Girl found dead at bottom of Ontario cliff was murdered, family says, despite still waiting for official answers
TORONTO -- The mother and step-father of a four-year-old girl found dead alongside her father at the bottom of an escarpment in an Ontario park say they have no doubt their daughter was the victim of a murder-suicide, despite nearly three months passing with no official word from police.
Keira Kagan was found dead in the late hours of a cold and snowy February 9th along with her father, Robin Brown, in Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton, Ont.
The Office of the Chief Coroner is investigating their deaths.
"It's torture. It’s immense pain," Keira's mother, Jennifer Kagan, told CTV News Toronto about the grief she faces daily.
"I try to process some of it but it’s kind of like a knife in your sides at all times. You never get away from it. You are affected by it every minute of the day."
Police said they were notified around 7:30 p.m. when Brown and his daughter did not return from a hike. A large-scale search was launched and their bodies were recovered hours later.
At the time, detectives with Halton Regional Police said Brown and Kagan suffered significant trauma and their injuries were consistent with a fall.
Keira’s parents got married in 2013 and separated two years later, after which Kagan left the couple's home in Burlington, Ont. and moved to Thornhill, Ont. At the time of her death, Keira lived with her mother and step-father, Phillip Vaiter.
Kagan says Brown picked Keira up from school on Friday before her death and she barely heard from her daughter all weekend, except for a 30-second phone call hours before she was found dead.
"She said 'Mom, I’m at Dad’s office. Got to go, Bye.' That was the last time she contacted me."
Court documents, provided by Kagan, show a contentious and lengthy custody battle that was before the courts at the time of the deaths. Kagan had brought forward an urgent motion on Jan. 28, seeking a court order to suspend Brown's access to Keira or give him only supervised access.
According to Kagan, it was Brown's turn to have custody of Keira on the weekend she died. She says it was the last weekend Brown would have her before a Feb. 20 court hearing, when a judge could have revoked his custody or decided to allow only supervised visits. It's something they say they had been pleading for in court for years.
Vaiter, a family law lawyer, and Kagan, a physician, say Brown never went for hikes and that his actions that day do not make sense. While authorities are still in the midst of completing a lengthy investigation, the parents say they have known all along what happened to their "sweet girl".
"I have no doubt she was killed," Viater said. "I got a call that day from Halton Regional Police around 9:30 p.m., they said Keira is missing, along with her father."
"At that point, I told the police officer immediately, this is not a missing persons case. I said 'You're not looking for a missing person, you're looking for a kidnapped person or two dead people.' Unfortunately, I was correct."
CTV News Toronto has contacted Halton Regional Police for an update but investigators declined to comment.
"The Homicide Unit of the Halton Regional Police Service is currently working in concert with the Chief Coroner’s office, to investigate the circumstances surrounding Keira and Robin’s death," the lead detective on the case, Darren Kellerman, told CTV News Toronto.
"As this is a Coroner's investigation, it would preclude the Police from making a public statement."
The Office of the Chief Coroner confirmed to CTV News Toronto that the investigation into the deaths is still ongoing. The Coroner said the results of the investigation will be made available to the family once it is complete.
Family feels failed by court system
Nearly three months after Keira’s death, her mother said the initial shock of losing her daughter is gone but she’s now gripped by "layers and layers" of immense grief.
"I'm coping with the loss of a young child, which in of itself is unnatural, children are not supposed to die before their parents," Kagan said. "It's the most stressful thing a parent can go through."
"Then there is trying to struggle with the violent nature of it, the sudden nature of it too, not having the opportunity to tell her I love her or say goodbye."
"Another big issue is the court system and the failure of the people in the court system. People in the system failed her and us. Her death was preventable."
While both Kagan and Vaiter admit there may never be any physical evidence proving their theory about Keira's death, they hope the court documents provided to police, in which they allege years of psychological and emotional harm by Brown, will help detectives complete their investigation.
"There is evidence in the form of court documents," Vaiter said. "I believe the evidence would also be the circumstances surrounding her death. Why was he there in the middle of a snowstorm when no one else was there?”
"There are other conservation areas right near his house. He chose to go to Milton. Boyd Conservation Area, in Woodbridge, is a 10 minute drive to his house but instead he drove over an hour to Rattlesnake Point."
Turning Keira's death into something positive
Kagan said the grieving process has been complicated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. She is no longer able to visit the grave of her daughter because the cemetery is closed.
"Not being able to physically go to the place Keira is resting is difficult but I know I'm not alone in these situations," Kagan said.
Kagan is now processing her grief and trying to advocate for more protection for children suffering from domestic violence through a blog called #ForLittleKeira.
"When you've been a victim of injustice, there is no real remedy for that," she said. "That's why we’re trying to advocate and my mission is to help other parents and children in the system because through doing some of that, you can try to cope with the grief and loss the best you can."
"I'm trying to turn this into something positive. We want to fight for justice and for Keira's life not to be in vain."
"This little girl believed she could change the world, and she will."