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RCMP on the scene of an ongoing investigation regarding five deaths in southern Manitoba, in Carman, Man., on Feb. 12.The Canadian Press

Amanda Clearwater’s parents remember the goofy smiles and loud laughter of their grandchildren when they’d find a favourite new toy or toddle for a trip to the splash park. It’s the youngsters’ giggle upon seeing a funny video that they hold onto. The children hadn’t really lived much of a life yet, but now even the brief memories seem to be slipping away and becoming painful, say Nancy and Melvin Clearwater.

“We’re frustrated,Nancy Clearwater said in an interview. “Frustrated with what happened. Frustrated with the police for not telling us sooner. Frustrated we couldn’t do more.”

Manitoba RCMP charged Ryan Howard Manoakeesick this week with five counts of first-degree murder in the weekend deaths of his common-law partner, Amanda Clearwater, their three children – 2½-month-old Isabella, four-year-old Jayven, six-year-old Bethany – and her 17-year-old niece, Myah-Lee Gratton, who was living with them.

Mr. Manoakeesick, 29, is expected to make his next appearance in court on Feb. 23.

RCMP said they will not be releasing the results of the autopsies scheduled for the five victims, citing the continuing investigation. Their causes of death have not yet been confirmed.

Ms. Clearwater, 30, was found first on Sunday, lying dead in a ditch on a highway, a few kilometres away from Carman, Man., the small agricultural town they had all lived in. Less than three hours later, the three children were found dead near a burning vehicle, where Mr. Manoakeesick was arrested. Later that day, police located Ms. Gratton’s body at their home.

Juliette Hastings, Ms. Gratton’s mother, said her daughter had the purest and biggest heart of anybody she has known. She described her as a social butterfly and the kind of girl who only ever wanted to make others happy. “My colourful Myah,” Ms. Hastings said sobbing, “should have never had this happen to her. She was just a light. Just a beautiful, absolute light.”

Ms. Hastings shares the frustration expressed by Ms. Clearwater’s parents. She remembers telling Child and Family Services, which had placed Ms. Gratton under the care of her aunt, Ms. Clearwater, at the teenager’s request after an argument with Ms. Hastings, that the home in Carman was not safe.

“I told them about Ryan and his dark side,” Ms. Hastings said. “I told them it was a bad place. That I’d seen him throwing things around, punching walls and yelling at people before. I knew, and maybe they knew, but nobody listened.”

Ms. Clearwater’s parents said her daughter’s relationship of more than a decade with Mr. Manoakeesick appeared to be loving, but was becoming “abusive” over the years. She would often rely on his financial support for the household as a way to explain his good-naturedness, they said.

There had also been several police calls to their small bungalow in Carman, with some as early as last year for “Ryan’s violent behaviour,” Ms. Hastings said. “I don’t know if those calls ever led up to anything though.”

Inspector Tim Arseneault said RCMP will not be able to comment on Mr. Manoakeesick’s history with possible domestic or intimate partner violence. That information is part of their investigation, he said.

Court records indicate Mr. Manoakeesick struggled with addictions and his mental health. In 2019, he was convicted of mischief and sentenced to 18 months of probation, with provincial court Justice Kelly Moar telling him to get a grip on his methamphetamine addiction before things “completely spiral out of control.”

“If you don’t do something, eventually, it’s going to cost you your family,” the judge had said, after Mr. Manoakeesick was taken to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg to treat him for his psychosis.

In 2021, Mr. Manoakeesick found himself in court again on impaired driving charges. He had allegedly caused bodily harm to another passenger when his vehicle collided with a van carrying nine people near Carman. His trial for that was to be held in August last year, but his lawyer reportedly lost touch with him, leading to a warrant for his arrest.

Mr. Manoakeesick was taken into custody and then released on a $1,000 bail in July. He had a requirement to live at his one-bedroom home in Carman, which he rented with Ms. Clearwater.

Deena Brock, provincial co-ordinator of the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters, which works to help women and children who experience violence, said “the worst part about hearing what happened with the family in Carman has been to see it described as a one-off occurrence.”

Manitoba has the second highest rate of intimate partner violence in Canadian provinces at a rate of 633 per 100,000 people, according to police-reported data from 2022. But police statistics are an undercount, said Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich, director of development, grants and communications at Women’s Shelters Canada. About 80 per cent of domestic violence goes unreported.

“What will it take for our systems to take this seriously? How many more deaths?” Ms. Geiger-Bardswich said.

“I’m obviously jaded because, in this case, we once again heard the RCMP say there is no ongoing threat to the public. I get where that comes from, but clearly there is a threat to the public. This is a crisis. Intimate partner violence is a crisis that is affecting us all and our country’s bottom line.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

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