More than a year ago, December 14, 2012, death stalked Highway II near Claresholm, Alberta. 3 AM and four friends, Tanner Craswell, Mitch MacLean, Tabitha Stepple and Shayna Conway are on way to Edmonton's International Airport. Shayna is at the wheel and the girls plan to drop the two young men at the airport so that they can catch their flight home to PEI for Christma
A car rams their SUV from behind. Shayna pulls over and gets out to confront the other driver. Without warning, the driver, Derek Jensen shoots her with a handgun. Not once but four times, hitting her in the stomach, shoulder and legs. Shayna falls but hears the shots as Derek coldbloodly fires into her three friends. Tanner dies near the vehicle and investigators think he might have been protecting Shayna, his girlfriend. When Derek thinks all four friends are dead, he turns the gun on himself. He dies, blood pouring from his mouth while the critically injured Shayna struggles to phone for help. She is only able to hit re-dial with her chin.
Vehicles pass but do not stop. Finally a young man and his sister do pull over and from that point, the police and emergency help arrive.
Shayna does survive, but only after surgery and she has ongoing physical therapy to help her re-gain function in her left arm and leg. The emotional pain remains.
What motivated Derek Jensen to commit this horror? In retrospect and after a year to investigate, CTV and others, found that the signs of his instability were there but no one could imagine just how disturbed he had become. Derek Jansen was a "Jack" Mormon, born into a Mormon family but now defying their beliefs. He drank heavily, suffered from mood swings and had violent outbursts. He was taking anti-pychotic medication. When his girlfriend Tabitha Stepple broke up with him, a destructive spiral down began.
There are some signs to indicate a man may become abusive. He will employ verbal abuse and name calling. Derek did this and the names he used in text messages to Tabitha were degrading. Look for mood swings. Derek suffered them. In retrospect, friends admitted he had changed. No longer fun-loving and charming, he was prone to outbursts and making threats. Although he and Tabitha were no longer together, he had trouble accepting she was through with him and continued to send abusive, harassing texts. He had no respect for her privacy and continued to try and control her. He severely "punished" a four-pound pet dog at one point. Another huge red flag. It is unthinkable but December 14th, he "snapped"; a "snap" lasted as he followed the four friends for an hour down Highway II, rammed their SUV and gunned them all down. It was a predatory pursuit. He had time to think and his thoughts made him only more bitter and determined.
The great tragedy is four young people and all their potential gone. Mitch and Tanner were promising baseball players; Tabitha wanted four or five children and had career plans, too. Shayna was planning to be a nurse. Derek was taking EMT courses. Because no one could see how troubled he really was, four people died and Shayna is left to try and put her life together.
The families are left with wounds that will not heal. Their lives are never the same. Access to guns and mental illness produced another horrifying loss of life.
If you have the chance to see CTV's Murder on the Highway, do so. It shows so well how the events of December 14th 2012 have tendrils that stretch and twine and will not die away for many years, for the family, never.
I've been writing on and off for years and this is where my more serious pieces will be.