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The News Leader Pictorial's 2011 Newsmaker: Tyeshia Jones
A hug, and a kiss, and an “I love you, mom.”
They’re the pieces of the last moment Mary Jim shared with her daughter, Tyeshia Jones.
Jim never dreamed how permanent their parting would become; never dreamed this memory would bring her both smiles and tears in the months and years to come.
Because Jim may have 18 years’ worth of cherished memories with her daughter, but she’ll never create new ones.
Her daughter is gone.
And it’s now been almost one year since Jim hugged her daughter goodbye.
Almost one year since Tyeshia Jones was killed.
“I just try to make it through the day,” says Jim, struggling to speak through her tears.
“I still have my three kids (Terrance, Aaliyah and LaTrell), and I have to think about them. They need me. And I need them.”
Jim has been consistently praised in the past year for her seemingly inexhaustible strength.
But her loved ones insist that strength is just for show.
“She’s so tired of hearing that she’s strong, that she’s OK, that she’s doing well,” says Angela Carpenter, Jim’s best friend.
“It bothers her, because she isn’t. People think she’s OK because she’s getting up in the morning, but inside? She’s dying inside. You can see it in her eyes. They’re so full of pain.
“I would give up anything just so that Mary could breathe, just breathe, for one day.”
The night of Friday, Jan. 21, started innocently enough.
Tyeshia Jones, 18, was with her friend Kristina August when she ran into her mom at Tim Hortons at about 9:30 p.m.
Jones told her mother her plans for the evening, told her mother she loved her, and then left for a party in the 5000 block of Miller Road, where she was supposed to spend the night.
Sometime after 2 a.m. the next morning, Jones was seen leaving the house. She was walking toward Superstore to meet a friend, Josh Williams.
But Jones never arrived.
Her last text message indicated she had reached August Road.
What happened after that — approximately five hours after Jones hugged her mother goodbye — is not public knowledge.
Jim, meanwhile, realized early Saturday morning that her daughter was missing.
She remembers calling Jones’ cellphone non-stop for at least four hours straight. Dialing and hanging up. Dialing and hanging up.
“I knew something was wrong,” Jim says.
She wasn’t getting any answers from the people Jones had been with the night before, and was growing increasingly distressed.
Shortly after noon, Jim gathered up recent photos of her daughter and headed to the local RCMP detachment to file a missing-person report.
And every day for the next week, friends and family members would gather at her home in the morning before heading out together in search of Jones.
Whether travelling around in a vehicle, or walking riverside trails calling Jones’ name, they refused to give up.
It was on Sunday that Jim’s niece found Jones’ cellphone, an item the teenage girl was virtually never without, at the Yuthuythut Adult Learning Centre on River Road — about halfway between the Miller Road home and Jones’ destination.
Jim saw photos of her daughter on the phone but no clues as to her whereabouts.
By Monday morning, police and Cowichan Search and Rescue volunteers were conducting an extensive ground and water search.
They were temporarily placed on stand-by on Tuesday, when some 20 RCMP officers roped off a home on Miller Road and began an intensive search in the area.
Police said at the time they had found something to spark the police-run ground search, but would not indicate what had been discovered.
By Thursday the search had swelled to include air searches in addition to ground and water searches by police and search-and-rescue volunteers from at least six island SAR teams, plus forensic and tactical Mounties.
It was shortly after 11 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 28 that Mary Jim’s worst fear was confirmed.
Jones’ body was found during a methodical SAR grid-search in a wooded area near the Indian Road cemetery — about a kilometre from the Miller Road home by road, and in the opposite direction of Jones’ intended destination.
The Indian Road site was flooded with dozens of members of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP, Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit, and the RCMP Forensic Identification Section, in the wake of the heartbreaking discovery.
In addition to scores of local and imported police officers and SAR volunteers, out-of-town media also descended on Cowichan to share the story of Tyeshia Jones, a shy, much-loved girl who was taken from her family far too soon.
As police worked to uncover what happened to Tyeshia Jones, the community similarly looked for answers.
But to date, police have revealed little of their investigation, and some Cowichanians have become mired in malicious speculation and rumours about possible suspects — especially on Facebook.
Some people have even attempted to share their hurtful conjecture with Jones’ grieving family, while those who were with Jones the night she went missing have been quiet.
“I’m not in touch with any of them,” Jim says of the people who now seem to avoid the mother of their deceased friend. “I’m actually pretty upset with them right now.”
Jim and her loved ones have repeatedly called on those with useful tips and information to share them with the police.
There’s even a reward — now up to $12,000, thanks to fundraisers and donations collected by Jones’ loved ones — for anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest in connection with the murder.
“I know the RCMP are still actively working on this case,” says Joe Thorne, who acted as a spokesman for the family during the influx of media attention earlier this year.
“I know they’ve made the statement that the case will be solved, and I believe them.”
But public assistance is crucial.
“I know that there are people out there who know something, and we’re all waiting for them to come forward,” he said. “What it’s going to take, I don’t know. If they’re afraid, they shouldn’t be. If they know the people involved and think, ‘Well, those are my friends,’ they need to get out of that shadow and say, ‘I’m going to make sure this evil thing is corrected.’”
But Thorne also stressed the importance of not spreading malicious gossip.
