Sisters found slain on Christmas were subject of custody dispute
Published Wednesday, December 27, 2017 3:28PM PST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 27, 2017 6:36PM PST
The parents of the two young Oak Bay, B.C. siblings who were found dead on Christmas Day were involved in a custody battle last year, according to public court documents.
The bodies of six-year-old Chloe Berry and her four-year-old sister, Aubrey, were discovered in an apartment near the Vancouver Island community's marina on Monday evening. According to a family friend, the girls' mother contacted police after their father failed to deliver them to her on Christmas as planned.
"There was an arrangement made," Trisha Lees told reporters Wednesday. "There was a time that he was supposed to drop the children off but he didn't come."
A man CTV News has identified as the children’s father, Andrew Berry, was also found with undisclosed injuries and taken to hospital, where he remains days later. Police said he is not in their custody.
No charges have been laid, but the tragic incident is being investigated as a possible double-homicide and suicide attempt. Police have said they are not currently seeking any further suspects.
Few other details have been released, including the sisters’ suspected cause of death, but some information is coming to light about their home life.
Public documents show that in November 2016, the girls' parents went to B.C. Supreme Court to argue over parenting time, child support and asset division. The father was years behind on payments at that time.
During the five-day trial, the mother, Sarah Cotton, raised concerns about Berry’s parenting and outlined a handful of incidents where he allegedly acted aggressively toward her, one of which resulted in a restraining order.
Cotton testified that a few weeks after she revealed she wanted to end their relationship, he threw clothes at her and started "hitting her with a belt." She also alleged he "threw a drink in anger and intimidated her" during an argument about child care spending, according to the court documents.
It wasn’t until September 2013, when he allegedly jumped on her and pinned her to their bed, that the father was arrested and entered into a peace bond that required he stay away from the girls and their mother. It was later amended to allow him parenting time.
There were no allegations of aggression toward their daughters heard at the trial.
"The father's aggressive behaviour around the time of separation and during some exchanges of the children has been transient and relatively minor," the documents read. "It has not been directed at the children but may have affected their well-being because they have sometimes been present."
The Ministry of Children and Family Development was also twice involved in the family’s disputes. Both times the father was allowed to continue seeing the girls, though his visits were temporarily required to be supervised.
It appears the father’s financial trouble continued into 2017; separate court documents filed in August show he was being sued by Vancouver City Savings Credit Union over $12,700 in credit card charges and interest.
In Oak Bay, a seaside municipality of about 18,000 people located just east of Victoria, the girls' deaths cast a dark shadow over an otherwise joyful holiday. A makeshift memorial of flowers has been laid near the police tape cordoning off the crime scene.
"We're all just heartbroken for Sarah and for ourselves, too," Trisha Lees said.
Family friends describe Cotton as an exceptionally loving parent whose magnetic personality was already shining through her young daughters. Though she is devastated by grief, she's getting by thanks to an outpouring of support from her community, Lees said.
"What I said to her yesterday is, it's kind of a minute-by-minute thing," Lees told reporters Wednesday. "Don't worry about what might happen next hour or next week or next year, but let's just worry about how you're feeling right now."
A candlelight vigil will be held for the two girls at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Willows Beach.
"There are no words to express the sadness we feel for the loss of these two young girls and how to truly comfort the profound grief of their family," Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said in a statement Wednesday.
"None of us escapes the impacts of such and inexplicable tragedy so close to home. We must also support each other during this time."
With files from CTV Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim