March 11, 2002
Quatsino, British Columbia
Jay Handel kills his 6 children and sets fire to his house in an act of revenge against his wife
Jay (45) and Sonya (32) Handel had been having difficulties in their marriage with Jay accusing his wife of infidelity, an accusation Sonya later testified was untrue. The allegations escalated until Jay broke into a neighbor’s house days before the murders, accusing the man of having an affair with Sonya and threatening to kill him. Less than 24 hours before the murders of the children, Jay and Sonya engaged in an argument, again centered around allegations of adultery and leading to Sonya leaving the home to stay with friends. Jay met with her to deliver an ultimatum to either return under his terms or to not return at all. Sonya rejected his conditions prompting Jay to hold her hands and say “You are alone” before he left.
The following day, the four buildings on the Handels’ property were engulfed in flames. The first witnesses to arrive on the scene reported seeing Jay in the driver’s seat of his van while Sonya was outside the vehicle banging on the door. “She was screaming at him,” a volunteer fire brigade member recalled. “Asking what he’d done to the kids.” The children — Sebastian, 11; Roxanne, 9; Martial, 7; Moriah, 6; Levi, 5; and Lydia, 2 — were absent and presumed to have been in the burning buildings. Jay also attempted to kill himself by slitting his throat. He was not seriously injured and given medical treatment.
Authorities took several days to locate and identify the remains of the children, requiring time to wait for the charred buildings to cool and to sift through debris. It was determined all six of the children had been dead before the fire was started.
Jay admitted to killing his children but pleaded not guilty on the basis of mental illness. During his testimony Jay recalled sitting in a chair directly before the killings. “I had no idea how long I was there [in the chair],” he testified. “When I woke up, I was strangling Lydia … and then I was strangling Moriah. I shot Roxanne. I shot Levi … and I shot Sebastian … and I shot Martial.” Jay’s defense attempted to show that Jay believed he was saving his children from a hell on Earth by killing them, and demonstrated a history of suicide in his family including both Jay’s father and grandfather who had hanged themselves.
The Crown contended Jay killed his children in an act of revenge against Sonya for ending their marriage and for her supposed infidelity. The jury agreed with the Crown’s assessment and convicted Jay of 6 counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 6 life terms with the possibility of parole eligibility after serving at least 25 years. The judge agreed with the defense’s stance that Jay was in need of mental health treatment and ruled that he would be remanded to a facility where he would be given “whatever psychiatric care [he] needs.”
Sonya passed away from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, motor neurone disease, or Charcot disease) in 2009.
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Westad, Kim. “Children happy their last day alive.” The Vancouver Sun. October 3, 2003
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Sherrin, Mitchell. “Handel fire in Quatsino stuns island.” Gulf Islands Driftwood. March 14, 2002. Digitized: http://saltspringarchives.com/driftwood/2002/v42n12Mar14-2002.pdf
“Six Children Feared Dead in Suspicious Fire.” Los Angeles Times. March 14, 2002. Archived: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2002-mar-14-mn-32801-story.html
Skelton, Chad. “A community’s unthinkable loss.” The Vancouver Sun. March 13, 2002