Twenty-one-year-old Justin Brooks was a new father, a son, the eldest brother of his family, a nephew and a cousin.
But since Justin mysteriously lost his life on the chilly early morning of March 4, his family has been left to mourn the loss without any answers as to why it happened.
Justin was found deceased in the Prince Rupert harbour by the Rotary Waterfront Park early that Monday morning. A month later Justin’s family was informed the coroner’s service determined there were no “serious injuries” that would contribute to his death, and foul play was ruled out.
RCMP did tell the family there was a group of people who admitted to assaulting Justin that night, but said they left him alive by the old CN station.
Cheryl Ryan, Justin’s mother, said when she was told all the witnesses stories lined up by RCMP, she told them she wished they could take Justin’s statement. Because RCMP cannot, his family has vowed to talk for him.
“We are Justin’s voice. We have to speak up for him because he’s no longer here to give his side of the story,” Sheri Latimer, Justin’s aunt, said.
“I know it wasn’t an accident. He didn’t know how to swim, and he wouldn’t go near the water,” Ryan said.
The family said RCMP won’t release the names of those who allegedly assaulted Justin. They’re more upset that the individuals who attacked Justin haven’t been charged with anything.
“How could they beat someone and not get any charges? You could see the lumps on his head from what they did to him when we viewed him at the Ferguson Funeral Home,” Ryan said.
“They’re walking around and thinking they got away with it. I’m not going to stop until justice is done.”
The last family member to speak with Justin was his father, with Justin telling him he was going to meet up with co-workers.
Justin worked at Chances for approximately one year, but did not attend work the next morning on March 4.
Ryan said she had invited her son Justin to come to their new place in Lax Kw’alaams the weekend of his passing, but he declined because he had to work on Monday.
“If he just came… That’s what I keep thinking, and it hurts,” Ryan said.
Justin was raised in a tight-knit, large family and while they acknowledge they can never have him back, they hope they can at least get closure. Latimer said they don’t want Justin’s eight-month-old baby boy, Lucas, growing up without knowing what happened to his father.
“He sees his dad’s picture and reaches for him because his dad always packed him. He gets excited when he sees his dad’s picture… My son will never be able to hold his baby again,” an emotional Ryan said.
“Justin will be missing out on a lot, like his first birthday and all those first things dads take part in,” Sheri added.
Justin’s family doesn’t buy into the idea that Justin went onto the rocks on the waterfront, and slipped into the ocean. His family said if he had slipped, he wouldn’t have ended up in the water.
Peter Wesley, Justin’s stepfather, looked into what the tides were that night, and said low tide was approximately 11 p.m., and high tide was approximately 5 a.m.
“[RCMP] said this happened at about one or 2:30 a.m., and that’s a few hour difference before high tide,” Wesley said.
Wesley went down to the waterfront to investigate on a day with a very similar tide.
“I was down there to see the two-and-a-half and three hour difference, snapping pictures… Even if he slipped and fell these rocks would’ve stopped him and the water didn’t go up that high,” Wesley said.
The family also said Justin wasn’t suicidal, experiencing two focal points of his life in the last year, the first being the birth of his son.
A few weeks after, one of Justin’s lifelong dreams came true. He and family members got to see Metallica, his all-time favourite band, perform live in Vancouver.
“That was one of the big highlights for all our lives, especially Justin,” Latimer said.
His mother remembers Justin as being a cheerful and caring young man who volunteered at the Friendship House, helping out with the elders.
“He was happy… He was always smiling,” Ryan said.
Since the family was told foul play has been ruled out they have decided to seek answers for themselves, planning a number of fund and awareness raising events to put toward hiring a private investigator and a cash reward for anyone giving vital information as to what happened to Justin that early March morning.
Justin’s family will be holding a candlelight ceremony at the Rotary Waterfront Park, close to where Justin was discovered, on May 4 at 8 p.m. The family of 16-year-old Emmalee Rose Mclean, who was found partially submerged in the waterfront along George Hills Way in 2010, and the family of 13-year old Kayla Rose McKay, who was found deceased along the waterfront in 2004, have been invited to take part in the ceremony.
“All of our stories are similar. They haven’t gotten justice either,” Ryan said.
Justin’s relatives are hoping to find a dance group that will do a blanket dance at the ceremony.
On top of the candlelight ceremony, the family has started organizing a 50/50 and Loonie Auction and are currently calling out for prize donations, and are taking orders for “Justice for Justin” T-shirts. Anyone interested helping out in anyway or purchasing items from the fundraisers are asked to contact Sheri Latimer at 250-622-2989.
Additionally, an account has been set up at Scotia Bank in Prince Rupert for donations.
In the meantime, Justin’s family is pleading with anyone involved to come forward.
“We want to know why we had to bury him… We shouldn’t have had to do that,” Ryan said.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the local RCMP detachment, or Crime Stoppers.
The Prince Rupert RCMP declined comment for this story.