'It will be healing': Whitefish Lake First Nation memorializing slain teens

A rural reserve in northern Alberta is beginning to heal from the violent deaths of two teens last summer by memorializing their lives. 

The families of Dylan Laboucan, 17, and Cory Grey, 19, were caught up in a whirlwind of events when the pair went missing at the end of July 2016 — just days before they planned to move from Whitefish Lake First Nation to Slave Lake, where they were going to start college.

The teens, in love and inseparable in life, were found shot to death kilometres apart on the reserve. It was a tragic end to a frantic search that brought hundreds of people to the community.

Nearly eight months later, Cory Grey's father, Louis Grey, said that the continued support is getting them through a difficult time, allowing them to carry on the positive legacy their children have left behind. 

"That they keep remembering, them," he said, "It's nice. It shows that the community and the surrounding people, they care."

The first annual Dylan Laboucan Memorial Basketball Tournament is taking place Friday in the gymnasium of Atikameg School, where Laboucan spent many hours on the court. More than 60 students from First Nation reserve and Metis settlement schools in the area are playing in his name. 

'He'd be very honoured'

Laboucan's mother, Becky Thunder, said the event is not only meaningful to her and her husband, Leo Laboucan, but also to Laboucan's young siblings and friends who are playing for him. 

"He'd be very honoured and happy that these kids are coming together and doing what he loved," Thunder said.

While Thunder sees the tournament as a positive step forward, she said there are a lot of tears behind it. "It's tough for us," Thunder said. "Whatever we do, he's always with us. He's always in our hearts."

Without the perseverance of Deen Flett, who works with student athletes at Atikameg School through Kitaskinaw Tribal Council, Thunder said it probably wouldn't have come to fruition. 

"It will be healing," Flett said. "It was a tragedy, but when you keep going on with life and doing good stuff like this, some people will kind of start to move on." 

Flett, from the nearby Gift Lake Metis Settlement, only started working in the community after Laboucan and Grey died. But he was still touched by their story and felt compelled to organize the tournament.

"I wish I knew these two kids," said Flett, who reached out to Thunder after learning about her son's passion for basketball. "It would have been so awesome to work with this young couple."

"I'm glad I'm doing this. It's an honour for me."

Jersey numbers being retired

At the tournament, Laboucan's number, 7, is being retired. The same will be done for Grey, an avid volleyball player whose number was 13. 

Louis Grey said ​his daughter was by her boyfriend's side no matter what; when Laboucan was playing basketball, she was always there with him. He said his family will be at Atikameg School for the basketball tournament, just like she would have been. 

Edward Devin Boyce Gladue, of Whitefish Lake First Nation, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the teens' shooting deaths. 

Gladue, who knew the young lovers, is scheduled to appear in High Prairie court on June 8 for a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.

The families have had a break from court since December, which is a relief but also weighs heavily on their hearts.

"We're at a stand still," Thunder said. "We're doing the best we can to live every day and survive."

roberta.bell@cbc.ca

@roberta__bell