“Names are flying through the air, and what makes it hard for the RCMP is they investigate every little tidbit of information, so it prolongs the investigation,” he said. “So I’m hoping people give accurate information.”
Jim hopes so, too.
She’s quick to express her gratitude for the police, who continue to actively investigate the case.
But she’s still struggling to accept an unacceptable truth, and the longer she waits for answers, the more she suffers.
“We’ve been told, ‘Don’t worry, this will be solved,’” says Carpenter. “When? What’s happening? What are we waiting for?”
What’s known for sure is that forensic work was sent to a Vancouver lab, tech work was conducted in Victoria, and police received dozens, if not hundreds, of tips.
The cause of death, the current status of the investigation, and whether the police have any suspects, are all unknown.
The RCMP’s Vancouver Island spokesman, Cpl. Darren Lagan, declined to comment for this article, but has repeatedly stated that police believe the murder will be solved.
“This will be a community effort,” he said in January. “Information, tips, any support people can offer, we welcome.”
That offer still stands.
Mounties can be reached at 250-748-5522, and anonymous tips can be called in at 1-800-222-8477.
“This is a very serious and complex investigation and we need (the public’s) help,” Lagan has said previously. “Our experience in cases such as this is that somebody or some people know what happened.”
“I keep reflecting back on that phone call, that initial phone call from Mary,” says Angela Carpenter. “She said, ‘We can’t find Tyeshia.’”
Carpenter admits she was almost senseless with worry and fear that day.
And the uneasiness, the urge to do something — anything to help — remains.
It’s a common feeling in the community these days.
“I see Mary holding herself together, barely,” says Thorne. “It’s wearing her down, her and her family. They’re just so torn apart. And they want to have closure, so they can go to Tyeshia’s graveside and say, ‘It’s over, baby girl.’ Mary always called Tyeshia her baby girl, and I think that’s what she’s waiting for: to go to her baby girl and say, ‘You have your justice.’”
Justice is the word that comes up most frequently in conversations with Jones’ loved ones.
“Mary says she can’t go anywhere, she can’t do anything, until justice is done,” Carpenter says. “And that’s it. Her life is on hold. We’re all on hold.”
The devotion of Carpenter and the rest of Jones’ loved ones is a source of comfort to Jim.
“That’s what I have to look at,” Jim says. “And it’s quite a blessing to have them by my side.”
But she shrugs off the notion that tragedy brings people closer together, because her family was already incredibly tightly-knit.
“That’s how they’ve always been,” says Carpenter. “They’re always together.”
“I always saw Mary with her two daughters – they were always together,” Thorne agreed. “And what stood out, with all three of them, was their smile. They didn’t care who you were, they would just smile at you, and say hello. And I miss that, because now when I see them, I see caution. I want to see them have that free smile again.”
But easy smiles are hard to come by when you know a killer — or killers — is on the loose in your community.
“We just want justice,” says Carpenter. “That’s it. And not knowing, not hearing what’s going on, that’s maybe the hardest part of waiting. Are they getting any closer?
“That’s our conversation, every day. Everything we say, everything we do, everything we look at, everything we touch — everything — is Tyeshia.”
Whether you knew her or not, Tyeshia Jones has claimed a special place in the hearts of Cowichanians this year.
Whether it was her locally unprecedented funeral service, or the inaugural Take Back the Night event in her honour — along with 2010 homicide victim Karrie Ann Stone — or her aunt and cousin’s participation in the national Walk 4 Justice, Jones has inspired a kind of community devotion that goes beyond how she died.
It’s rooted in who she was.
“There are no unkind words about Tyeshia. And you hear that, and you think, ‘Yeah right,’ — but it’s true,” says Carpenter. “It’s the truth. And they’re all like that. Mary has raised some wonderful children. You can’t say a bad word about them. That’s just how Mary’s kids are.”
Which is why Carpenter becomes particularly incensed when she hears hateful gossip about Jones, and her family, and what happened the night she disappeared.
“That bothers me — she wasn’t a troubled teen,” says Carpenter.
“It angers me because they don’t know her, or the family. She was a wonderful girl who meant no harm to anybody. She wasn’t looking out for any danger coming her way. She was so kind, and nice, and gentle. I keep envisioning somebody saying, ‘Do you know where such-and-such a place is,’ and her stopping and talking to them. Because that’s who she was. I think she thought the world was a safe place, and she was safe here, and she’d be OK. She wasn’t. I can’t believe there are such horrible people.”
But as Carpenter begins to cry, she turns to a frequently used defensive weapon — happy recollections of Jones.
“I remember her smile, and her shyness,” she says. “She was very delicate — that has really come forth in my mind. She wasn’t much for words. But she had that smile, and the little giggle, and the kindness, and the love. She would do anything for you.”
“She had such a good heart,” her mom agreed.
“My baby girl smiled even if she was in a lot of pain. She had two leg surgeries and an eye surgery, and she always said, ‘Why complain, when I’m the only one who feels my pain?’ She was like my Mary Jr.”
Remembered as a girl who loved to dance, and to draw, who loved fashion and clothes, Jones is, above all else, remembered as a girl with a bright smile and an open heart.
“Whenever I’m sad and lonely, and everything goes wrong, I seem to hear her whisper, ‘Cheer up and carry on,’” says Jim. “Each time I look at her pictures, she seems to smile and say, ‘Don’t cry. We’ll meet again some day.’”