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Family of woman killed in Shuswap looks for ‘new normal’

Holding memorial service after daughter’s remains returned to Ontario from Salmon Arm brings comfort

Ashley Simpson’s remains sit nestled on a table in a corner of the Simpsons’ living room in a pretty purple urn adorned in dragonflies, one of her favourite creatures.

After more than five excruciating years of wondering where their beloved Ashley was, of searching fruitlessly for her, Cindy Mcgean Simpson, Ashley’s mother, said her family now has some relief.

Ashley, then 32, was reported to be last seen on April 27, 2016 on Yankee Flats Road near Silver Creek.

“We’re very happy she’s home,” said Cindy.

Ashley’s remains were discovered in what police called a wilderness area outside of Salmon Arm on Nov. 26, 2021.

Police officers flew to St. Catharines, Ont., where Cindy and Ashley’s dad, John, live, to tell them on Dec. 3 that her remains had been located. John flew to B.C. and back to bring them home.

Ashley will not be going to a cemetery for burial, said Cindy firmly, but with a touch of humour.

“I said listen, she’s been gone for five years and eight months – she’s grounded.”

On the walls surrounding the table where Ashley’s urn sits, and on the table itself, are special treasures the Simpsons have been given or kept. Crystals and dragon fly ornaments adorn a window.

Read more: Ashley Simpson’s father returns to find her

The family was finally able to hold a memorial for Ashley. It was held over two days, March 18 and 19, 2022, with the service itself the second day.

Cindy said there was a young woman there who neither she nor her daughters knew. When Cindy spoke to her, the woman said she knew Ashley in Grade 8 and had a photo of her. The woman said she would never forget Ashley’s smile.

“There were people that knew her, people that worked with her,” Cindy said.

The service was particularly hard for some, as the reality of Ashley’s death set in.

Twelve picture boards were there, showing photos throughout Ashley’s life. Stories and memories were shared throughout the two days.

Cindy said her oldest granddaughter, who was very close to Ashley and didn’t smile for a long time after she went missing, was concerned because, as time passed, she couldn’t remember her Auntie Ashley. Cindy told her not to worry, she would when the time was right.

Cindy was right; it finally happened and her granddaughter told her, “Noni, it was like a frickin’ movie in my head.”

Cindy said Ashley would sometimes call her a ‘witch,’ because she displayed psychic abilities. Cindy would sometimes get premonitions about things.

“I would say, ‘I don’t know what you have planned – don’t do it.’”

Although the pain of not finding Ashley is over, life, of course, has not returned to normal.

“Nothing will ever be so-called normal as it was. Now we have to focus on the new normals,” Cindy remarked.

But there will be no focusing on the new normal until the trial regarding Ashley’s death is over, she explained.

Ashley’s former boyfriend is charged with second-degree murder.

Cindy said now is the time for the family to save money, as they want to attend the trial in hopes of getting answers. She expressed gratitude for all the people who have helped her family over the past five years.

She said she and John are keeping busy with Wings of Mercy, a volunteer group which uses cutting-edge drone technology to help rural communities locate missing women, men and children.

Wings of Mercy worked to try to find clues to Ashley’s location. Cindy noted there are still many families who need help finding a daughter or son.

Read more: Missing Shuswap woman catalyst for new search technology

Read more: Read it, act on it: Shuswap First Nations react to national report on missing women

Cindy said a woman is missing in the area where she and John live; she thinks she is 32 just as Ashley was.

She introduced herself to the missing woman’s family and tried to prepare them for what’s coming.

Cindy said not everyone is nice and helpful when your daughter is missing and she knows from experience the missing person’s family may undergo a roller coaster of emotions.

“You never know where you’re going to be,” she said.

Cindy also provided a piece of advice that was key for her.

“The first thing is, try and stay away from the ‘what ifs’ as you will always question yourself. ‘What if I called her?’ My example is, I talked to Ashley that morning on the 27th.”

She didn’t realize it until a year later when a social media reminder came up.

Cindy said she had offered Ashley money for a plane ticket when she spoke to her that day, the last day she was seen.

“What if I made her (come home), what if I had sent the money?”

‘What ifs’ are not helpful, she emphasized.

Cindy said it’s also hard when the police can’t tell you anything other than, ‘we’re working on it, it’s an open investigation.’

“I had no idea they found her or that they were that close. I understand now why.”

Cindy said some people think she’s ‘crazy’ but she said Ashley talks to her.

“And that makes me feel good. She has her little word she says. It’s such a gift.”

Cindy has also felt comforted when she’s out working on the container ships. She said a ship could be out in the middle of Lake Superior, and suddenly dragon flies will show up. The crew has told her it only happens when she’s there.

“That’s my daughter coming to tell me to have a good day.”
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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