‘It’s the worst way to lose a daughter,’ says father of 14-year-old murder victim in Arctic Quebec

Bethany Nastapoka Epoo was 14 when she was brutally murdered, her body found by children playing just 250 metres from her home. Her killer was just shy of his 18th birthday and has been sentenced to six years in detention as a young offender. (Submitted by Jobie Epoo)
Jobie Epoo’s voice cracks when he talks about his daughter, Bethany Nastapoka Epoo.

“When she was a little baby, before she could talk, I would talk to her every single morning, about almost anything,” Epoo told CBC News in a phone interview from his home in Inukjuak, Quebec, on the coast of Hudson Bay.

Epoo tries to keep the memories intact — and separate from the details of the violent attack in which Bethany was left dead, her badly beaten body found just 250 metres from her home in the Inuit community of 1,800.

On April 5, Quebec court Judge Jean-Pierre Gervais sentenced Bethany’s killer, who was 17 at the time of the girl’s death, to the maximum possible time in detention for a young offender: six years, followed by four years to be served in the community under conditional supervision.

Last walk home caught on video

Bethany’s body was discovered by a group of children out playing before dinner on July 22, 2017.

“My main concern, my main problem was how her life was taken,” said Epoo. “It was very, very violent.”

Bethany Nastapoka Epoo, centre, is seen here with her family in 2014. Her mother, Maina, is holding her youngest brother Qalingo. Her father, Jobie Epoo, with Bethany’s brother Jobie Frazer, says he struggles to keep his fond memories of Bethany apart from the knowledge of how she died. (Submitted by Jobie Epoo)

Her parents had been expecting Bethany home at around the time her body was found, as she was planning to attend a birthday party.

She’d been out all night, but they didn’t worry because she sometimes stayed with friends.

Video surveillance footage showed she had been walking home at about 4 a.m.

A coroner’s investigation found that her skull had been crushed, and that was the cause of death.

“It is the worst way to lose a daughter or a child,” said Epoo.

Bethany Nastapoka Epoo, right, was adopted by her mother Maina, left, and her father Jobie when she was a baby, in a custom Inuit adoption. (Submitted by Jobie Epoo)
Lenient sentence, says Bethany’s father

The Crown prosecutor asked the court to sentence the killer, who cannot be named because he was a minor at the time of Bethany’s murder, as an adult.

Epoo says that’s what he and his wife wanted, as well, and they were disappointed the judge declined the Crown’s request.

“I couldn’t understand why — why that leniency would apply in such a serious and violent crime,” said Epoo.

His daughter’s killer was a few months’ shy of turning 18 when he attacked Bethany, and his lawyer argued the youth, who is now 19, had grown up in a violent household and had not learned how to love.

“That describes so many, so many young people in the North,” said Epoo.

He said he disagrees that the killer’s difficult childhood should have been considered a factor in sentencing him as a young offender.

‘Trying to move on’
Bethany Nastapoka Epoo’s father, Jobie, says his family’s life was ripped apart by his daughter’s death, and he and his wife are still working through their grief. (Submitted by Jobie Epoo)

Epoo says the sentence brings some closure, but his daughter’s death has turned his family’s life upside down.

“We were told from day one that a loss of a child is one of the biggest reasons why people separate, and we brushed that aside,” said Epoo.

But that’s exactly what happened.

He and his wife, Maina, who adopted Bethany in the Inuit tradition, lived apart for more than a year.

He said they’re trying to move on and both are seeing specialists to help with their grief.

“We’re still at a stage that we need people’s prayers for our family, and I thank everyone that has given us support over the last year and a half.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Death in the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic special report

Russia: Russian court sentences Norwegian ex-border inspector to 14 years for espionage, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: U.S. bill would give 5 Indigenous villages in Alaska jurisdiction to prosecute certain crimes, Alaska Public Media

Catou MacKinnon, CBC News

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