Warning: This story contains disturbing content.

VANCOUVER - Exploring Canada was a special dream for Amelie Sakkalis of Belgium, according to her mother.

That dream came to a brutal end in August 2018, when the 28-year-old was violently sexually assaulted and murdered by a man who had offered her a ride to her next destination: Vancouver.

Sean McKenzie of Oliver has now been sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder. McKenzie, who was 27 years old at the time of the offence, will not be eligible for parole for 23 years, which is close to the maximum amount of time possible under the law.

Members of Sakkalis’s family travelled from Belgium for his sentencing in New Westminster Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Sakkalis’s mother and sister read emotional victim impact statements. Her mother Anne Delory told the court Sakkalis loved to travel and discover different cultures.

“She could not stand violence against women, migrants or any kind of injustice. She wanted everyone to have the freedom to enjoy life,” Delory said.

Delory told the court Sakkalis wanted to discover “your beautiful country for herself.”

“I was terrified every time she went travelling alone, but when you love your children, you let them live their dreams.”

Madam Justice Martha Devlin described how Sakkalis arrived in Canada on a work visa in November 2017, and travelled the country working various jobs. She eventually ended up in Penticton working as a fruit-picker.

According to the agreed statement of facts, on Aug. 22 of last year, Sakkalis left Penticton intending to travel to Vancouver. She hitchhiked to the community of Hedley, where she was picked up by McKenzie.

At some point along the drive, McKenzie abruptly attacked Sakkalis when they were parked in a highway pullout. Sakkalis fought back against him, but was eventually bound and confined in the back of his van.

Crown prosecutor Louise Kenworthy told the court over the next two hours, she was sexually assaulted in an attack described as prolonged, brutal, sadistic and unprovoked.

The statement of facts describes how Sakkalis tried to escape, but was eventually taken to a wooded area north of Boston Bar where McKenzie stabbed her 42 times.

Devlin told the court Sakkalis had injuries indicating she fought for her life.

“No doubt, the last hours of Miss Sakkalis’s young life were terrifying, as she desperately struggled with Mr. McKenzie,” said Devlin.

The court heard McKenzie then called 911, initially describing himself as an additional victim of the crime as well. He eventually confessed to police.

McKenzie’s lawyer Troy Anderson said his client cannot explain why he did what he did.

“He has no answer,” Anderson told the court. He said McKenzie told him he has “made the world a darker place” through his actions, and acknowledges he can never make that right.

Devlin asked McKenzie if he had anything to say. McKenzie, wearing a red sweatsuit, stood and said his counsel had covered it and that it was difficult to get the words out. He did not offer an apology in that moment, but Anderson said he is remorseful.

“When he confessed, that was showing remorse, when he pleaded guilty, that was showing remorse, when he agreed to a very, very harsh sentence, that’s showing remorse,” Anderson said outside court, and added McKenzie has no criminal history.

“He acknowledged there’s a price to be paid for committing a terrible act and he’s paying that price now.”

The request for 23 years of parole ineligibility was part of a joint sentencing submission from crown and defence. Crown also asked for McKenzie to be added to the federal sex offender registry, which was granted by the judge.

Sakkalis’s sister Justine told the court everything has changed since she lost her only sibling.

“My entire life is in shambles,” she said, and added she was eagerly awaiting being reunited with her sister after both had gone travelling at different times, only to have those hopes shattered.

“I had bought souvenirs for her. I left them on her bed, waiting for her return,” she said.

Delory told the court sometimes she still looks at her phone hoping for a message from her daughter.

“But the harsh reality then catches me quickly when I look towards our garden in her flowerbed where her ashes rest,” she said, and added every night, she kisses a small box containing some more of her daughter’s cremated remains. She said she also has a little “Canadian” teddy bear, which she hugs tightly to try and fall asleep.

“We died with Amelie, now we struggle to survive each day.”