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She played the recording of her mother’s voice over and over again.
“I love you,” it said.
It was Tuesday morning shortly after the 5 a.m. death of the mother, Barbara Kentner, 34. When the daughter, Serena, 16, entered the St. Joseph’s hospice room and saw her mother lifeless on the bed she pleaded for her mother to stay.
“Mom don’t leave me, please don’t leave me, you can’t leave me…breathe, breathe, breath,” said Serena, according to her aunt Melissa Kentner who was there.
Serena then played a recording of her mother’s voice.
“She was sitting with her mom, her mom’s body right there and I couldn’t…I had to tell her to shut it off,” said Melissa Kentner, 37. “Serena just wanted to lay in bed with her…. She said, ‘Aunty, her body is cold, I want it to be warm again.’”
At this moment in the retelling, Kentner began to sob. She was sitting on a stone wall on a point overlooking Thunder Bay, the Sleeping Giant Island against the blue horizon.
It was a difficult Friday. There were the funeral preparations—writing the obituary, choosing the flowers, picking out the clothes—amidst uncertainty. It was unclear when Barbara Kentner’s body would be released by the Coroner’s office and returned to Thunder Bay. The body was in Toronto Friday for an autopsy to determine whether the trailer hitch fired from a passing car that wounded Barbara Kentner also caused her death.
There is clear link for the family, but Thunder Bay police were awaiting the results before deciding whether the aggravated assault charge against Brayden Bushby, 18, would be upgraded to murder.
“I am so tired,” said Melissa Kentner.
A little over five months earlier, shortly after 1 a.m., on Sunday, Jan. 29, after a night of visiting, Barbara and Melissa Kentner crossed McKenzie Street. They noticed a car idling a up the street. There were four young people in the car.
Melissa Kentner said she was walking ahead of her sister when she saw the car advance and a young man hang out, up to his torso, from the front passenger window. There was no immediate sense of menace. In Thunder Bay, drive-by racial harassment, along with the occasional tossed egg, is part of the landscape if you’re Anishinabee.
Then she heard, “I got one,” then the sound of a heavy object hitting the cold pavement, a car speeding away.
She turned around and saw her sister bent over and a trailer hitch on the ground. They did not know the impact from the heavy iron object had ruptured Barbara Kentner’s small intestine.
The moment altered their lives, forever; lives rooted in Thunder Bay and specifically within an eight block radius of the spot where Barbara Kentner was attacked. This was the part of the city where they grew up.
“We lived in this neighborhood. I used to live in this house,” said Melissa Kentner, pointing to a house a few dozen feet from where the attack occurred. “It just bothers me. We grew up in this neighbourhood.”
Melissa Kentner is the matriarch of her family. The oldest of four biological sisters, she is the organizational driving force behind the funeral preparations for Barbara Kentner who she cared for after their mother Mildred Kentner died in 2004 at age 43 from multiple myeloma. Their father, Roy Boucher, died at 50 two years earlier from a heart-attack.
“I had no choice but to step in and take care of my sisters all at once. I didn’t mind it though because my parents have taught us, once they are gone all we are going to have is each other to depend on,” said Melissa Kentner. “That is why I say they are my babies, yeah they are my babies.”
And now she prepared to bury one of her babies.
When Kentner stopped by the Jenkens Funeral Home director Kristen Gordon said she didn’t know when Barbara Kentner’s body would be prepared for the final journey from Toronto back to Thunder Bay. She still hadn’t heard from the funeral home in Toronto that would be handling the transfer. It was still unclear whether the autopsy was completed.
“It is just so hard to book because I don’t know what is happening,” said Gordon.
They agreed to set the funeral date for Wednesday, but it depended on the coroner releasing the body by Monday at the latest so the family could perform a planned traditional ceremony the night before the funeral, said Gordon.
“Wednesday is making more sense to me now that I think about you having to come the day before anyways for you to do your cultural thing for her body then I need to come in and dress her, so Wednesday is looking best for you, for me and Toronto,” said Gordon.
After discussing the funeral date, Kentner handed Gordon the clothes the family wanted Barbara Kentner to wear. Melissa Kentner draped a white patterned blouse, a white camisole and black slacks—all picked out by Serena—over the back of an armchair. Then she placed two moccasins with beaded bear paws atop the armchair cushion. The moccasins were purchased with fundraised dollars by local college students. Barbara Kentner tried them on before her death.
“I want my sister buried with them. She wore them before. She said they are beautiful,” said Melissa Kentner.
After she was wounded that January morning, Barbara Kentner wanted to wait before going to the hospital. She thought maybe she would feel better in the morning. But the pain grew worse. Her belly swelled and she could hardly speak.
“When we got to the hospital they said if we would have waited another hour Barb could have been dead,” said Melissa Kentner. “I felt lost when I found out that.”
Barbara Kentner went in for surgery at 10 p.m. until 3 a.m.
