'He's smiling down on us:' A Kelowna murder victim's family musters grace in the aftermath of tragedy - InfoNews

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'He's smiling down on us:' A Kelowna murder victim's family musters grace in the aftermath of tragedy

Annie Hutton and Kelly Ausman outside the courthouse after Chris Ausman's killer was sentenced to life in prison.
February 02, 2020 - 12:00 PM

“Sorry. I’m so sorry,” Steven Pirko’s mom said Friday, grabbing Annie Hutton by the arm and burying her face in her shoulder.

Pirko killed Hutton’s son Christopher Michael Ausman six years ago and moments earlier they’d both watched as he was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 11 years, ending a process that had seemingly moved at a glacial rate. It took nearly three years for Pirko to be charged with murder, two more years for the six-week trial to get underway and then, once he was convicted, seven months for the sentence to be delivered.

Despite the time and the wounds being continually reopened throughout, Hutton chose not to harden. She paused, leaned in to hug Pirko’s mom and told her it was OK.

“Pass this on to Steven, from me,” she said softly.

“When he goes into prison, tell him to take advantage of what he can do in there — get his education, learn and come out the other end being a stronger, better person and help people.”

Pirko’s mom cried, nodded and the two parted ways.

Asked later how she managed to muster up compassion for anyone related to the man who killed her son, Hutton said simply, “she’s a mom.”

“As a mom you find compassion. She lost a son, too. Her son is gone, too, and he’s gone for a long time and I just had to hug her,” she said.

Annie Hutton tattooed the message Chris wrote to her in his last Christmas card.
Annie Hutton tattooed the message Chris wrote to her in his last Christmas card.

“I can’t give you a rhyme or reason, or whatever, just that she’s a mom … and she sat through that trial every day like the rest of us.”

Pirko’s mom had been at the trial every day listening to what led her son to swing a hammer into Ausman’s head Jan. 25, 2014, ending a one minute and 15-second fight his friend had provoked. 

She sat alone, behind her son, crying throughout. They rarely even looked at each other during the process but she stayed there, anyway, absorbing unflattering perspectives about both her son’s and her own past, in front of an audience.

As is the case with any sentencing, Pirko’s history was the subject of analysis and his upbringing was directly correlated to his decision to lead a life of crime. A pre-sentence report indicated Pirko had been abandoned by his father and his mother had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. He was raised in poverty, lived in motels he’d often been evicted from and was bullied in school for all of those things.

By the time he was 13 years old he was over it all and started running away with kids with whom he shared similar circumstances. He only has a Grade 9 education and was in the juvenile system regularly before he aged out. By the time he fatally bludgeoned Ausman at the behest of his criminally motivated friend Elrich Dyck, he’d racked up nine criminal convictions — one, for breaking into the Greek Taverna restaurant, which ironically installed cameras in the aftermath of the break-in.

Those cameras are what tied Pirko and Dyck to Ausman’s murder. In the years before he was arrested for the killing, more crimes followed and he delved deep into heroin abuse, among other things, while Christopher’s family grappled with sleepless nights wondering what happened to their loved one and whether the person who shattered their family would ever be caught.

“In the whole big scheme of things, nobody really wins at this,” Hutton said, when asked how she felt about the result of the trial.

“Three young men collided that night and three (lives) were changed horribly. For us, for Pirko and Elrich Dyck —all three of (their) lives changed, all of their families' lives changed, too and it’s sad.”

Ausman's brother Kelly shared similar thoughts on the tragedy that befell all three men and their families, noting that his brother was strong and he wished he’d just walked away from the fight.

Kelly Ausman wearing a shirt family and friends wore throughout the sentencing.
Kelly Ausman wearing a shirt family and friends wore throughout the sentencing.

Kelly also spoke to Pirko’s mother on the way out and asked him to pass on thanks for the apology Pirko offered before walking away from his freedom.

Pirko turned toward Ausman's family and told them that it makes him sick when he thinks of how sad Ausman's daughter is because of what he did, before being sentenced Jan. 31.

“I would do anything to take it back," Pirko said.

Kelly said he believes the apology is sincere though whether it helps him come to terms with his own feelings of loss remains to be seen.

“Will there ever be forgiveness? No… we lost a loved one and I lost a best friend,” he said.

“I believe there’s remorse in that apology, it won’t take away what he’s done, but we’re good people, we’re a good family and this world is full of darkness.”

That darkness is likely all that Pirko was familiar with, he said, adding that appeared as though there was nothing positive throughout his life.

“I feel for his background,” Kelly said.

“That’s a tough upbringing and that’s where I believe all of us… we all kind of felt for the upbringing. We had a good upbringing I can only imagine the struggles he had as a teenager. But we took the biggest loss in this.”

The best Pirko can do by the family, Kelly said, is use that feeling of remorse and change his own life and do something more positive in the world.

Regardless, they are moving on and focusing on Ausman and what he brought to their lives.

“In a couple of simple words, he was a passionate human, very strong-minded. He was a character,” Kelly said.

Chris Ausman, left, was killed in Rutland early Jan. 25, 2014. His younger brother Kelly was also his best friend.
Chris Ausman, left, was killed in Rutland early Jan. 25, 2014. His younger brother Kelly was also his best friend.
Image Credit: Contributed

“He and I were a lot alike, people thought we were twins. He was a little more open, he was the joke master and when we worked with crews he always had a smile…. He was very loving. It’s tough. I miss his voice. He was a good person. “

Many people have held his memory close in the years that have passed, he said.

And, whenever they see a 222, he feels that much closer.

That was the number of the house they grew up in, the hospital room his daughter was born in and something that Christopher always took note of.

“My brother would bring it up when he saw sports and with his passing, we noticed it a lot more,” Kelly said.

Others did, too. After Pirko was arrested, Kelly got a call from the officer who brought him into custody and said that the arrest was made at 2:22 p.m.

“Whether you believe it or not it is a symbol of an angel,” he said. “We, as a family hold on to it as a sign of him smiling down on us.”

Annie pictures her son looking down on them, as well.

Though, he’s not just smiling and being stereotypically angelic.

“He’s up there, he has huge wings and he’s flying all over the place,” she said. “He was a character and he was not quiet at all.”

Kelly Ausman speaks about the sentence.
Kelly Ausman speaks about the sentence.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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