When Andrew Berry’s sister found out he had resigned from his job at B.C. Ferries in May 2017, she phoned Victoria’s Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team and asked them to try to locate him.
“To me, that was a pretty catastrophic decision that I really didn’t understand,” Berry’s sister testified for the Crown on Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.
A court order prohibits publication of the sister’s first name and the location of her employment. The jury has heard that she is a Vancouver Island RCMP officer.
Her 45-year-old brother has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murders of his daughters, six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey, at his Beach Drive apartment on Christmas Day 2017.
Berry’s sister testified that she learned the crisis-response team was unable to locate her brother, so she drove to Victoria the next day. She said her brother was under a lot of stress because of separation from partner Sarah Cotton and allegations made against him.
“I felt that he was struggling, but at the same time, he was keeping it together,” she testified. “The two things he had in his life that were important were his children and his job. He always really liked his job. And so for him to give up his job, for me, was an extreme decision. And it concerned me because I didn’t understand why. There was no discussion about it. … Leaving B.C. Ferries was a very extreme thing.”
Berry’s sister testified that she gave her brother no advance warning, wanting to see him as he was. She found him in his apartment when she arrived in late morning. “He was up. He was dressed. He looked good. He’d been out for a walk. He was in good spirits. And we had a long chat that day about his decision to leave B.C. Ferries.”
Berry told her he’d been very unhappy with his job for some time and he just couldn’t take it anymore. He thought he would apply for a job at B.C. Pensions Corp. and had a pretty good shot at getting it. He told her he was going to cash out a portion of his pension to cover the cost of living until he got a job.
“I didn’t feel that was a good idea. And I did share that with him. I felt it was money for his retirement and it should stay there. I also expressed my concern that he left the job without having another job to go to first,” she testified.
Berry’s sister asked if there was any chance he could go back to B.C. Ferries, but he replied that it was too late and he didn’t want to go back.
“We talked a lot. I think this would probably be the first time where I ever really directly told my brother that I thought that he was depressed,” she said, starting to cry.
“Sorry. I told him that it wasn’t surprising to me that he would be depressed because of everything that had happened. He had so many stressors and I really felt that he needed to get help for this. But he wouldn’t have any of it.”
Berry’s sister asked him to get a family doctor. He said no.
She asked if he would see a counsellor. He said: “No, they’re all quacks.”
“He was so opposed to talking to anybody about his mental health. For him, he thought he was perfectly fine,” Berry’s sister said, wiping her eyes with a tissue.
Justice Miriam Gropper asked her if she wanted to take a break. Berry’s sister said she was OK.
Prosecutor Patrick Weir asked Berry’s sister if she offered any advice other than professional medical help.
“Well, the one thing he agreed with me on was I said: ‘You just don’t love yourself. That’s what I think it comes down to and you need to start loving himself.’ He didn’t freak out about that comment. And so I used it and I continued to use that.”
Berry asked her how she’d dealt with her own depression after she was seriously injured in a car accident in 2013. She told him she took steps and there also came a time when she felt she needed medication.
“But he wasn’t willing to see a doctor. But he was willing to work on a plan to move forward. So we talked about routines that he could do day to day, then adding a little bit more to it,” she testified.
Berry and his sister talked about him shaving, and going for walks.
“I told him I thought he was depressed and if he didn’t get a hold of that it would spiral to the point of suicide,” she testified. “He had a strong reaction to that. He said he would never commit suicide. He would never do that to his girls.”
Berry’s sister said she told him that if he didn’t have any money, he wouldn’t have a place to live, and if he didn’t have a place to live, he wouldn’t have custody of his daughters.
Earlier, Berry’s sister learned Cotton had made a court application for custody of the girls. Berry had not responded. When she asked him about it, he told her he didn’t want to open any mail from Cotton. Berry’s sister testified that she saw a pile of unopened mail and told him he had to open it and respond to the application. She spoke to him about resources and offered to assist him as well. She was eventually a witness at a family law proceeding in November 2016.
Berry’s sister testified that she wasn’t keen to accept Berry’s $40,000 in pension funds into her own bank account, but took the money after checking with her parents that he didn’t owe any child or spousal support.
“He said he was in a bind and couldn’t put the money in his bank account because it was frozen,” she testified. “My suspicion was that my brother was gambling and I didn’t want to do anything to enable that. … I was trying very hard to maintain a relationship with my brother where I wasn’t telling him what to do or being his keeper, but rather just being his support. Having his money made it a little bit harder.”
Berry’s sister became increasingly emotional as Weir took her through a series of chilling text messages she exchanged with her brother in the days leading up to Christmas 2017. The messages show her trying to make plans that include Berry and his daughters and his failure to respond to her invitations. She went to his apartment on Dec. 19. He wasn’t home and she left Christmas presents for the girls with her parents.
Berry’s sister testified that her mother told her Berry was about to be evicted, and that he had no power in his apartment and was not working on paying child support.
On Dec. 22, she sent him a text. “I’m worrying Andrew. Mom is saying things that concern me.” She offered to take him in if he was evicted and asked if he was working.
“I won’t see you homeless unless that is what you choose. I will help you get help if you need it, but only if you let me,” says another text a few minutes later.
On Dec. 24, Berry’s sister asked if he had electricity, and offered to pick up Berry and the girls on Dec. 27 to stay with her.
At 11:06 a.m., Berry responded that his parents made him sick and Sarah and his mother’s decision to change Chloe’s school was the last straw. “They are rotten people,” he wrote.
His sister asked if he was at risk of being evicted and if he needed to be picked up on Dec. 27.
Berry replied that it was OK.
His sister invited him and the girls to stay with her over the holidays. She asked why he wouldn’t answer the questions.
“Thanks. Let me see how this unfolds,” Berry replied.
“What is ‘this’?” asked his sister.
“Sarah,” Berry wrote.
Berry told her he was off to go skating at Oak Bay recreation centre. She asked him to call her later. “Please do. I’m worried and I want to help,” she wrote.
“You did help. Don’t worry.”
“I worry Andrew,” she replied almost immediately. “You are my brother. I love you. I let you live your life the way you want without judgments, but I also feel you don’t love yourself which makes me worry. I don’t want you to end up homeless and I’m scared that is where you are headed.”
Her testimony continues Thursday.