Warning: This story contains distressing details
A 29-year-old man accused of killing his wife, their three young children and a female relative in a crime spree on Sunday is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, Manitoba RCMP announced Monday.
Ryan Howard Manoakeesick, who is in custody, is charged in connection with the deaths of Amanda Clearwater, 30, Bethany Manoakeesick, 6, Jayven Manoakeesick, 4, Isabella Manoakeesick, 2 ½ months, and Amanda’s 17-year-old niece, Myah-Lee Gratton.
Manoakeesick was living with his family in the town of Carman, located about 80 km southwest of Winnipeg, said RCMP, who confirmed the victims and suspect are Indigenous.
RCMP did not release any details about the deaths or provide a possible motive for the homicides that occurred in three separate crime scenes near Carman. They say they arrested Manoakeesick without incident after he pulled the bodies of his children out of a burning vehicle on Highway 248 near St. Eustache at about 10 a.m.
Earlier Sunday, RCMP said the body of Amanda Clearwater was located at about 7:30 a.m. in a ditch next to Highway 3, about seven km south of Carman, after an alleged hit-and-run collision.
The body of Gratton was found in the home where all six lived together in Carman, they said.
“We know today’s update will be difficult for many to hear,” said Insp. Tim Arsenault at a news conference Monday afternoon. “And our thoughts continue to be with the families and friends who are dealing with this unimaginable tragedy.
“Our thoughts are also with the community of Carman who are mourning the loss of an entire family.”
Autopsies were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, Arsenault said.
“Until we have a clearer picture of what occurred and when, we will not be able to provide any details,” Arsenault added. “Young, innocent lives were senselessly taken yesterday and we grieve with all Manitobans.”
Premier Wab Kinew, who was elected as Canada’s first First Nations premier in October, also addressed the news conference.
“You heard the officer say that an entire family’s been lost,” said Kinew, who doesn’t usually attend police news conferences. “This is a dark time in Manitoba…
“There is no context, there is no explanation, that can make this OK. This is pure darkness.”
Kinew, who is married and has three children, urged Manitobans to support each other and pray for the family.
“You think about a 2 ½ month old and it is impossible to imagine that there’s anything that could justify what took place.”
Cathy Merrick, the top First Nations leader in Manitoba, expressed sorrow over the deaths.
“It’s not our way as a people, it’s not our way in our culture and our language,” she told the news conference, “…violence is something that we have learned as a people.”
Watch the RCMP news conference here
Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the loss of a mother, teenager and three children was heartbreaking.
“I have grandchildren and I was thinking about them as I was sitting here,” she said, her voice full of emotion. “And we have to prevent these things from happening to our families.
“…I’m sure the man loved his children. I’m sure that he’s sorry that he had to pull them out of the vehicle. But he (allegedly) did something wrong.”
Arsenault said the family did not want the victims’ names released. However, the names were published on a GoFundMe page seeking money to help pay for funeral expenses that reached its goal of $5,000, and the children were listed in an obituary.
Amanda’s father, Melvin Clearwater, also confirmed the tragedy on his Facebook page.
“It is with great sorrow we want to announce the death of our daughter and our three grandchildren and our niece rest in piece,” he wrote.
Editor’s note: The story was corrected to remove the home community of the accused and last names were updated according to an online obituary.