It’s been 30 years since David Ennis murdered six members of a Westbank family, but time hasn’t lessened the impact his violent act made on the community, say those behind a campaign to keep him behind bars
“It changed us,” said Tammy Arishenkoff, a classmate and friend of Janet Johnson, the oldest of two sisters who were kidnapped, abused and ultimately killed by Ennis, days after he murdered their parents and grandparents.
“I met with our Grade 7 teacher (Tuesday) for a few hours, and we were talking about how our innocence died that summer. Westbank was a small town in 1982 … everybody knew everybody and that put a black cloud over everything.”
Ennis, who was known as David Shearing until a name-change, was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 25 years for murdering George and Edith Bentley, Jackie and Bob Johnson, and their daughters Janet,13, and Karen, 11, in August 1982.
The family was on a camping trip to Wells Gray park, but when they didn’t return home as scheduled police launched an extensive search.
The charred remains of the family’s car were found on the side of a mountain about a month after the search got underway. The family’s bodies were inside and when Ennis was captured by police, he confessed to the grisley chain of events that ended there.
At 53, Ennis has spent the bulk of his life in prison paying for his crimes.
He failed at a 2008 attempt to get parole, and is expected to take a second run for release at a Sept.18 hearing at the Bowden Institute, where he’s housed.
If Arishenkoff and the others who have continually fought to keep him there have their way, it won’t happen.
In 2008 she was part of a movement to launch a letter writing campaign and 12,000 signatures later, it was clear where the community stood on the matter.
This time the direction of their efforts remains to be seen, but Arishenkoff is determined to make sure that the Central Okanagan remembers the Bentley and Johnson families and the brutal way they were taken from the community.
“I’m hoping to keep this alive for as long as I can,” she said. “I made a commitment to to the family. There are many people involved, but the family is getting older and they need younger people to step up and fight for justice.”
To meet that aim, she’ll be delivering a victim impact statement at the September hearing.
She’s also contacted Michael Eastham, a now retired RCMP sergeant who was on the scene when the bodies were found, to help rally support in an effort to get Ennis’s parole denied.
A candlelight vigil for the family will also be held in August to help keep the Bentley and Johnson families memory alive as the hearing nears.
“We’re not sitting by … we’ll never let anything go with this,” she said. “We just want to focus our energy in the right place.”
To follow the campaign as it evolves a Facebook page titled Keep David Shearing Ennis in Prison has been put together. In a matter of days Arishenkoff should have a clear idea on what she needs from the community.