Ashley Simpson's remains found, boyfriend charged with murder – Toronto Star

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More than five years after Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Ashley Simpson disappeared in a remote area of British Columbia, her remains have been found and her boyfriend is facing a charge of second-degree murder.
A traumatic chapter is finally over for her family and they will soon be able to formally say goodbye – but their fight is far from over, says Ashley’s father John Simpson.
“We’ll bring her home and we want justice. We’ll get it,” John said in an interview at the home he and his wife Cindy share in NOTL.
“We, the family, our unit, will not give up — never. We want to see justice and we will find some way to get down there and be in his face if he’s in court.”
The murder charge against Derek Favell came as no surprise to John Simpson, who has suspected Favell since his daughter first disappeared on April 27, 2016.
He had heard stories about Favell.
“He got kicked out of Pink Mountain, where my daughter worked, twice for being drunk and disorderly and abusive,” he said.
Ashley, who was 32, had also sent pictures to her family of bruises along her arm purportedly from Favell hitting her, John said.
After Ashley disappeared, Favell called the family to ask if they had seen her, saying he last saw her walk away from his trailer with a pink suitcase after they had a fight, intending to hitchhike home, a nearly 4,000-kilometre journey from Yankee Flats to NOTL.
John never bought it.
My family “and I thought right from the beginning it was a ruse because we know our daughter. She could pick up the phone and call numerous people and have an (airplane) ticket (home).”
The presence of a pink suitcase was widely reported by the media, to John’s frustration.
“It’s not like Ashley to pick up a stupid pink suitcase, which she never had — that was sort of a ploy — that she would take that suitcase and hitchhike home would never happen,” John said.
“It was a stupid, God awful story that never would have happened, but they had everyone believing. There’s no pink suitcase, never was.”
The entire process of dealing with Favell and his family was difficult from the onset, he said.
“(Police) weren’t allowed on the property and the landlord wouldn’t let the search and rescue on the property. They needed a warrant,” he said.
To make matters worse, John’s youngest daughter Amanda was one of the first people to fly out to Yankee Flats and inquire about her sister’s disappearance.
“Derek’s mother threatened to cut her throat,” John said.
He said the entire community in Yankee Flats seemed against him.
After Ashley vanished, John travelled to B.C. annually for three years to personally search the woods and mountains in the area for any trace of his daughter.
“Nobody, nobody from the area helped,” he said.
Five women have been reported missing in that area, north of Dawson Creek, in the last five years, he said.
“Caitlyn Potts was the first one to go missing in that area. Nobody searched for her till after I left and we had a search party for Ashley. Can you imagine? Nothing in the community, nobody. It was just up to the parents to try and trace (their child’s whereabouts),” he said.
“The RCMP said, ‘People don’t come out here to be found. They come out here to disappear.’ ”
The isolated community was even antagonistic.
“The people I talked to in the shanties and in weird places, (said), ‘We don’t want you here. We don’t want you bringing in the police and the media.’ People get shot out there for little or nothing,” John said.
“We’d go off down logging roads and there’d be people out there with guns. In some capacity, they were leading us astray.”
Ashley “was new and (Favell) had been there a while. That was his community.“
The other aspect of the Simpson family’s continuing fight is in aiding and increasing awareness of the plight of missing persons and their families.
After three years of organizing search parties, John couldn’t bear the mental anguish of always returning having found nothing.
“It was so hard to come back empty-handed. It just tore the soul right out of you,” he said.
“My first year I did it myself with my kids and their friends from work. I’m rappelling down creek beds.”
In his second year of searches, John met Jody Leon from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Drone Search Team and started fundraising for the organization.
But even with allies, John needed to be directly involved in the search for his daughter.
“My goal was to have boots on the ground and drones in the air. So, I caught up with Shane Michaels,” he said.
Together with Michaels, John founded Wings for Mercy, which relies on volunteers across the country and around the world to fly drones over remote areas and send pictures and video footage back to Michaels to try to locate missing men, women and children.
John is on the organization’s board of directors now and plans to stay involved long after Ashley is brought home.
“We need pictures back on mailboxes, we need faces out there so people can see them,” he said.
He said the advent and proliferation of drones is a great tool in the search for missing persons.
