Laurel Janzen sent out a message on her Twitter account on March 9.
“Watching someone I love in unbearable pain everyday for 18 months and I feel helpless,” she wrote, adding: #weneedhelp.
Her 19-year-old daughter, Emily Janzen, had been suffering debilitating migraines since elementary school, but in the past year and half they had left her bedridden, ill for days and ultimately unable to attend UBC for music studies.
Both women’s Twitter accounts are filled with messages of hopelessness and despair over the migraines and their effect on Emily’s otherwise promising young life. But Emily’s sense of humour and hopefulness are also chronicled online.
“Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I just thank God I’m still alive,” one of Emily’s most recent posts read. “I complain about all the pain, but at least I’m here to feel it.”
Now, the B.C. Coroners Service is launching an investigation into the events that led to Emily and Laurel’s deaths at their home in Popkum, along with the deaths of father Randy Janzen, and his sister Shelly. RCMP have been slowly confirming what people close to the family have been reporting since last Thursday — that Randy Janzen confessed on Facebook to killing all three women. He said he shot his daughter as a way to release her from the pain, and that he shot his wife Laurel “because a mother should never have hear the news her baby has died.”
In another post he confessed to also killing his sister, Aldergrove resident Shelly Janzen, to save her from the “shame” of what he’d done.
Friends have told media they saw the post immediately, at about noon, and went to his sister’s house to see if she was okay. Newspapers were piled up and there was no activity, so they turned to the police.
By 4 p.m. Thursday, RCMP had surrounded the Janzen home on Llanberis Way in Popkum, believing Randy Janzen was inside. A police helicopter circled the small community for hours, keeping watch on the house and the surrounding area.
Llanberis Way is an idyllic no-through street, backed by the former Minter Gardens site and tucked in a forested area filled with tall cedar trees. On Thursday, neighbours arriving home from work were kept at bay on Bunker Road, as RCMP, a tactical unit, and the K9 unit moved in on the house. Other neighbours were told to stay indoors for their safety.
After hours of slow activity, something changed as RCMP and the K9 unit began to move in quickly.
There were five distinctive bangs, which sounded like gun shots to the dozens of onlookers.
Sgt. Stephanie Ashton said on Friday those bangs were the result of “less-than-lethal force and distraction devices, in order to attempt to make contact with an individual believed to be in the house.”
By this time, rumours were spreading among the neighbours and passersby that the man inside had killed his family and was in the middle of a standoff with police.
And then, without warning, a distinctive boom rocked the neighbourhood. A fire had broken out inside the home and caused an explosion. A plume of thick, black, and dark grey smoke rose from the house, causing at least one volunteer firefighters who had been watching from Yale Road to jump in his vehicle and head to the firehall. One woman stayed glued to her cell phone, keeping connected with her daughter who lived near the Janzens.
“She’s scared,” the woman said. “She’s afraid.”
By 7:30 p.m., the house was engulfed in flames following a loud explosion, presumably with the Janzen family inside. The perimeter was widened and firetrucks arrived quickly. RCMP were unable to get inside the home to access the crime scene until sometime Friday.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
While RCMP have yet to identify the Janzen family as the victims in the fire, they confirm three bodies were recovered from the gutted home. They are now asking anyone who had contact with the family from mid-April until May 7 to contact them, no matter how small the detail is.
Police are hoping to get a clearer picture of the events leading up to the fire.
“At this point, our priority is to speak with anybody who had been in contact with the Janzen family in a three-week period leading up to the incident on May 7,” says Sgt. Stephanie Ashton.
The bodies in the Popkum home were badly burned, making identification difficult. However, on Tuesday morning it was announced that the B.C. Coroners Office would be launching an investigation into the events leading up to the deaths, including whether Emily’s health concerns played a role.
This could include probing into what sort of treatment Emily was given for her migraines, and how Fraser Health treats patients.
Emily was well known in Chilliwack theatrical and musical circles, having become an accomplished soprano singer. Her life was full of friendships, volunteer work, and involvement several groups, including the Chilliwack School of Performing Arts. Her name was often in the pages of the Chilliwack Progress, as part of productions like Seussical the Musical.
Friends and former fellow cast members have been posting loving tributes to the young singer, recalling favourite moments on and off the stage, and thanking her for being a friend.
But Emily’s life was also full of a quiet, painful misery, suffering from almost constant migraines.
“In two years I haven’t gone more than 12 hours without a headache livin’ the dream,” is just one of several tweets Emily sent out over the past months.
Much of the time, it seems, Emily either smiled through the pain or resigned from her social life. She had even stopped singing most recently, which is mentioned in her father’s apparent online confession.
Migraines differ from run-of-the-mill headaches, according to medical literature. They include several stages that patient experiences, from the oncoming symptoms that can last for one or two days. That is accompanied and/or followed by migraine aura, which can include visual problems or vision loss, loss of sensation in body parts, and speech problems. Migraines can last as long as three days, or more in extreme cases and include nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, and pain that pulses.
There are numerous triggers for migraines, and several types of medications designed to help with migraines. Finding a suitable medication for each patient can prove difficult, however, and many of the medications have strong side effects.
A bursary has already been set up to honour Emily Janzen’s dreams of becoming a singer. The Emily Janzen Memorial Bursary Fund will be given to students pursuing a music education.
Initially, the goal was $1,000 as seed money to be put into a long-term deposit. The funds are being administered by the Chilliwack Symphony Orchestra, the Chilliwack School of Performing Arts, and the Chilliwack Academy of Music.
Within 18 hours, the fundraiser had already hit $2,100.
“Emily, former student and instructor, forever a part of our CSOPA family, will be fondly remembered for her beautiful voice and amazing spirit with the legacy of this bursary fund,” said AnneLise Woyke, office manager of the Chilliwack School of Performing Arts.