Prime Time Crime


(Primetimecrime Nov. 11, 2009)


Closer to Heaven


  By Sandra Martins-Toner


As I sit peering through the small window of the aircraft taking me on my book tour across Canada, I’m struck by the oddest sensation as we ascend into the great vast sky. I watch as the earth below me becomes nothing more than vast miniscule objects and the monstrous white fluffy clouds beckon us to enter. They open up before us inviting us to the other side. Once we break through, regardless of the weather below the sun is there to welcome me.

Floating forty thousand feet above the earth, I am left breathless by the beauty I am seeing. Am I the only one on the plane fighting the urge to cry over what I’m seeing and feeling? I can’t take my eyes off of the layer of clouds sitting below us and wonder what it might feel like to run my hands through them.  I can see my self running through them as if they were solid, frolicking through the soft beautiful mist like a child.

I find myself speaking to my murdered child in my head. I close my eyes and can see him standing on the edge of a cloud waving to me. I truly feel for just a moment that I must be closer to heaven, and that perhaps he can hear my inner voice clearly without the obstruction of all the chaos and crime that plagues the earth below.

It has only been a little over four years since my child was murdered, and the thought of living the rest of my life without him will forever remain daunting. What I have come to learn is that the pain this loss has caused can never be muted, but it can be used to help others. I have forced myself to take all that I have endured since that day and have decided to channel my grief into action, and I would soon find out that I am not the only mother fighting for justice.

The women I have met are not just mothers and sisters of murdered children, but what I like to call Powerhouse “Advocates.” These are the women that will not allow these horrific, senseless tragedies to defeat them. These are the women that will reach out to others like themselves and lead them out of a debilitating darkness. I want you all to know that this is not common at all, in fact most of the families I have met along the way can’t seem to find the strength to overcome the great sense of loss, and the secondary/social re-victimization that follows.

One of these iconic women that stand out in my mind is Steffi Stehwien of Calgary AB.  Steffi lost her 18 year old son Aaron Shoulders when he was attacked by a gang of thugs outside a nightclub in 2003 after he tried to break up a fight.  Her son was only doing what he felt was the right thing to do, and died doing so. He gave his life to try and protect someone in need. To this day Aaron’s killers walk free amongst you as no witnesses have come forward to disclose their identities.

This mother has taken up a crusade to pressure the Canadian police and legal system to find and convict her son’s killers, and has also created a yearly event in Aaron’s name called “The Aaron Shoulders Walk for Justice International.”

This walk has gained momentum since the creation and is now held in the UK as well. This years walk was greater in numbers, but still Steffi feels as though the community and its members of parliament are not doing enough to support her initiatives. She wonders what it will take for those in power to see that these types of crimes must stop, and that by creating awareness is the only way to make changes. Just a few weeks ago the walk was held in the UK, and I was in absolute disbelief to see that my own child’s photo was being carried on a placard by a gentleman I had never met. My heart was overwhelmed with gratitude, and it made me realize at that very moment that others cared.

The other woman I must mention is Donna Eaton, of Calgary, AB. Donna’s beautiful daughter Brooke Ivie Clapson was brutally stabbed to death in Rocky Mountain House by her abusive ex-boyfriend.  Brooke had broken up with him in March of 2000 and had started to put her life together again after being in an abusive relationship for 2 years.

Brooke started working on a road crew and was looking forward to a trip to Europe with her best friend.  Brooke’s killer followed her to Rocky Mountain House where he convinced her once again to let him stay.  He started the cycle of abuse all over again.  During the wrap up party prior to returning to Calgary, Brooke told him they were finished once and for all.  He convinced her to return to their room so they could talk.  He became contrite and remorseful and wanted to show her that he was truly sorry.  When they entered their room, it was then he cornered her and stabbed her 33 times.

Donna now works tirelessly with others in her community and across Canada to help others. She speaks candidly about her loss, and hope to reach out to women in abusive relationships. Donna is working closely with a group called “Never Give Up!” This group was founded by Adam Frisch and Darlene Dorchak after their own sister was murdered by her abusive partner. Donna recently spoke during the “Take Back the Night” rally held in memory of all those lost to violent acts.

Then there are the Healey sisters, Sue and Teresa that have created a group called “Remember Me - Survivors of Homicide.” The group is based in Toronto, ON, but it extends itself to anyone across Canada. It’s a Social Support group created by survivors for survivors, A place were loved ones and Victims of violence can gather and receive the much needed emotional support, love and most importantly, the inspiration to carry on.

This family lost their beautiful daughter and sister on March 8, 2008. Brenda Healey was murdered by a co-worker who then killed himself like a coward, and the family has struggled to come to grips with this senseless, random act.

They have an amazing quote posted on their group site, and I found it both powerful and profound. “Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow,” by Dan Rather. I could not have said it better.  These ladies are now working with the Victims services of York Region in Toronto to be able to reach out to others needing support.

It is because of women like these that I find the courage to carry on in my fight to educate, advocate, support, campaign and succeed in my everyday quest for a safer tomorrow. I will never forget the tears and laughter we shared together during my travels, and feel that I no longer need to stand apart as I have sisters that will stand alongside me in a world that sits just a little bit closer to heaven.

Sandra Martins-Toner is the founder and executive Director of F.A.C.T. and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2009