PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — A woman who lost both her legs and much of her eyesight after she was viciously attacked and set on fire in a back alley more than three years ago has died.
Linda Lavallee, a friend of Marlene Bird, said the 50-year-old Indigenous woman died Monday at a hospital in Prince Albert, Sask.
Lavallee said Bird entered hospital on Nov. 20, went into a coma on Wednesday and never regained consciousness after suffering heart, liver and kidney failure.
Lavallee said Bird had forgiven Leslie Black, the man who attacked and sexually assaulted her. But she was upset over the 16-year prison term he received in September, and the stress of the case and its outcome affected her health.
Friends saw what was happening to her and convinced her to go to hospital.
“It was very hard on her, even though she forgave (Black),” said Lavallee, a resident of Chilliwack, B.C. “She thought the amount of time that guy was going to get was never enough for the amount of pain she went through.
“She was really hurt and couldn’t accept it.”
Lavallee said Bird turned to alcohol to help her cope, but in the month before her death she and her partner, Patrick Lavallee, Linda’s brother, resolved to stay sober.
Bird and Lavallee lived in the hamlet of Timber Bay, about 1 1/2 hours north of Prince Albert, where Patrick, 54, provided round-the-clock care for his partner.
“He’s quite lost now,” said Lavallee, who described Bird as a fighter, who always thought of others first.
“Nothing kept her down, even with no legs. If she wanted to do something, she did it.”
Bird’s two daughters, both in their 20s, are in Prince Albert, but Lavallee said they could not be immediately contacted to let them know about their mother’s death.
Black pleaded guilty in April to attempted murder in the June 2014 beating, burning and sexual assault. The court was told that after the attack, he walked to a nearby convenience store and bought candy. Black then walked past Bird, who was still on fire, and ignored her.
It was several hours before she was discovered, barely alive, and with burns so severe they exposed her facial bones. One foot was attached only by a piece of skin.
The Crown had argued for life in prison, while the defence asked for 15 years.
Before he learned his fate, Black made eye contact with Bird in the courtroom and said he was “truly sorry.” The judge, saying Black’s risk to reoffend could be managed in the community, had ruled the previous month not to designate him a dangerous offender.
Bird later said outside court that she thought she “could forgive him.”
“I’m doing my best, because my mom told me to forgive people that do wrong.”
Lavallee said friends and family could never understand Bird’s thinking.
“She wasn’t happy with what he got, but in her heart she had … (said) she forgives him.”
Bird had told court earlier in the year that she couldn’t do anything on her own, including simple things such as picking a blueberry or going to the bathroom.
In handwritten letters filed with the court, she said she had to wear adult diapers, couldn’t control her bowels and felt disgusted with herself when she couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time. She also said she feared entering the city because of the attack.
She recently told Prince Albert radio station CKBI that she was hoping to get prosthetic legs this year.
Lavallee noted that Bird broke one of her stumps about two weeks ago when she fell from her scooter, and was waiting for the limb to heal because it couldn’t be placed in a cast due to its small size.
Lavallee believes Bird’s legacy will be her ability to forgive.
“If she can forgive someone like that, how hard is it for us to forgive other people? We should be able to make amends with family and friends and even strangers.”
Bird was a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation. In a release, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Prince Albert Grand Council’s Women’s Commission extended their condolences to Bird’s family.
“Marlene is a true symbol of resiliency and showed such bravery throughout the years of fighting for her recovery,” the release said. “She was a heroic woman, whose strength inspired many. Her courage will be admired forever.”
A memorial service was planned for Monday evening in Prince Albert. Bird was to be buried next to her grandmother in the tiny northern Saskatchewan community of Molanosa.
— By Ken Trimble in Edmonton. With files from CKBI
The Canadian Press