'I missed you so much': The short, tragic life of Alysha Paul

The day before Alysha Paul was supposed to write her final exam at Fredericton High School, she went into labour with her first child. 

Laurie Paul urged her teenage daughter to accept a ride to the hospital.

"She wouldn't," said Paul.

Alysha was determined to graduate.

"She went and she did the exam before she had the baby."

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Paul, a mother of three from Kingsclear First Nation, stubbornly tried to build a solid life for her children, despite struggles with addiction, anxiety, and domestic abuse.

That life never materialized.

On Sept. 7, just hours after finishing a five-month stint in provincial jail, Paul was killed by a truck while crossing Route 102 — a dangerous stretch of the old Trans-Canada Highway that divides the tiny Wolastoqey community, about 15 kilometres west of Fredericton.

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Now Paul's family and three children — Tayden, 8, Tess, 6 and Jayce, 4 — are mourning a young mom who died before she could defeat her demons. 

"It's the most painful thing I have ever, ever, ever went through in my life," her mother said.

Wrong crowd

Paul loved music, taking photos, giving her friends makeovers and looking after her older sister, who has health issues. 

But two years ago, she "started getting into the wrong crowd [and] doing drugs," her mother said.

She "had anxiety about everything about herself," her mother said — including her name, Alyssia, which she preferred to spell Alysha.

Julia Wright / CBC

In dark moments she often turned to her father, Dick Paul.

"She was always daddy's girl," Laurie said. "She would ask him for guidance on things if she was feeling down, and he would talk to her and help lift her back up again."

Her relationship with the father of her children, high school boyfriend, Mike Wilchuck, turned toxic. Their fights escalated to physical abuse.

In 2016, Wilchuck was charged with assaulting Paul and breaching a court order not to contact her. Later, he was sentenced to eight years in jail for an unrelated assault case. 

She was prescribed medication, but found it hard to commit to taking it regularly.

"She tried to function the best she could," her mother said. "She never saw the beauty that everybody else saw in her."

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'I tried everything'

As their mother struggled, Paul's three children came to live with their grandparents.

"I tried everything I could to get her out of her addiction, to help her," her mother said

"I really tried hard. Took her shopping, made sure she was eating." 

She did a stint in jail for theft, then went to rehab — which seemed to be working — until  "she got back into the hard stuff again." 

Julia Wright / CBC

She stole a car and was sentenced to five months in the New Brunswick Women's Correctional Centre.

In jail, Paul seemed to be on a better path — attending group sessions and sweat lodges, and learning about traditional Maliseet spirituality. 

I've read that she's just a dead Indian on the side of the road. That's not true. Yes, she's an Indian, and she was proud of who she was. She was so much more than that. - Laurie Paul, mother of Alysha Paul

She started a group called the Women's Society to encourage fellow inmates "who had struggles like she did," her mother said.

During outside time, she'd scour the ground for four-leaf clovers — which, her mother said, she hoped would "turn her luck around."

'Please don't ever go away again'

Better luck seemed to have arrived the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 7.

Alysha was coming home to to Kingsclear.  

Her sister picked her up at the correctional centre in Miramichi. Before the Jeep stopped in front of their parents' house, Alysha "jumped out, she was crying, she wanted to see her babies so bad," her mother said.

Julia Wright / CBC

She ran up the stairs of the house into her father's arms.

"They were both just crying. He was hugging her and she was hugging him, and she was so happy to see him," her mother said.

"I said, 'Please don't ever go away again, I missed you so much,'" said Laurie.

"She said, 'I won't.'"

Hours later, Alysha was dead. 

'Is that someone I know?'

Laurie went to check on Alysha, who was was spending the night at her sister's place, at 9:30 p.m. 

Nearing the store on Route 102, she saw unusual activity.

"A lot of cars and lights," said Paul. "Something was going on but I didn't know what."

In the pitch black in front of the store, she could see a body lying on the highway, wearing a purple jacket and white pants she recognized as belonging to her daughter, Jess.

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She stopped a woman she knew. "I said, 'Is that Jessica?' She said 'No … it's the other one."

Jessica arrived moments later.  She "went over to her [sister] and laid down with her," Laurie said. "She wanted her to wake up."

RCMP later informed Laurie that Alysha Paul had been struck by a pickup truck while crossing the highway.

She died instantly.

Julia Wright / CBC

'I'm so proud of her'

A memorial of flowers, cards and balloons marks the place where Paul died.

On a white cross hangs a wreath of red, black, white and yellow roses and lilies, the colours of Kingsclear First Nation. The women from NBWCC have sent handwritten notes on four-leaf clover paper — a nod to the good luck Alysha was looking for.

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Her death has prompted calls for better safety measures, lighting and a lower speed limit on the highway, which cuts directly through two residential neighbourhoods.

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Paul isn't the first young person from Kingsclear First Nation to be hit on Route 102.

In Aug. 2015, 28-year-old Robbie Polchies suffered broken ribs and a cracked skull after a hit-and-run on the same stretch of highway.

No charges have been laid in either case. RCMP have said that alcohol and speed are not believed to have been factors in Paul's death. 

Paul wants to see better safety measures on the road. But as she and her husband prepare to raise Alysha's three children, Laurie Paul wants people to remember her daughter as she will. 

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"She was kind, compassionate. She wasn't always that way. But during her struggles, something changed with her," Paul said.

"She was sad, and she didn't want other people to feel that way. And I'm so proud of her."

Julia Wright / CBC

Paul wants to address online comments claiming her daughter was suicidal and stood in the middle of the road so the truck could hit her.

"I've read that she's 'just a dead Indian on the side of the road,'" said Paul. 

"That's not true.Yes, she's an Indian, and she was proud of who she was. She was so much more than that."

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