“It’s like heaven,” Debbie Pierre said as she looked over the Bulkley River shimmering and gurgling quietly as it swept by on a sun-filled morning.
Pierre’s view of the river comes from acceptance, an acceptance that took several years to nurture following the tragic death of her son Ernie Asa John, June 25, 2006.
Ernie, 19 at the time, had just spent an evening hanging out with his friends at the east-side viewpoint upstream of the Moricetown Canyon where the Bulkley River narrows through walls of rock.
On his way home, Ernie was heading for the bridge across the canyon, when he swerved to his left to avoid another truck.
Unfortunately, the move put Ernie’s blue 1991 Isuzu Rodeo SUV over the edge and it bounced into the canyon and disappeared under the bridge.
For weeks, friends, family and search and rescue teams scoured the Bulkley River and the shores hoping to recover Ernie’s body.
They never did.
Ernie, by all accounts was full of life golfing, skiing, sledding and fishing.
“He spent so much time of his life by the river, he loved being by the river,” Ernie’s father Mark John said.
Ernie had gotten into a bit of trouble, hung out with the wrong crowd and substance abuse when he was 16 and Debbie and Mark sent him to live with family in Alberta and with time, Ernie found himself back on the straight and narrow.
“If anything would’ve killed him you would think it would have been the drugs,” Mark said.
It took time, but eventually Ernie returned to Moricetown and at 18 years old found a job at the Kaywood plant.
“He was on the cusp of turning his life around,” Debbie said.
“Everything’s looking good and then that happens,” Mark said, his voice trailing off, his eyes finding the horizon.
The loss of that new life made the loss especially difficult for Debbie and Mark who didn’t get a chance to say good-bye.
“We went through a pretty tough time when they told us the search was over,” Mark said.
Then, Walter Bucher, with Raven Search and Rescue, took the couple down the Bulkley River and as they drifted with the current he explained how the river would be Ernie’s final resting place and considering, he was an avid fisherman and the importance of the river to the Wet’suwet’en, Ernie was in a good place.
“He’s’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” Mark said of Bucher.
“He showed us if Ernie was going to have a resting place, how nice the Bulkley River would be.
“It was peaceful and kind of gave us some relief, it really helped us out,” Mark said.
Without a body closure was difficult and then, the river reminded them of their loss as pieces of the Ernie’s SUV began to wash up on the shore of the Bulkley River.
Today, six years later, a large piece of the SUV washed up on shore. Instinctively, friends and family approached Debbie and Mark, asking if they wanted them to take up the search for Ernie’s body.
Debbie and Mark declined.
As difficult as the thought is, Debbie and Mark said they have given Ernie over to the river, they’ve have made their peace and want the community to make their peace with the tragedy as well.
If his remains were found, his final resting spot would be in a grave and that, Mark said, is not where Ernie would want to be.
“We feel that he’s home already,” Mark said looking at the river.
For Debbie and Mark, however difficult, closure is at hand and they hope the community understands.
“He’s where he wants to be, that’s why we’re not searching anymore and we’re leaving him be.
“There isn’t a better place for him to be.”