Teens party. They get rowdy. They get themselves into scrapes at times. Most of these incidents are forgivable and can be chalked up to getting the shenanigans out of their systems. However, on April 23, 2017, when Serena McKay became involved in an altercation with two other teen girls, matters became far more severe and less tolerable than simple shenanigans.
Eighteen is too young to have one’s life snatched away by senseless brutality fueled by alcohol. Yet, the life of Serena McKay was snuffed out in the most senseless ways. Worse yet, to this day, it’s challenging to identify what started the whole thing, leaving a terrible sense of pointlessness in the teen’s wake.
Serena McKay is A Lively Teen With Endless Potential
At eighteen years old, Serena McKay was a student at Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School. Additionally, she was part of a tight-knit, indigenous community in Sagkeeng First Nation, which is located in Manitoba, Canada. According to a news article by Jill Coubrough of CBC News in May of 2017, McKay enjoyed youth’s simple yet sweet pleasures, including hanging out with friends, campfires, and quality time with family. She adored music and photography and looked forward to her future after high school.
She dreamed of moving north to work with her father. There, she’d get to drink in the natural beauty of the ocean and other landmarks. Her father had also helped her cultivate her skill for the animal call. In addition, she won second-place recognition for it at one time. McKay was once a bossy little girl. Over the years, she emerged as a vibrant young woman with the world at her fingertips.
Not-So-Innocent Fun Gone Wrong for Serena McKay
High school parties are familiar enough. Unfortunately, even alcohol at high school parties has become commonplace. Brittany Hobson of APTN News reports that in April of 2017, McKay attended one such party at a Sagkeeng home around 70 miles from Winnipeg. There were seven people at the gathering when an altercation broke out and quickly escalated, ending up outside.
The events that followed were straight out of a nightmare for McKay’s family.
As it was no secret as to where McKay had spent the evening, the authorities didn’t have far to search for the adolescents who had so brutally snatched the young woman’s life. The fact that one teen turned herself in immediately streamlined the horrendous matters. It was time to get some heartbreaking but much-needed answers.
Two teen girls, ages 16 and 17, were quickly identified as the perpetrators in McKay’s death. A video released by City News Everywhere reports that, under Canadian law, their identities remain protected since they were underage at the time of the murder.
The need to answer one simple yet essential question upon hearing McKay’s shocking and sudden murder instantly arose: what happened?
As it turned out, one of the two teen girls who’d been involved could hardly answer that for herself.
It would seem that having the girls in custody would make clearing up the reasoning behind this heart-wrenching situation easy, but it is far from it.
What happened to Serena McKay?
Darren Bernhardt of CBC News records the stunned reaction of the elder of the two women involved: “A couple drinks turned into a full weekend of binge drinking,” she said in a document entitled ‘My Life Story.’ “Waking up a Monday, and finding out you were involved in a murder was so shocking. I couldn’t remember much of that weekend but watching a video a friend showed me was brutal. I sat back and denied it all because I’m not a violent person.”
However, the videos, which were called “shocking and horrific” in Jill Coubrough’s 2018 CBC News article, provided undeniable proof, no matter how contrary the proceedings were to the young woman’s usual character. McKay is seen being punched and stomped on in the footage by the two young women, making it clear this was no ordinary catfight. The fact that the videos taken were blatantly shared on social media. Made a sickening situation even more so.
The younger of the two teens was given props by her lawyer, James Wood. She came forward swiftly, speaking with her school guidance counselor before turning herself into the police. She’d not attempt to hide her involvement. In addition, the other teen was also in custody. But would honesty be enough to right such an irrevocable wrong? That was yet to be seen.
An Acceptable Excuse for Killing Serena McKay?
Alcohol was responsible for impairing the judgment of all three girls on the fateful night of McKay’s death. Still, there was no denying the seriousness of the two teen’s actions against McKay. Underage though they were, there were consequences for their destructive behavior.
