John Ryan Turner, Jackie Brewer get memorial

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John Ryan Turner, Jackie Brewer get memorial

Jackie Brewer might have played in Saint John's Rainbow Park, if only she were alive long enough to see it built.

The 28-month-old was left to die inside a dark apartment, just a short walk away from where the playground now sits.

She took her final breath around noon on Dec. 17, 1996, but no one noticed for more than nine hours.

Now, children playing in the south end park will know the girl's horrifying story.

The Turner-Brewer Memorial Garden was unveiled Friday for Jackie and John Ryan Turner, a three-year-old from Miramichi who was bound, beaten and starved to death by his parents in 1994.

Underneath a glass rainbow, portraits of the young children — never able to grow old — sit on each side of an inscription:

"We will remember John and Jacqueline."

It's part of the inscription suggested by Judge Hugh McLellan when he sentenced Jackie's parents to prison for manslaughter in 1997.

"Aged 28 months, died in Saint John on December 17, 1996, neglected, dehydrated and forgotten in her crib at home, where she lived in loneliness, squalor and misery with her parents, under the supervision of social workers, health care experts and child protection officials. Her death diminishes all of us. We will remember Jacqueline."

The memorial is more than two decades late.

But in the south end, the horror feels fresh.

Their stories can still bring people in this neighbourhood to tears, particularly that of Jackie, who died so close to home.

'Something needs to come out of this'

Mary LeSage, the operations manager with PULSE (People United in the Lower South End), is one of those people.

"It's been a sore on the south end for so long," she said on Friday.

The playground used to be named after the two children before a student won a contest and renamed it Rainbow Park.

It also used to have a plaque honouring John and Jackie, but no one has ever been able to say where it went or why it was removed.

PULSE and the City of Saint John worked on the new memorial together, adding the monument to a garden and benches.

LeSage hopes people will visit it and pay tribute to John and Jackie, giving them the love they never got at home.

"Something needs to come out of this," she said.

"We need to move on and make sure this doesn't happen to any other child again."

The crowd at Rainbow Park, wearing blue ribbons, heard the Nova Quattro Quartet sing, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," before the monument was unveiled.

Students from nearby St. John the Baptist-King Edward, where Jackie might have gone to school, left flowers.

Jackie's aunt wants to see reform

Sherry Bordage, Jackie's aunt, says the monument is a nice idea.

She doesn't live in New Brunswick and couldn't make Friday's ceremony.

Bordage will visit the memorial when she returns home next year. She will say goodbye to her niece.

"I'm going there just to pay homage in my special way to Jackie. To say, 'I remember you. I love you.'"

For Bordage, the best way to pay tribute to both John and Jackie is to reform the child welfare system that failed them.

Jackie and John are two of dozens of children who have died known to child protection officials in New Brunswick. That includes at least 56 children who died from unnatural causes over the past two decades.

A CBC News investigation called The Lost Children found that many of the details of these deaths remain shrouded in secrecy.

'They should have been protected'

After Jackie's death, officials promised it wouldn't happen again.

But it did happen again on April 13, 2004, when Juli-Anna St. Peter died.

Like Jackie, Juli-Anna died despite warning after warning to child protection services. She was 27 months old.

"They should have been protected and weren't," Bordage said.

"The public isn't even allowed to know what happened to them."

The provincial government is reviewing its child death system, one that was created out of the public anger that stemmed from the deaths of John and Jackie.

Review underway

The review, expected to be complete later this year, is looking at how to balance the public's desire to know more about how at-risk children are dying with a family's privacy.

Senior officials from the Department of Justice and Public Safety and the Department of Social Development are working on the review with the child, youth and seniors' advocate.

Families and Children Minister Stephen Horsman helped unveil Jackie's memorial on Friday, saying the two children have a permanent place in his heart.

When asked about the review his department is working on, he referred questions to Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry.

"You would have to speak to the minister of that side [about] what he's doing or what she's doing," he said.

Back at Rainbow Park, Bordage hopes a new generation of south end families will look at the memorial and think about children like John and Jackie, who won't get to enjoy the playground.

She hopes they'll hold their own children tight.

"Maybe it will get them to think about that neighbour, of that little kid who is crying all the time, who lives next door," she said.

"Maybe it will prompt them to take some action."

Jackie would 23 years old now. John would be 27.