“I just dropped him off for a visit and was supposed to pick him up,” said Iris Clarke through her tears as she clutched framed photographs her son to her heart.
Clarke is the mother of 20-year-old Clifton Johnston, who was found murdered in front of the Port Alberni Friendship Center on the morning of Saturday, Mar. 27. He had been stabbed to death.
Clarke, who lives in Abbotsford, BC, invited friends and family to a candlelight vigil on Monday, Mar. 29 to remember her son and to support one another as they grieve his loss.
As the sun set in the west, Clarke set out three framed photographs of her son near the concrete stairs where his body had lain two days before. She thanked the people for coming, telling them that she could see by the number of people there that there as a lot of love for Clifton.
There was no talk about what may have happened to Clifton – it was all a show of love and support and tears. Many people laid flowers and candles at the site.
Leslie Mickey performed a Hesquiaht prayer chant, asking people to be strong, to heal, and to support the family.
Ahousaht elder Wally Samuel said that elders had gone down to the site on the afternoon of Mar. 27 to perform a cleansing ceremony, not knowing who the victim was. “Some people said it’s probably just someone from the ghetto – well, that doesn’t matter, we’re all human,” Samuel told the crowd.
As it turned out, the young man was related to the elders that performed the cleansing ceremony. Samuel said Johnstone was good friends with his granddaughter, whom he went to school with when he was living in Port Alberni. “He was a happy, fun-loving young boy,” said Samuel.
Iris shared stories about her son while holding a bumble bee stuffy. She said that she has cried endlessly, adding that this is a pain that no mother ever wants to go through.
Through her tears she remembered the tight hugs her son gave. “He had a pure heart and when we talked about his future, he said he wanted to be a bee keeper…of all things, he wanted to be a bee keeper, and he would have been good at it,” she said with a tearful smile before placing the bee stuffy next to his portrait.
Clarke again thanked the people for coming to support her, saying she loved her son and she knows they did too.
Clarke’s mother, Marlene John, talked about the pain of losing a 20-year-old son through suicide, and now she’s lost a 20-year-old grandson. “Look after each other, please, all you young ones,” she implored through sobs.
Elder Wally Samuel agreed, telling the young people to always let someone know where they’re going and when they will be back. “We don’t ask where you’re going to be nosey, we just want you to be safe,” said Samuel.
The young friends of Johnston were invited to stand with the family, where they were blanketed, a gesture of comfort and support.
As the sun dropped below the horizon, lit candles were placed at the makeshift memorial.