Kirk Keeping charged with 1st-degree murder of 'beautiful soul' Chantel John

Police announce charges the same day Natalie Mackey, Chantel John's cousin, remembers her as a "beautiful person."

John's friend and cousin says family is trying to hold it together

Chantel John is being remembered as a 'beautiful person' who would do anything to help and care for people. (Facebook)

Kirk Keeping, 35, of St. Jacques-Coombs Cove has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Chantel John, say police.

Keeping is John's ex-partner, according to Natalie Mackey, who is John's cousin.

Kirk Keeping has been charged with first-degree murder, say police. (Facebook/Kirk Keeping)

Keeping appeared in provincial court in Grand Falls-Windsor on Friday via telephone link and remains in custody in St. John's, according to a statement Friday by the RCMP.

His next court appearance is set for Jan. 30.

The RCMP say the investigation is continuing and more charges may be laid.

The 28-year-old woman was killed in Conne River on Wednesday evening, in what the Miawpukek First Nation called "a horrible act of violence." Police have not provided any information about the nature of Keeping's relationship with John.

'He's a monster'

"He should have never been around her that night. Sometimes you make the mistake of not knowing what a person is capable of, and that night, she was supposed to get some of her belongings back," she said.

"When she opened up that door, she didn't know what she was going to face. She didn't know what was coming to her. He's a monster."

Mackey said she's hopeful there will be justice for John and her family.

"He deserves his day in court," she said.

"But he's still going to have three meals a day, he's still going to have contact with his family, and the rest of us — once Chantel comes home, and after the wake, we say our goodbyes — we don't get to talk to her anymore. She's gone, and this monster — who does something like that?"

'She deserved a long and happy life'

The news of Keeping's arrest comes as members of her family spoke out about her death and remembered her as a woman full of kindness, generosity and life — "a beautiful person, a loving person," Mackey told The St. John's Morning Show.

"She deserved a long and happy life," she said.

Natalie Mackey is Chantel John's cousin. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Mackey said she first knew something was wrong when Mackey's parents phoned her house. She said her fiancé answered, and it was clear something wasn't right.

"My whole body started to tremble and I couldn't believe what I was hearing," she said. "All I could do was get dressed and get in my car. I phoned my parents and asked them if it was real and they said they were still waiting for confirmation."

A senseless, senseless crime against a beautiful soul.- Chief Mi'sel Joe

Mackey had to pass the crime scene on her way to wait for the news with her parents.

When the confirmation came, Mackey said, she went immediately to John's parents — her aunt and uncle — "just to be with them."

"Everybody was just stood there waiting. Horrified. And just waiting, you know? In disbelief," she said in a slow, halting voice.

RCMP remain on scene in the small community, investigating what police call a suspicious death. 0:39

John's family is "holding it together as best they can," Mackey said.

"Her parents, they're so hurt, but I don't think it's sunken in yet that this tragic horrific act has happened."

'A traumatic time'

Miawpukek First Nation Chief Mi'sel Joe said the whole community was absolutely stunned.

"Chantel was … very quiet. She worked in Conne River and [was] kind of shy, but a beautiful young woman. A senseless, senseless crime against a beautiful soul," Joe said.

"It's a traumatic time for us to be going through. The community's a small community, but like a large family, we fight and argue sometimes, but when something like this happens, we always come together and help each other out."

Chief Mi'sel Joe says more needs to be done to protect people in Conne River. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Joe didn't know Keeping or the his background, but said more needs to be done to protect the Miawpukek First Nation people.

"Because of the murdered and missing women in Canada, it also brings home how we all need to be aware," he said.

"Through Chantel's death, you know, hopefully what we can do then is to be more aware of things that we could be doing and should be doing as our Aboriginal community for all the other missing Aboriginal woman that have been murdered or lost in Canada."

In the past, he said, the community came together to banish a man accused of domestic violence.

Police tape cordons off this house in Conne River, as RCMP investigate John's death. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"We need to look further into that to see if we can do more of that kind of work. We're not talking about visitors; we're talking about people who move into the community. We need to know who they are," he said.

"We have good people in Conne River. We'll gather, we'll look at this, we'll try and come to grips with it and try and put in place some things that we need to do."

Red dresses hung throughout community

Like many in the community, Mackey has hung a red dress outside her house in honour of her cousin, and in honour of all missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

The staff of the Miawpukek First Nation band dressed in red on Friday. (Miawpukek Mi'kamawey Mawi'omi/Facebook)

"The hanging of the dress is meant to symbolize these women so nobody forgets that they're gone," she said. "It's become a way to educate people about the violence that is happening every day for many Indigenous women."

It also helps to show families affected by this violence they have the support of their community, she said, "letting them know that they're not alone."

"When you walk through Conne today, you realize that the most horrific crimes can even happen right next door to you, to the person closest to your heart, and it spreads right through the community, the hurt, the pain, the loss. And the show of support is unimaginable."

Many in Conne River have hung red dresses outside their homes, a powerful symbol for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

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