Canadians are working to fill Thelma Favel's mailbox with greeting cards and donations, offering their support to the woman who raised Tina Fontaine as she confronts her first Christmas without the girl she loved as a daughter.
Strangers say they are thinking of Ms. Favel and Tina's 14-year-old sister, Sarah, who is reeling, not only from her sibling's August killing, but also from her father's 2011 beating death.
The Globe and Mail last week highlighted the family's despair ahead of Christmas – a holiday Tina's loved ones are dreading in her absence. Canadians have responded with a greeting-card drive and plans for donations toward a headstone honouring Tina and her father, Eugene Fontaine. The two men who pleaded guilty to Mr. Fontaine's killing are slated to be sentenced Tuesday in Winnipeg.
"It was just heartbreaking to think about [Ms. Favel], alone – feeling so alone," said Elaine Power, a Queen's University professor who hopes to inspire 100 relatives, friends and students to send holiday cards to Tina's family. "I wanted her to know that she's not alone, that we're thinking of her and that some of us are hoping and praying for a day when we'll have a different Canada."
When Tina's body was pulled from Winnipeg's Red River, she became yet another murdered aboriginal girl in a country where more than 1,181 native women have been killed or gone missing between 1980 and 2012, according to a recent RCMP study.
To her family – and to random Canadians – Tina is not a simply a statistic. She was a 15-year-old who had just finished her babysitting course and wanted to work some day with children. She was a big sister and best friend to Sarah. At the same time, she was struggling with her father's death and had started running away, ultimately landing in provincial care shortly before she died.
Readers have contacted The Globe saying they were saddened to learn of the family's pain ahead of the holidays. They were horrified that Ms. Favel has considered ending her life and that Sarah sometimes spends her days in Tina's old bedroom, staring at photos of her sister and father.
"It means a lot that so many people care," said Ms. Favel, Tina's great aunt. "There are so many people out there that are still thinking of Tina, and that makes me feel so good inside… I wish everybody was like that – that way we wouldn't be living in a world where people are killing kids and taking advantage of them."
Ms. Favel said any donations made out to her will help buy a headstone to replace the wooden cross staked in Mr. Fontaine's grave, where the urn bearing his daughter's ashes was buried. Any additional funds will be donated, in Tina's name, to Sagkeeng First Nation's St. Alexander Roman Catholic Parish. The church, which Ms. Favel said has fielded calls from Canadians wanting to offer their support to the family, said it will also accept donations for the headstone on behalf of Tina's loved ones.
"I want [the headstone] to say 'Father and Daughter Reunited,'" said Ms. Favel, who spent Sunday night comforting Sarah, who was having a particularly hard day. "They're together now."
Ms. Power said she believes Tina – as well as Loretta Saunders, an Inuk university student killed earlier this year – have put faces to Canada's murdered and missing aboriginal women.
"When Thelma talked about Tina not being there to make [devil's food cake] this Christmas, I just thought, 'Oh my God,'" Ms. Power said. "I have an eight-year-old daughter …It's heartbreaking. It's enraging. And it's time for this to end."