LETHBRIDGE — Purple ribbons were tied to a row of parking meters outside a southern Alberta courthouse Wednesday in memory of a two-year-old girl and her father who were killed last week.
Purple was Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette’s favourite colour and supporters felt it was appropriate to remember her as the man accused in the killings was scheduled to make his first court appearance.
But Derek James Saretzky didn’t appear inside the Lethbridge courtroom. The matter was quickly adjourned to Sept. 30.
Saretzky, 22, faces first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Terry Blanchette, 27, and Hailey. There is an additional charge of committing indignity to a body in the girl’s case.
No family members were present for the hearing, but Allie Pratchler, clutching a small brown teddy bear, was there in a show of support for the victims’ families, including the girl’s mother, Cheyenne Dunbar.
“It’s probably pretty rough for them right now,” said Pratchler.
Hailey’s body was found last week in a rural area near Blairmore, a day after her father was discovered dead in their home in the town of about 2,000.
An Amber Alert was issued across Western Canada and Montana after the man’s body was found and authorities undertook an extensive search with the hope of finding the youngster alive. News that her body had been found broke during a candle-light vigil held to support those efforts.
Blanchette and Dunbar, 20, were separated, but the two maintained a good relationship and both cared for Hailey.
Saretzky was known to both Blanchette and Dunbar.
Authorities have not disclosed why they believe the father and his daughter were killed.
Pratchler said she also knew Saretzky.
“It was a surprise,” she said of the charges against him. “I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. He was a good person when I knew him.”
Saretzky has hired Edmonton lawyer Peter Northcott to represent him.
Members of the public who didn’t know the family but felt empathy for them also attended the court appearance
“It’s horrible. I have small children who I care for. I have custody of three grandchildren and you look at these babies and you think, ‘Oh my gosh,”‘ said Tammie Hart-Ingertila of the group Urban Bikers Against Kids Abuse.
Blairmore is in the Crowsnest Pass, a hard-scrabble mining area rich in a history that is often rooted in tragedy. It’s just down the highway from Frank where, in 1903, the side of a mountain gave way burying between 70 and 90 people. Most of the bodies were never recovered.
Crossnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter said grief counsellors will be brought in this week to give a presentation and to help those struggling with the killings.
“It’s devastating and tragic for the families and the community. Everybody knows everybody, everybody looks out for everybody, and to have this happen is just beyond belief,” he said.
“Unfortunately tragedy is not new to our community. We’ve had a lot of tragic events through the years … but we’re tight-knit and very supportive of each other.
“We will get through this — it’s just going to take some time.”