Every two years, Tammy Arishenkoff prepares to start petitioning the government. She doesn’t need a reminder. The date – when her childhood friend and her family were murdered in Wells Gray Park – is etched in her mind.
She has one thought: to keep their murderer, David Ennis, formerly Shearing, behind bars.
“I don’t want to see other families have to go through this,” Arishenkoff said. “I don’t care if he’s allowed to have these parole reviews, he hasn’t served enough time for what he did to these families, that’s why we keep pushing forward.”
In 1982, Ennis murdered George and Edith Bentley of Port Coquitlam along with their daughter Jackie Johnson, her husband Bob and their two daughters Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, of West Kelowna, at a campsite in Wells Gray Park.
After shooting the four adults as they sat around a campfire, Ennis held the two girls captive for a week, sexually assaulting and torturing them before killing them. He then put all six bodies in the family car and set it on fire.
The family’s camper truck wasn’t found until 14 months after the murders, on an old logging road near Trophy Mountain. Police began to question suspects in Clearwater again, but it wasn’t until November 1983 that Ennis was taken into custody. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in April 1984 with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Since 2008, Arishenkoff relives the murder of her childhood friend, Karen, and her sister Janet. Every two years, she and the victims’ family and friends, have gone door to door, sharing a petition to persuade the Parole Board of Canada to keep Ennis behind bars.
The friends and family of the Johnson and Bentley families have established a core group of 12 people who have become “seasoned experts” at fomenting momentum when the time comes, said Arishenkoff.
“We never really got a rest,” said Arishenkoff. “You’d have a hearing, and then you maybe get a few months, and then you get the notice for the next hearing.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arishenkoff and the rest of the group were unable to petition door-to-door this year, but it didn’t stop them from trying to get the word out about Ennis’ parole hearing. She started an online petition and a Facebook group dedicated to bringing people together who would like to help.
In a little over a week, the change.org petition has garnered more than 39,000 signatures, more than doubling Arishenkoff’s original goal of 15,000. The petition will remain active until April 15.
In addition to the petition signatures, Arishenkoff, along with others in the group, will be putting together victim impact statements for the parole board to review.
Although the time between parole hearings has been changed to five years, potentially giving victims and their loved ones a break between hearings, she said it doesn’t get any easier. Every time, the wounds are re-opened and the memories re-lived.
Her friendship with the girls and their memory gives her motivation and strength.
It’s a lot to endure, even every five years, but she said every step they take is very important. She has nieces that are now in their 20s that remind her of Janet and Karen. When you’re close to somebody who dies in such a horrific way, she added, it messes you up, makes you angry and even more determined to see him stay behind bars.
“He’s already had more of a life than he gave them an opportunity to ever have,” said Arishenkoff, noting Ennis got married and has two kids. “He took all of that away from them…he gets to have visits with her and play house and live.”