The younger of the two women is recorded in Jill Coubrough’s 2018 CBS News article to have said the following when addressing McKay’s grief-stricken family: “I took what must have meant the entire world to you, Serena’s gifted and blessed life… I can never be at peace knowing what I’ve done … I despise myself every day for letting it get that far.” Wood again went to bat for his client, describing her as “a panicked young person.” He pointed out that a psychiatric assessment was determined. Due to her limited decision-making capabilities, the young woman should not receive an adult sentence.
Wood postured that this trauma had made her vulnerable during the unfortunate events leading to McKay’s murder. He also highlighted that the teen had no criminal history to this point and that her involvement in the crime was not as severe as that of her accomplice.
The young woman expressed a desire to replace the “missing piece” gone from the lives of McKay’s family because of her. But how could she truly replace Serena? Her actions had made that impossible.
Justice isn’t Served
Jennifer Comack, lobbied for an adult sentence of seven years to be placed on the teen. APTN News reports that the attorney. However, the judge’s ruling resulted in a youth sentence: two years in secure custody and one year of conditional supervision.
The formal announcement of the sentence was met with outrage. The guilty young woman was guided from the courtroom even as indignant declarations of “justice isn’t served” rose from speculators.
McKay’s mother, Delores Daniels, expressed her dissatisfaction with the verdict while speaking with reporters. APTN News records her words: “They did us wrong today, and they continue to do us wrong with everything that happened with this whole case… She was a beautiful young girl who had a full life ahead of her. She was a friend to everybody that she encountered, and I just don’t see why they did this to her.”
Rejection for Reduced Sentence for the Second Murderer
For the elder teen involved in McKay’s murder, mitigating factors also surfaced and were opened up for debate. According to Darren Bernhardt of CBC News, the older teen’s original sentence was 40 months in secure custody and 23 ½ months of conditional supervision. Upon turning 20, she asked for early release to attend the University of Manitoba. She would quickly learn this wasn’t like asking to skip prematurely out of a high school class. Though wishing to attend college is admirable, this desire did nothing to undo the results of her heinous crime, compelling the judge to deny her request. The young woman “still does not appreciate the significance of her consequences,” Judge Rocky Pollack is recorded in Bernhardt’s article to have said.
The young woman had a four-year-old child and was making progress in improving her life. This fact was also cited in support of her request. She’d severed ties with her child’s father and a friend who’d influenced her in what ultimately led to McKay’s murder. She’d also completed high school while behind bars and participated in helpful programs.
Despite what appeared to progress, a closer look revealed that her behavior was still littered with irresponsibility. She had several known violations during her imprisonment. Non-compliance with medication, resisting orders, and secretly tattooing himself. In the end, Pollack deemed the improvements she’d made insufficient to warrant a shortened sentence considering the seriousness and finality of her crime.
Serenity Amidst Pain for Serena McKay
The senseless murder of a young woman, on the verge of exciting days in her life that affected many. According to Jill Coubrough’s 2017 CBC News article, Barb Bitternose, McKay’s great aunt, said that her great niece would be remembered for her impact while living and not by the gruesome nature of her death. “We imagine Serena to be an angel… sitting around the throne of God with her friends,” she’s recorded to have said.
McKay’s mother also chose to view her daughter’s passing in as positive a light as possible. During an interview captured by City News Everywhere, Delores Daniels said:
To honor McKay’s memory, her school granted her the school diploma for which she’d worked and formed a scholarship in her name. Condolences flooded in from all over the country, and hundreds attended her funeral before a spot on Winnipeg memorial grounds became her final resting place.
Bitternose voiced that McKay preferred the name Serenity over Serena. The indigenous belief in the power of names and Pastor Jolly spoke to the relevance of McKay’s preference at the funeral: “I think she would desire us to have serenity.”
It was a comfort those impacted by McKay’s violent death could cling to–the serenity she had valued and had, therefore, left behind.
If you were intrigued by the murder of Serena McKay, check out our feature on the tragic death of Tori Stafford.