In 2008, B.C.'s Allan Dwayne Schoenborn smothered and stabbed his three children to death.
Their mother, Darcie Clarke, found her three children in their Merritt home. The children's bodies were arranged to look as if they were sleeping — the boys, Cordon and Max, were together on a couch, their sister Kaitlynne on a bed.
He wrote: "Forever Young" in soy sauce on the living room wall. The exact words were scribbled in blood on one of Kaitlynne's pillowcases. "Gone to Neverland," scrawled on the other.
They were five, eight and 10, respectively.
At trial, Schoenborn claimed he was not criminally responsible for his actions.
He explained to the B.C. Supreme Court judge that killing them was the only way to save them from a life of abuse. He believed his children were at risk of becoming drug users, addicted to pornography, and victims of physical and sexual abuse.
He told the court that his last act of kindness was separating the children before he murdered them so they wouldn't be aware of what was happening, resist him or escape. He waited until they were asleep to carry out the killings.
The judge ruled that Schoenborn had spent considerable time thinking about whether or not to kill his children and that he understood what he was doing.
The law, the judge said, does not recognize an "altruistic defence" to murder, including what you perceive to be a fate worse than death — whether it's physical and sexual abuse, a life of drug addiction, or pain and suffering from a debilitating disease.
As a result, the judge said, the Crown had proven first-degree murder but that Schoenborn was not criminally responsible due to a mental health disorder.
Not criminally responsible
Psychiatrists testifying said Schoenborn had a major mental disorder — most likely a delusional disorder with some symptoms of schizophrenia, which accounted for marked fluctuations in his mental state. As such, the conclusions he arrived at were ones no rational person would reach.
One doctor said Schoenborn's ongoing delusions included his wife having an affair and his children being sexually abused or potentially exposed to drugs. There were also going "olfactory" delusions, including his claims of smelling semen on his hat and in his children's hair.
Further, the judge said Schoenborn lacked insight into himself and his mental illness. He called Schoenborn incredibly self-absorbed and self-centred and noted he was more concerned about himself and his feelings than anything else.
In the end, Schoenborn was placed in a mental health institution. Three years to the day after the children's deaths, the B.C. Review Board granted him restricted, escorted access to the community through day leaves.
In 2017, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Martha Devlin rejected an application to have Schoenborn designated a high-risk accused. Devlin said Schoenborn didn't pose a high enough risk to cause grave physical or psychological harm to another person.
The resulting public outcry was loud and immediate.
A history of warning signs
Tragically, there had been multiple warnings that all was not well with Schoenborn before the murders.
His mental health struggles began at age 18 when he was diagnosed with a psychotic episode. At the time, he believed he was talking to Jesus and God; he also feared his father's girlfriend, who he thought looked like a robot and had been speaking to him through the TV. Initially, Schoenborn thought he was having LSD flashbacks.
By 1993, he had settled down and married Clarke, but problems arose when she told him she was pregnant with Kaitlynne.
Clarke had announced in front of a mutual friend, but Schoenborn became suspicious as he thought it should have been done privately. As such, he began to believe the friend was the father. It became an obsession, with him repeatedly accusing Clarke of affairs and reading into innocuous events.
Over time, he began to believe Clarke and an imagined lover were attempting to poison Kaitlynne with a drugged oral medicine. To stop it, he consumed the entire tube.
In another episode, he took Kaitlynne for a drive, where she fell asleep. He believed it was because she was drugged and rushed her, at high speed, towards the hospital, getting into an accident on the way. Once there, he demanded she be tested for drugs and sexual abuse.
Schoenborn was taken to New Westminster's Royal Columbian Hospital for a mental assessment. He was released against the wishes of the treating psychiatrist after another doctor concluded that he was no longer psychotic and that he could not be held. He left without continuing medication or any further treatment.
He told one doctor he had been mistaken about his concerns for the child.
Soon, he began suspecting Clarke of cheating again after noticing odd smells. After an altercation, he was charged with sexual assault. He breached a no-drinking bail condition shortly after and was charged again.
The Ministry of Children and Families became involved due to fears for the children's safety.
Clarke left with the children, moving to Merritt, while Schoenborn remained in the Lower Mainland but drove there for visits.
However, as 2007 rolled in, his mental health was deteriorating.
He began hearing voices and believed some transmitter had been placed in his teeth or brain. Schoenborn also thought he heard Clarke talking to people in the washroom, but no one was there when he checked. He thought someone was listening outside and tried to catch them. He believed his cellphone was bugged and quit using it. He began to believe Clarke was involved in the drug business or controlled by drug lords.
He wrote a letter to his children's school in crayon, a missive considered odd and kept on file.
Erratic behaviour in the days leading up
On April 1, 2008, Schoenborn visited his children's school, where his behaviour was anxious and nervous.
Later the same day, he was outside a ministry office for an outstanding warrant. Despite that, neither a social worker nor a bail supervisor detected anything wrong with him.
On April 2, Schoenborn got in an altercation with someone on the bus. He then confronted a dispatcher who feared Schoenborn was going to attack him.
His next stop was to visit the Merritt RCMP detachment to tell them he knew they were watching him. Police arrested him in the parking lot for being drunk in public.
On April 3, Schoenborn returned to the school anxious about the children. While there, he confronted the principal, who noted his speech was disjointed, short and choppy. He was jumping from topic to topic, and his thoughts weren't connected.
The principal allowed him to call the police. The operator who handled the call told the constable Schoenborn sounded like he was losing it. At the same time, a school staffer called the police about Schoenborn.
He was arrested and charged with uttering threats.
At this point, Schoenborn began to think there was a conspiracy between the ministry, the school and the police.
Despite three arrests in a week, police did not act further, and on April 4, ministry staff again reported that they had no issues with his behaviour. These interactions, however, would come under heavy criticism three years later.
In her review of the case, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the then-representative for Children and Youth, said the ministry failed to meet its mandate to protect the Schoenborn children and that gaps and shortcomings in the mental health system failed the family.
Their deaths could have been avoided, said Turpel-Lafond, if the social safety net had functioned properly.
That final weekend
The weekend of April 5 and 6 arrived, and Schoenborn spent both days with the children. They had spent the last afternoon flying kites, but Schoenborn became agitated.
Clarke had told him she had no interest in reconciling, she had also been late with the children, and Kaitlynne had been on the phone with someone.
When he put the children to bed, Schoenborn said he believed Max's hair smelled like semen. He began to worry once again the children were being molested.
Unable to sleep, he called Clarke and asked her to come over — being careful about what he said as he thought the phones were monitored. She refused.
At that point, Schoenborn said he had run into a brick wall trying to protect his children. He could not walk away nor kill himself. He decided all he could do was prevent them from living such a life.
He separated them, and once dead, he attempted to kill himself several ways without success. Afraid Clarke would find him before he could die, Schoenborn left the house and self-injured himself in a snowbank while hiding.
After a 10-day manhunt, Schoenborn was confronted by a man after he emerged from hiding, overcome by hunger and wanting to find Clarke to explain what he had done. He admitted to the killings and stayed put until police could arrive.
Schoenborn later mentioned seeing Kaitlynne's spirit while in prison. He said she told him that she forgave him and that this comforted him. If she could forgive him, so could the boys. It was now just between him and God.