Family members of a Salt Spring Island mother who died on Monday say she had left her marriage and was retrieving items from the family home when she was ambushed from the woods by her husband of 18 years, who shot her twice, then turned the gun on himself. John Quesnel, 48, and Jennifer Quesnel, 41, both died Monday, leaving three sons, ages 12, 15, and 17.
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John and Jennifer Quesnel, a well-known couple on Salt Spring Island, died at their home on Monday, leaving behind three sons, tough questions about domestic violence and a community in shock.
Salt Spring RCMP were called to a home on a rural stretch of Fulford Ganges Road just before 5 p.m., said RCMP Cpl. Chris Manseau. Police arrived to find a 48-year-old man dead. “A 41-year-old woman was found suffering from serious injuries and later succumbed to them,” Manseau said in a statement.
The couple’s three sons were not home at the time, said RCMP. No one else was injured. Police said they are not looking for suspects and no charges are anticipated. The causes of death are still being investigated.
“We’re in shock. It’s a tragedy for his family of course, and for the community as a whole,” said Peter Grove, trustee for the Islands Trust on Salt Spring Island. The couple were long-time Salt Spring Islanders, well regarded and contributed to the community, he said.
“There’s no doubt about it, for everybody, it’s a real blow to the Island. That anyone should be that unhappy to have done such a thing to himself, to his wife. It’s awful,” said Grove. “It’s a double loss, double tragedy.”
Police did not identify the couple, but neighbours and friends identified them as husband and wife John and Jennifer Quesnel.
The couple were having marital ups and downs as many do, said family friend Holger Hermann. Those issues were exacerbated by problems associated with the pandemic.
“I’m devastated,” said Hermann. “I did not see this coming. I thought they would work things out. I think he was trapped into a corner. The mind does strange things and then the depression sets in and the fear of how you’re going to pay the mortgage. It was coming from all sides.”
John Quesnel owned Salt Spring Metal Recycling and recently wrote on social media that he was having problems with theft at his scrap yard — taking away money he needed to put food on the table for his family. As well, he was having issues with Island Trust and bylaw enforcement about the location of his business, though Grove was optimistic that could be resolved. The pandemic also forced him to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, said Hermann.
Jennifer Quesnel was a busy mom, an equestrian and a member of the All Arabians Horse Association of British Columbia. There was a stable on their property and they were creating other amenities for horses. They were also growing more vegetables during the pandemic.
“Oh gosh, they are just salt-of- the-earth, rich down-to-earth country folk, you know with the horse, the cow, farming on the land,” said Hermann.
Hermann regularly looked forward to the local newspaper to see what letter John Quesnel had penned. He wasn’t a loud mouth, he argued issues point for point, providing reams of research to back him up, said Hermann. “He’s very politically active, very articulate,” said Hermann. “He wrote letters about, you know, the CRD doing this and that and when they’re breaking the rules. He was like a lawyer. He just did his research and he was very smart.”
Jennifer Quesnel was also memorable. “She’s one of those very beautiful, sweet loving women that’s all about family and the children. You’d always see her in the Suburban driving around or in his pickup, taking kids around picking kids up.”
Estela Rodriguez wrote on her Facebook account that her heart aches for the Quesnels’ three boys. She described Jennifer Quesnel as “a bright light with the biggest of hearts” who will be forever loved and missed.
Kisae Petersen, executive director of Islanders Working Against Violence, said in a small community of 10,000 the death of the Quesnels is a major incident that will touch everyone’s lives.
“Our organization, our staff and our board are aware, and deeply saddened by this act of violence in our community,” said Petersen. “Today we’re thinking about the family members whose lives will be forever impacted by this loss.”
People generally envision Salt Spring as a safe and laid-back place “and in many ways it is,” said Petersen.
“For our organization we see that intimate partner violence is a daily reality, certainly,” said Petersen. Salt Spring also has a high homeless population, she said.
“There’s not a lot we can say at this point in time because it’s the Day One … in terms of information coming out,” said Petersen.
“But what I would say is that in many small communities like Salt Spring Island and during this COVID pandemic crisis women have been significantly isolated and may have difficulty in reaching out and accessing support, safety planning, and shelter,” said Petersen. “There is intimate partner violence on Salt Spring and with COVID there is this growing intensity of violence and increased vulnerability for women in abusive households.”
Islanders Working Against Violence has continued to provide anti-violence services, transition housing and crisis-line support for women and families during the pandemic, said Petersen.
On Jan. 13, 2012, John Quesnel posted on social media what he said was a very rare photograph of the entire family in one frame — a smiling couple, three happy boys all under the age of 10, and a dog in a wooded area off the ocean.
“[Twenty] years ago I’d have never believed in a million years, I’d be so lucky in life,” wrote John Quesnel. “My family has made me rich with the things money can’t buy.”
Where to get help:
Youth Against Violence Line
Victim Services & Violence Against Women Program Directory
Ending Violence Association of B.C. Program Directory
B.C. Society of Transition Houses Program Directory
Police Victim Services of British Columbia Program Directory
Indigenous Organizations & Services Directory
B.C. Housing for Women Fleeing Violence
Crime Victim Assistance Program
Victim Safety Unit
How to Help:
What Bystanders Can Do
Coming Forward If You Witnessed A Crime
Family Member or Friend of a Victim
How Can I Help My Friend?
Reporting Child Abuse in B.C.
Am I safe?
Are you being abused?
Are you experiencing abuse?
Creating a Safety Plan
Types of Violence and Abuse
Dispelling Myths About Sexual Assault
BC Association of Friendship Centres
Moose Hide Campaign
Ending Gender Based Violence
FREDA Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children
Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative
Resources for LGBTQ2S and non-binary survivors of violence
Disability Alliance of B.C. ’s Anti-Violence Help Sheets to help People with Disabilities
Knowledge Exchange Toolkit
A Forced Marriage Risk Assessment Framework