As an estimated two thousand residents and guests started to break away in groups and file toward Beach Drive, a light drumming began near the water’s edge at Willows Beach. As the public vigil to honour the lives of little Chloe and Aubrey Berry ended, not far from the playground at Willows Beach Park where the sisters loved to play, a First Nations drumming circle performed into the crisp night air.
“I’ve had the pleasure to sit in front of that little girl last year when she was at Willows,” said James Taylor after the song finished. Taylor works for the school district sharing his grandfather’s stories and songs with the next generation. He met Chloe at École Willows Elementary in Oak Bay where she attended Kindergarten last year.
“I shared that song with her last year along with some of the stories that mean a lot to me,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “In that beautiful little face … in the picture she drew (that) I have at home. That honour song was for her … and the teaching behind that song that I shared with her goes out to you.”
It was a poignant moment to end an hour of poignant moments during the candlelight vigil, from descriptions of Aubrey, 4, playing Gabriel the Angel in the nativity pageant this year, to Chloe, 6, acting as mediator on the playground.
The sombre event Dec. 30 was in remembrance of the sisters whose bodies were found in an Oak Bay apartment on Christmas Day. Their father, 43-year-old Andrew Berry, has been arrested and charged with two counts of second-degree murder.
But Saturday wasn’t about the investigation, and instead took on the themes of community, healing and love. The evening began with piano music, and attendees so quiet the lapping waves broke through between notes.
“We have all been shaken by this tragic event, not only here in Oak Bay but across our city, our province and our nation,” said Hazel Braithwaite, acting mayor of Oak Bay, who led the vigil. “There are no adequate words that can come close to describing this tragic loss or that can help us express our feelings and our grief. This touches us at our most basic level.”
Rev. Michelle Slater of Oak Bay United Church read an email from the girls’ grandparents Brenda and Malcolm, thanking attendees of the vigil. “We are extremely grateful for the kind support we and Sarah have been given at the most desperate of times. These children were the light of our lives and a big part of our extremely small family. We are so grateful that we shared their lives.”
The letter went on to thank all those who “gave the girls wonderful friendships” and the first responders who “were so kind Christmas night at a time of unfathomable loss.”
The Oak Bay park was full of people grieving and supporting each other. Most brought candles, some sang along with the performance of Hallelujah as they came together to “begin to heal” as Braithwaite said.
“We are here to affirm that, though six and four years old, their lives had meaning and purpose. Their lives mattered. The world was a more beautiful place because of them; a more loving and delightful place. People’s lives were changed because of Chloe and Aubrey’s living. Those impacts will continue now and into the future,” Slater said.
Family friend Sandra Hudson called the vigil an “incredible show of support” for the sisters’ mother, Sarah Cotton.
“She is a wonderful person and she’s really loved by this community, as were Chloe and Aubrey,” Hudson said. “I think all the people coming out tonight are bringing that love that Sarah has shown for so many back to her.”
Hudson described the deaths of the young girls as “the worst thing that could ever happen.”