The community is responding to the tragedy by offering support however they can: churches are opening their doors to mourners, residents are organizing food for first responders, Mayor Nils Jensen has announced a candlelight vigil on Willows Beach where the girls often played.
“I understand the family has asked for privacy so while it is very important that we support them, it is critical that we do so in a way that respects their wishes,” said Jensen.
The children’s mother Sarah Cotton is requesting privacy at this time, asking close friend Trisha Lees to act as spokesperson for the family.
“Sarah has a couple of us that have been with her ever since, taking care of her as best we can,” said Lees. “We are very grateful for the remarkable outpouring of support from everywhere.”
— Black Press BC (@BlackPressMedia) December 28, 2017
Cotton is well-known in the community, having worked in communications at Tartan Group, BC Pension Corporation and BC Ferries – where she met Andrew Berry, the father of the two girls.
“She is very social and well-liked. Her girls were very much like her,” said Lees. “They were lively, energetic, and silly girls.”
Chloe was in Grade 1 at Christ Church Cathedral School and had recently fallen in love with horseback riding.
Aubrey was in her final year of preschool at St. Christopher’s Montessori School and Lees said she was just making that transition from toddler to little girl.
Both girls were artistic and loved to draw but were also balls of energy that enjoyed spending time at Willows Beach.
“There will be a service eventually. We are just starting to think about that,” said Lees.
On Christmas Day, the children were in the care of their father at his apartment on the corner of Beach Drive and Goodwin Street. The children were supposed to go home to their mother’s on Christmas afternoon but they never arrived. Cotton contacted the Oak Bay Police, who responded to Berry’s apartment where the bodies of the two girls as well as an injured man were found. The man was taken to hospital. Details on his injuries have not been released.
Cotton and Berry separated in September 2013 and shared custody of the two girls, spending years locked in a custody battle.
In a May 2017 judgement, the judge decided that the two parents would share custody, although it was decided that Cotton would be allotted more time with the girls.
The judge noted that “the Father is a loving Father who has much to offer his daughters” and that he was “not persuaded that the Father’s displays of poor judgment regarding the children have reached the level that the children should be deprived of significant parenting time with their Father.”
The judge did express concerns about Berry’s care of the girls. Those concerns included a failure “to ensure that the girls were using car seats and life-jackets properly, and that he left a child at a distance in a stroller in a public place.”
The Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit is expected to be at the scene of the crime for the remainder of the week. The BC Coroners Service is investigating the deaths.
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