Remember the girl who loved her family, her artwork and trains, says grieving dad of slain Alberta teen

·4 min read
Dale Winkler says his daughter, Jennifer, was a smart and talented teen surrounded by good friends. (Submitted by Dale Winkler - image credit)
Dale Winkler says his daughter, Jennifer, was a smart and talented teen surrounded by good friends. (Submitted by Dale Winkler - image credit)

The first call came from the father of his daughter's best friend.

His daughter, Jennifer, had been hurt in an incident at her Leduc, Alta., high school. An air ambulance was on its way to airlift her to hospital in Edmonton.

Dale Winkler left his job in Camrose an hour away, and drove toward Leduc, a city just south of Edmonton. As he approached, he received another call. The helicopter was taking his daughter to the University of Alberta Hospital.

On the highway to Edmonton, Winkler looked up through his windshield.

"I watched STARS fly over heading to the U of A with my baby girl on board," he said.

By the time he made it to the hospital, "she was gone," he said. "I lost my mind when I found out she passed away."

WATCH | Jennifer Winkler remembered for her smile, artistic talents:

His 17-year-old daughter died in hospital after she was stabbed in a classroom at Christ the King high school on Monday morning. He doesn't blame the school though.

"The world we live in ... kids aren't safe anywhere really," Winkler said. "I think they're safe in school. I don't know what happened.... Eventually we'll find out. But I still think that the school did what they could."

Jennifer's death shocked the city and the school of 350 students.

Dylan Pountney, 19, is charged with first-degree murder and is expected to appear in court on Thursday. He grew up down the street from Jennifer in Leduc, Winkler said.

Classes at the school resumed Wednesday with trauma counsellors stationed there until the end of the week. Winkler visited his daughter's teacher and some classmates on Wednesday.

WATCH | Leduc students, residents react to stabbing:

It's an incalculable loss made more difficult because he can't understand why someone would hurt his daughter, he said.

"I can't put it into words; I don't even know how I'm feeling," he said. "I want everything to be about Jennifer and making sure everyone remembers what a beautiful, loving young girl she was."

The Grade 11 student had a talent for art and design, her father said, and was making plans to do a placement at a local print shop for school credit. Drawing was Jennifer's release valve, a way to channel frustrations into art, he said.

"Jennifer, she was a rock star. She was a loved girl, everybody loved her. She was beautiful, she was talented, she was smart. She had such a good core of friends."

'She had a happy life'

Winkler said he is overwhelmed by the support the family has received since Monday, from hospital workers to the local community. A memorial cropped up a few blocks from their home at the Millet community centre and an online fundraiser to cover funeral costs raised over $30,000 in under 48 hours.

Jennifer shared an interest in trains with her father, who works for a railroad construction and maintenance company. The two would go "train hunting," Winkler said, both volunteering together at the Alberta Central Railway Museum. The last picture Jennifer sent to her father was of a train passing through Leduc.

Jennifer was the beloved middle child in a large blended family of 10 siblings, Winkler said. He shared custody of Jennifer with her mother.

A memorial for Jennifer Winkler was set up at the Millet community centre close to her home.
A memorial for Jennifer Winkler was set up at the Millet community centre close to her home. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

She would wrestle and joke around with her younger brothers and was inseparable from another brother a few months older than her, he said.

"They all loved her the same and support ..." Winkler said, faltering between the past and present tense. "Supported her.

"She had a happy life."

Since Jennifer died, he's been thinking about her smile, he said.

Jennifer had a talent for design and drawing, her father said.
Jennifer had a talent for design and drawing, her father said. (Submitted by Dale Winkler)

Whether it was at the hockey rink or on a family trip, Winkler, a diligent photographer of his kids' childhood, said her smile has always looked the same.

"She had this little tiny smile even when she was a baby," he said.

It was Jennifer's turn to pick the annual family trip, he said, but plans for the Costa Rica vacation were put off because of the pandemic.

"I think she would've gone on to university and done some kind of graphic designing or computer designing or art school," Winkler said. "It was up to her to choose what she wanted to do.

"It's like anything; you don't force your kids to do it. They've got to do things they love to do."

She was especially close to her 21-year-old brother, Sean Winkler, who called her tough as nails.

"She'd push me around the house," he said. "I couldn't push her around no more."

The two shared an interest in Russia. Winkler said Jenny would sing the Russian anthem as he was driving her and her "goofy" friends around in his truck.

He says it still doesn't feel real, even three days later, and that he is dealing with a lot of anger.

"It's not something that anyone should go through. Especially the way it happened."