West Kelowna family relaunches campaign to keep mass murderer David Ennis behind bars | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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West Kelowna family relaunches campaign to keep mass murderer David Ennis behind bars

Six members of the Johnson and Bentley families from Westbank were brutally murdered at Wells Gray Provincial Park while they are on a camping trip in August of 1982. Their killer, David Ennis, has a parole hearing in July.
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February 28, 2021 - 2:00 PM

The man behind the mass murder that left a permanent scar on West Kelowna is eligible to apply for parole again this July and the friends and families of his victims want to make sure he doesn't get out.

In summer of 1982 David Shearing, who now goes by David Ennis, fixated on the family and stalked them as they camped near Wells Gray Provincial Park for at least two days, according to parole documents. Then he went to the campsite Aug. 2, 1982 and shot George and Edith Bentley and Bob and Jackie Johnson and kidnapped Janet, 13, and Karen, 11.

For the better part of a week, Ennis kept both girls hostage, all the while sexually assaulting Janet. Once he was done with her, he took them into the woods, one at a time, and killed them.

He loaded all the bodies into one of the family’s vehicles and torched it in a secluded area of the park. Their charred remains were discovered on Sept. 13, 1982. It was another 14 months before investigators tracked down Ennis.

His arrest and later incarceration did not, however, put an end to the pain those who were left behind have had to deal with.

The organizer of a renewed effort to sway the parole board to keep the killer behind bars, Tammy Arishenkoff, explained there is no closure for the slain family’s loved ones and friends.

Since Ennis has been eligible for release they’ve been forced to relive the most horrible episode of their lives over and over again to ensure he stays behind bars. Surviving family members still fear for their own safety, she said, noting that having three generations of one family killed in one murderous stroke leaves behind fears that aren’t easily dealt with.

That said, they’re not going to stop dredging it all up. By staying vigilant and continually saying what they can to keep him in prison, they pay homage to those they loved.

And, Arishenkoff said, it’s not as often as it once was. In 2016 new federal rules were brought in meaning that people like Ennis couldn’t apply for another hearing for five years, rather than the every-two-year pattern that previously existed.

“When we were doing this every two years it was exhausting. You would go to the hearing and you’d gear up not knowing whether he’d waive his right to go through the process,” she said.

Ennis, she explained, has until the day before the hearing to decide whether or not he wants to go through with his application. He’s waived his right to a parole hearing twice, so far.

“Then you have a few months and then you get the next notice and you have to mobilize again to give yourself enough time to get everything together,” she said. “It’s a ton of work, but we have a system in place where it’s pop up and turnkey."

Arishenkoff said the process takes an emotional toll.

“When I was reading back through some of the things that were said at the last hearing, I got emotional,” she said. “I thought, I don’t want to remember them like this. It’s hard to let the good feelings flow.”

More than that, though, she said it’s just frustrating that they even have to have a conversation about letting this guy out.

“It’s a heart-wrenching process to go through. It’s frustrating because he should stay where he is. He should just go away,” she said.

Arishenkoff said that she recently read someone’s comment, saying that the purpose of prison in Canada is to reform and rehabilitate, and she understands that it’s not about punishment.

“But if he was truly remorseful or had reformed, he would recognize what he did…he took six people’s lives and raped and tortured two girls. People like that don’t reform, so the ideal thing for him would to keep on waiving his hearings and resign himself to the fact that’s where he should be.”

Ennis, she said, has never expressed remorse for what he’s done. Nor has he taken advantage of opportunities that would allow him to improve upon himself.

He has, however, gotten married, and been able to live a relatively peaceful life despite all the carnage he wrought.

“He’s been incarcerated for maybe 37 years... and it’s not enough,” she said.

“We see the report and that he’s seen very little progress and people in Alberta need to be made aware that he could live in your neighbourhood. He’s in his early 60s, he’s not old, and you don’t know what triggers would bring that type of behaviour that on, especially for someone who is so institutionalized and society doesn’t want him.”

To help keep Ennis behind bars, Arishenkoff is asking that people sign a petition she has posted to Change.org.

More than 25,000 have already signed in less than a week and she's hoping to reach 35,000. It won't guarantee he stays behind bars, but it will help.

—First published Feb. 18, 2021

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