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Marie Jones sat in her back yard yesterday and remembered how, years ago, when the television news was full of the murder trial of Paul Bernardo and she learned the grim details of what had happened to Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, her first thought was for the teenagers' parents. How could they function?

"I could never understand it. I remember saying to my kids, if anything like that happened to you, I'd be a basket case. There's no way I could continue parenting. I'd be put away.

"But," she said, with a small and terrible smile, "I'm here, and I'm not put away."

Earlier this year, on the day after Mother's Day, her youngest child Holly went missing within a couple of city blocks from the family's home in the west-central end of the city. Parts of her dismembered body were found the next morning in two bags on the Toronto waterfront.

The first was discovered in the water of Lake Ontario off Ward's Island, the very place where, "before Holly," which is Marie's cct shorthand for the time before her daughter's abduction and killing, the family used to wrap up the little girl's birthday celebrations. For years, Marie and George Stonehouse, her husband, would round up Holly's friends, take the ferry over to Centre Island, where the youngsters would frolic on the rides, and then walk over to Ward's Island, where they would get ice cream and then catch the ferry back. "We won't be doing that this year, obviously," she said in her first wide-ranging interview since Holly's killing.

"We used to look at the houses," she remembered, "and think, 'Wouldn't it be nice to live there,' and look at the church . . . We were very sad that they found her there." But the residents of the island, she said, like so many others, "reached out to us, they were really devastated."

"I don't forget what they did." She wants them to know that the family has good memories of the little island, too.

She looks now like a completely different woman than she did in the weeks after Holly was killed, when, thanks to a media encampment set up outside the house that captured her tending the flowers and plants dropped off by hundreds of well-wishers, her face became familiar far beyond her own small neighbourhood. Then, she had the look of a woman on the brink of madness.

Now, back at work as a City of Toronto fitness instructor six days a week, she is tanned and lean and pulled-together.

What psychiatrists label as "affect," meaning how one presents, is trickier to describe: Marie is tough and resilient, emotional but not sentimental, and yet there is something about her that speaks to the knowledge she has acquired, as though some piece of her, her heart or perhaps her soul, is unbearably weary or old.

She dreads the mornings, when she has to walk past her daughter's room, much as it was when she was alive, and be hit again by the sight of the bed with no little girl in it, sleepy and warm and needing to be roused for school.

"There was the odd day when she wasn't excited about going," she said, "but when she came home every day she was so happy, so I knew she'd be different when she came home, that she'd be happy -- until I said, 'It's time to do your homework.' "

Holly "is right there in my mind in the morning. I need to get up and move right away."

Marie dreads the early evenings too, the time between 6 and 7 p.m. -- the witching hour for her, the time Holly was walking a little friend home, and never came back. "If I'm alone, I can't sit still, can't just watch the television, knowing what was happening at this time, on that day." And she dreads nightfall: "It's troublesome, but I can't stay in the house alone. As soon as it gets dark, I feel watched. I'm more nervous, I can't help it. George knows that."

The couple keep themselves busy, Marie with exercise and work and redoing the second-floor bathroom, while George, not yet ready to go back to his job as a baggage handler for Air Canada (the company has been terrific to him, she said) has been renovating their house, building a lovely cedar deck, shielded from the street by cedar trees that just arrived yesterday morning, off the front, and doing the demolition work before the masons came to face the house with a pretty stone brick.

It's the exercise, putting hard physical demands on her slim body, exhausting herself, that has been her salvation, she said. "That's my therapy." The couple's many friends and relatives help enormously, and so do the hundreds of letters and e-mails to Holly's Web site (

"I can't narrow it down to the community or even the city," she said. "I've heard from people all over the country and the world, and it comforts me to know that I'm not the only one who feels pain. I don't know why it comforts me, but it does. It comforts me to know that this is for my daughter. Because of Holly, people have finalized their decisions about their careers; people have changed their lives.

"I can't help what happened, you see. I can't get her back. So all these people have helped me get through it, knowing they all wish we could get her back.

"For a good three weeks, I was quite a mess. I'm still a mess, but what helped me were those hundreds and hundreds of letters and cards. I read every one. If it had a poem, I put it aside and kept it. If the card didn't have writing on the front, it was frameable, and I'm going to frame those. If there was a phone number, I phoned to thank them." Though she may have appeared to be in shock during that time, she said, "I remember everything."

The gifts of stuffed animals, 300 minimum, will be put up for auction on eBay Canada tomorrow, with the proceeds going to the Children's Wish Foundation, a charity that grants wishes for terminally ill youngsters, and which the couple chose very carefully.

The toys are called Holly's Dollys, and each one comes with a tag bearing what Marie used to tell her daughter before bed: "I love you to each and every star, to the moon, around the sun and back again."

And, Marie said, "If someone gave a stuffed animal and they don't see it in the auction, know that I gave it to one of Holly's friends, or to the children of special family friends." She kept one for herself, a little grey-and-white dog, which she takes to bed every night.

She doesn't know the details of her girl's death, though one day, she knows, she will have to hear of "the pain she was feeling at the time and that I wasn't there to help her."

She has thought about the death penalty.

"In Holly's case," she said carefully, "the death penalty is too easy . . . Dying is too easy. No matter how much he suffers, no matter how painful it is, he'll still never suffer the pain that he caused my daughter, our family, and our friends. That's more pain than he will ever feel."

Tomorrow, Holly Maria Jones would have turned 11. "It's going to be a really sad day for us," her mother said. Family and friends are coming over, and they will plant holly bushes in a new planter on the new front deck in her daughter's memory, and, as a gift from Marie's family, will place a special bench and chair for the little girl in the garden.

Hanging from a tree in that garden is a wooden plaque, in the shape of a diaper bag. It reads: "Holly Maria, 8 pounds 10 ounces, Sept. 14, 1992." It came with a stork, which is missing, and the stork had a sign. "I was going to call her Jessica," Marie Jones said, but before she left the hospital, she changed her mind. Her friends didn't have time to get a new sign, so it read "Jessica," with a slash through it, the "Holly" added on.

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