that night, Bawn's boyfriend shot and killed her. He took his own life three days later.
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"I think that sometimes when you're in that situation, there's no piano music playing to warn you that things are going to go bad," Folkins said.
Folkins wants people to talk about what happened to her mother and to learn from it.
But it's not clear whether the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee — a provincial committee set up to do just that — has ever reviewed Bawn's death.
The committee is supposed to help increase awareness around domestic violence and try to prevent similar deaths from happening in the future.
But Folkins said no one from the committee has ever interviewed her.
"There's lots of details that wouldn't be in a police report or wouldn't necessarily be in a coroner's report that are vital in understanding the whole picture and what happened to her and what happened leading up to it," she said.
The committee has reviewed at least eight deaths since 2012.
But because the committee doesn't reveal any details of the cases it reviews, even Folkins has no idea whether the committee looked at her mother's death.
The committee only publicizes its recommendations and the response from government. The rest of its findings are private.
"You can't change something if you don't know why it's happening or what the factors are," Folkins said.
"I think kind of hiding that information makes it really hard to improve the situation."
Bawn adored grandchildren
Bawn, 50, was a familiar face at the Bayside Drive Petro-Canada station in Saint John for 15 years.
Her daughter said she loved getting to know her regular customers.
When she wasn't working, Bawn loved to go camping and have a good time. Folkins has fond memories of camping trips with her parents, aunts and uncles as a child.
"We got kicked out of some of the best and worst campgrounds in New Brunswick."
On her last day, surveillance camera footage shows Bawn hugging and holding her granddaughter's face, happy to see her.
Bawn's family didn't know anything was wrong until Monday, three days after she'd been killed, when she failed to show up for work.
Folkins went to the Red Head Road home, where her mother lived, to investigate.
After discovering their dead cat outside — Folkins said her mother's boyfriend killed the dog and the cat — Folkins went to a neighbour for help. They decided to call police.
When they arrived, officers entered the mobile home through the window.
That's when Bawn's boyfriend shot and killed himself, with Folkins and her then-14-month-old son standing outside the home.
"He was on the other side of the wall with a loaded gun," she said. "We had no idea."
Her mother's death came as a shock. Nobody saw it coming, she said.
"Maybe if somebody said, 'Hey, I noticed at that party that he was acting a little weird,' maybe she might have spilled her guts and got some help. You never know," Folkins said.
"But it's just something that we don't talk about."
After losing an infant son due to a "faulty crib," Folkins said her mother wanted to make sure everyone understood how to know if a crib was safe. She wanted people to learn from what happened to her family.
"She was very adamant about that so that his death wasn't for nothing," she said. "At least there would be some good to come of it."
Folkins believes her mother would want the same thing for herself.
Committee recommendations are 'cryptic'
Rosella Melanson spent her career working on women's issues. She has maintained her own list of women who have been killed by domestic violence over decades.
That includes women like Bawn, who have died in murder-suicides. Those, she said, are treated almost as "private crimes" in New Brunswick. Police often don't release the names of the people who died or even say who killed who.
"It's just case closed, on to the next one," Melanson said. "No one is served by that, especially not the community."
Although she has worked with government, even Melanson has trouble deciphering the recommendations made by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, which are written in "bureaucratic language."
"It's very cryptic," she said.
"It's not like many people read those reports because they're not made for the public. The review committee should be talking to the public."
Chief coroner Gregory Forestell, who is responsible for overseeing the committee, declined an interview request.
Review will be made public
In an emailed statement, Forestell said he is reviewing the process of the committee including issues such as transparency and accountability.
The review is expected to be complete in late 2019 and will be made public.
His office said the review was launched after Forestell did a similar review of the child death review committee last year.
As a result, that committee was revamped and the public is now allowed to know a little bit more about how vulnerable children die.
In the meantime, Folkins would like to see people talk about domestic violence more often.
She's found that people sometimes get uncomfortable when the topic of her mother's death comes up.
"People won't ask you a question or they won't mention her name, even, because they don't want to bring it up," she said.