A large crowd stood in complete silence outside an Alberta courthouse Tuesday morning, gathering to support the family of a mother and child that RCMP say were killed by their neighbour last week in a double homicide in Hinton.
The family of 24-year-old Mchale Busch and her 16-month-old son Noah McConnell stood in the middle of the crowd, with a bouquet of flowers and stuffed elephant sitting nearby.
A small blue blanket with stars and a moon on it was draped over the shoulder of Cody McConnell, the partner and father of the victims. Periodically, he turned his head and kissed it.
Many of those in attendance wore overalls, safety vests and work gear, and trucks with Midwest Pipelines Inc. on them were parked nearby. Some workers exchanged hugs with the family.
For more than 15 minutes, the crowd held vigil in complete silence at the Edson courthouse, where the accused was appearing before a judge at a bail hearing on Tuesday.
Robert Keith Major, 53, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of committing an indignity to human remains.
Police said he lived in the same Hinton apartment complex as the mother and child, who went missing last Thursday evening.
The mother and child were found dead less than 24 hours later, at which time Major was also arrested in the town that borders the edge of Jasper National Park and the Rocky Mountains.
“He was my next door neighbour,” Cody McConnell said outside the courthouse, saying his apartment shared a wall with the accused.
McConnell said his family had only been living in the building for 10 days before the crimes happened.
Police have released few details about the homicides, including where the victims’ bodies were found or how they died.
Autopsies took place on Saturday and Sunday at the medical examiner’s office in Edmonton. On Tuesday, RCMP said the results of those examinations had not yet been released to them.
McConnell called the deaths “100 per cent preventable.”
“We need change,” McConnell said while reading a prepared statement. “In honour of Mchale and Noah, we are going to work to elect change to our justice system.”
McConnell said the justice system failed them, by not letting them know a convicted sex offender — who Alberta Justice says has a criminal record dating back to the early 1990s and has been convicted of sex crimes — lived nearby.
“He was free to live in an apartment building filled with children, next to a school and two parks. No one else should ever have to experience the trauma and the violence that we now have to live with forever,” the grief-stricken father said while fighting back years.
“In honour of my wife and my baby boy, we are going to work to make change and save lives. Rest in peace, my babies.”
In 2013, Major was sentenced to four years in prison for aggravated sexual assault and banned from owning firearms for life.
Upon release in 2017, Edmonton police issued a warning about Major, saying he was being closely monitored by the EPS behavioural assessment unit and investigators had reasonable grounds to believe that Major would “commit another sexual offence against a female, including children, while in the community.”
Major was subject to a number of court-ordered conditions, including a curfew and not being allowed to leave Edmonton without written consent.
He was also ordered by the courts to stay away from places where children under the age of 18 were likely to spend time and he was forbidden from purchasing any children’s or women’s undergarments.
Major was also banned from owning, viewing or possessing any materials that depict children in “any state of dress, whether it is on paper, video, computer discs, hard drive or any electronic media.”
It’s not known how Major came to live in Hinton in the four years since Edmonton police issued the above-mentioned warning.
A GoFundMe has been established to help the family. As of Tuesday morning, more than $53,000 had been raised, far surpassing the goal of $15,000.
Major appeared in court via CCTV. His case was put over for a few weeks in order for him to speak with a lawyer. He’ll next appear in Hinton Provincial Court on Oct. 20.