It was Halloween night and the usually quiet streets of Armstrong – a close-knit community of 5,000 in British Columbia’s northern Okanagan – were running busy. Parents took their children door-to-door in pursuit of treats. The glee was undeniable.
But, steps away, Marie Van Diest was trying to will her daughter to live. Eighteen-year-old Taylor Van Diest had just been discovered beaten and unconscious near a set of railway tracks. Her mother, having climbed down into a ditch so she could hold her daughter close, said, “You’re going to make it. You’re going to survive.”
She would not – Taylor died in hospital and her death sent a shock wave through her hometown. The mayor said Armstrong, a town in which homicides are nothing if not rare, had lost its innocence.
Much of what happened that night – October 31, 2011 – has remained shrouded in mystery. An arrest was made several months later, but a motive never released.
That changed Monday, when the Crown opened the first-degree murder trial of Matthew Foerster by alleging he had told police he wanted to have sex with the teen and the situation worsened when she tried to fight him off.
Frank Caputo, one of two Crown prosecutors on the case, said Mr. Foerster also told police he felt bad about the killing.
Mr. Foerster, who tended to be expressionless during the first day of the B.C. Supreme Court trial, has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Lisa Jean Helps, has not had an opportunity to make her case but indicated intent will play a role.
Dozens of the late Ms. Van Diest’s family members and friends packed the courtroom. The trial is being held in Kelowna, about an hour south of Armstrong.
Crying could be heard from the gallery as RCMP Constable Milan Ilic, the first officer to respond on the scene, gave his testimony. Constable Ilic was not immune from the emotion, wiping his eyes as he discussed the discovery of the teen’s body.
The police officer said he was first notified of the situation when Ms. Van Diest’s cellphone was found on the ground and she was reported missing. He was told she had been wearing a zombie costume and tried to pick her out as he drove past flocks of trick-or-treaters.
When he arrived near the railway tracks, where the phone had been discovered, he met the teen’s mother. Two of the teen’s friends were also at the scene. The body was discovered shortly after – the officer notified by a scream from one of the friends.
Mr. Caputo said Ms. Van Diest’s injuries were consistent with being strangled by a ligature, and struck in the head.
He said she had sent a text message to her boyfriend in which she wrote that something was wrong. He said she tried to send a second message a minute later, but for some reason did not.
Mr. Caputo said DNA was found under the teen’s fingernails and was matched to Mr. Foerster. The court heard testimony Monday from the nurse who clipped the nails in hopes there was evidence to be found.
Paul Albert, Ms. Van Diest’s uncle, said outside court that the family was hopeful the legal process would soon be over.
“I think it’s important for the family to try to move on as best we can,” he said.
Marie Van Diest told reporters the testimony was difficult to endure.
“It’s pretty hard to have to relive what we went through,” she said.
Her face lit up, however, when she was asked what Taylor – a twin, two minutes younger than her sister – was like.
“Taylor was an awesome, awesome girl. She was just loved by so many people, friends, family, anyone who first met her just instantly fell for her. She just had a way about her. She was a chameleon in being able to deal with anyone,” she said.