“When Barb came out of it she had a bunch of drain tubes and everything in her belly. They told me that they repaired her small intestine because it was ruptured. They took out a foot of her intestines,” said Kentner.
Kentner said the doctor told her the surgery failed to clean out all the matter that had leeched from the rupture which had led to a fungus growth that would eventually consume her organs and muscle mass.
“My sister was so boney she didn’t look like herself at the end. In a couple of months she lost so much weight. That was how sick she was,” she said.
Barbara Kentner was given a few weeks to live, but she turned it into months before her body failed.
“My sister is a fighter, she didn’t want to die yet, she cried all the time, she didn’t want to go yet,” said Melissa Kentner. “This time she knew she was going to go. She felt it inside, she said it felt like her body was starting to turn to mush. She was starting to have more dreams of my mother and my father.”
Barbara Kentner was out on bail with Melissa Kentner acting as her surety during those first hours of that Sunday in January when slow death came from a trailer hitch fired from the window of a car. Barbara Kentner was facing a charge of obstruction of justice, intimidating a Crown witness and assault. All the charges stemmed from the same Nov. 8, 2016, incident. Melissa Kentner said her sister was wrongfully accused.
“It’s not true,” said Kentner. “My sister, yeah sure she was there, but my sister didn’t do anything. My sister was intoxicated at the time. How can someone be that intoxicated, barely walk, and still manage to kick somebody?”
The court documents on the charges were posted on social media triggering racist comments.
“Putting people down when they just passed away and saying a bunch of stuff about people, just has no remorse for anybody,” said Kentner.
Melissa Kentner said her sister did have her troubles and demons, but she kicked a drug habit along with methadone and Suboxone.
“She ended up getting off of that all by herself and she was clean for a long time,” she said. “But I don’t want to remember her like that. I want to remember her for all the fun times we had joking around. Barb was so fun to hang around with. She would make you laugh and joke around. She is such a caring person.”
And she was pulling her life together.
“She didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to die this young, she wanted to die later. She wanted to see her grandkids,” said Melissa Kentner. “She wanted to have another baby.”
Barbara Kentner was the second youngest of the four Kentner sisters. She was born on Aug. 21, 1982, at the now demolished Port Arthur General Hospital in Thunder Bay.
“My cousin…reminded me the other day…about making mud pies. We used to try to get mom and dad to eat them but me, I succeeded in getting my sister Barbara to eat them,” said Kentner. “My sister Barb remembers all this stuff I used to do to her when we were younger. We just laugh about it, the things we used to do.”
Barbara Kentner grew closest to Melissa Kentner who helped raise Serena.
“Her daughter calls me aunty mom. I raised her for seven years out of her life,” said Melissa Kentner. “Even Serena is like, with my mom, she goes, it’s like she’s not my mom, it’s like she’s my best friend. Me and Barb, we get along more together than my other two sisters. Me and her, we click. We used to fight and argue. But we still love each other, you know.”
Barbara Kentner was also able to find levity amid her darkening horizon.
“Barb was just a unique person, so caring and loving, I just enjoyed it, the weird things that we did and we just laughed about it,” said Melissa Kentner. “The last little bit when she was getting sick she used to say about her boobs and her bum. She would say feel my bum, it is all deformed, and stuff like that because she lost all her weight.”
It was her way.
Melissa Kentner said she often thinks about the three others in that vehicle and how they could have stopped the attack, but didn’t.
“I think they should all be charged. They could have stopped him. Eggs and everything is one thing, but throwing a trailer hitch, something that heavy and intending to hurt somebody, that is another thing,” she said. “After I lay my sister to rest I am going all out. I want to make sure these other three kids get charged. If it was four Native kids, all four of them would still be in jail waiting for trial and everything else. But they are white kids. It’s sad, even the police system, they don’t do much to help out; sad sick and gross.”
Kentner said she shared her concerns with Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs who visited on Thursday to personally give his condolences for Barbara Kentner’s passing. Hobbs, who came alone, stayed for about 30 minutes.
“He said it made him sick how people treated Native people,” said Melissa Kentner.
Kentner said she was told by one of the detectives handling the case that two of the car’s passengers turned themselves in the day after the attack, but not the driver or the one who threw the trailer hitch.
“The (detectives) said they were still investigating, they didn’t contact us back after all of that,” she said. “They said charges are pending. And I still wonder, how long is this pending going to be? I still feel that they should also be charged. After I lay my sister to rest I am going to work on getting them all charged.”
According to court records, Bushby, the young man facing the aggravated assault charge in connection with the trailer hitch attack, was given a no-contact order that included the names of three other local young people: Kassidy Hartley, Jordan Crupi and Nathan Antonisyzn.
Kentner still often passes by that spot on McKenzie Street.
“I walk by it all the time, it hurts,” she said. “I have to lay my baby down to rest and she’s with my mom and dad now, and she shouldn’t be. She is leaving her 16-year-old daughter.”
Bushby is scheduled to appear in court Monday.