“You can cover so much land so much quicker with one drone than with 20 guys on the ground,” he said.
“We’re just going headstrong.”
Helping other families who are suffering the same way the Simpsons have is the single positive John can generate out of the pain of losing his daughter.
“One bad thing happened and one good thing happened out of that and we’ll be going on forever,” he said.
As Ashley’s case is an active criminal investigation, even the Simpson family is still in the dark on the details surrounding the discovery of Ashley’s remains.
John does know that she was found a little over a week ago and RCMP officers visited the family in NOTL last Friday to inform them.
“They had a strong idea of where she was. They went there and there was too much snow so they had to come back in a couple of days,” he said.
“It was a cloudy day and the only light was a beam of light coming out of the sky and it shone right on her, shining right on Ashley’s body,” he said.
“It was uncanny. (The officer) said it was just like in the movies. No light around, just this beam of light shining right on Ashley.”
John said the police have told him the body was found “close” to Yankee Flats.
“I don’t know what that means,” he said.
John can only speculate on the details of why his daughter was killed.
“Was it a domestic dispute gone wrong? We don’t know because he never came forward, never did anything,” he said.
“Was it premeditated, knowing that she was going to leave? The last picture we ever got of her was up above Margaret Falls and, to me, she looked scared.”
Finally knowing has brought the family some level of closure, John says.
But the finality of the discovery has been very painful as well.
“My youngest daughter (Amanda) is a complete mess. She’s just, she’s trying to get better,” he said.
It’s been difficult for Amanda’s four kids, his grandchildren. Ashley was their favourite aunt, he said.
“When they found out she was coming home, they thought she was coming home alive. So, they’ve got to deal with the death,” he said.
John said he has a good grasp on death as a natural part of life, but the way his daughter was taken from him is different.
“When something’s taken from you suddenly, you can’t really prepare for that shit. It’s just impossible.”
The secrecy of Favell and not knowing what happened to Ashley only made the years more difficult.
“You think every day, ‘Well, where is she? Am I going to see her walking up the street? Am I going to see her on the streets of Saudi Arabia? Will somebody say they just saw her in a crack house on the streets of Vancouver?’ ” he said.
“You just don’t know. Everybody tells you something and yet nobody’s telling you anything.”
Every time the family got a tip or heard a story the cycle of pain began all over again. John said the family received many psychic predictions about their daughter.
“(Amanda) would just jump on a plane when she got one and just go, and I’m saying, ‘You can’t do that.’ I did it for three years. It was always nothing. It’s the worst, worst feeling,” he said.
John said his oldest granddaughter has been having a very tough time.
“I actually took her the third year with me, we actually had a big session with the Indigenous women, just to show her what we were doing, that we weren’t just looking through pictures. We were actually plodding through land,” he said.
“But I think coming home empty-handed took a big toll on her.”
John said he has remained strong for his family through the last five years but is still unprepared for actually having his daughter’s remains brought home.
“That day is when it’s really gonna finally hit home. I’ve been pretty strong, trying to hide, cry at night or go somewhere, to be strong because I don’t want my kids to see me break down,” he said.
“But when I have to get up there and give my spiel about her (at the funeral), I think that’s gonna affect me most. That’s when they’re going to have to take me away.”
John remembers his daughter as a bubbly and adventurous woman.
“Everybody who met Ashley loved her. She had this ability to draw children to her, she was the best auntie, all my nieces loved her. My oldest grandson, he’s got her car and he’s still driving it.”
But Ashley was more than just a child for John, she actually worked with him as well.
“She was my protege. Anywhere I worked, Ashley would follow me,” he said.
John has worked his whole life as a cook, working aboard container ships and in remote work camps all over Canada and on the world’s oceans.
“If I needed somebody that I could depend on, she would come. I didn’t just lose a child, I lost a co-worker, the person who was gonna take over for me in my shoes. I don’t have that anymore. Everybody else is too busy. That’s a hard one for me.”
“When I finally have to (say goodbye), that’s when I’m gonna lose it,” John said, his eyes filling with tears.
The Simpson family faced extreme financial hardship trying to find Ashley. Donations can be made at gofund.me/45150a5f to help the family attend court cases in B.C. and bring Ashley home.
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