WINNIPEG -- A little girl whose tragic life and horrific murder outraged an entire province will finally be laid to rest today.
Phoenix Sinclair should have celebrated her ninth birthday today. Instead, friends and family will gather at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre on Robinson Street starting at 10 a.m. to attend her funeral.
Phoenix died in June 2005, alone on a cold basement floor after enduring months of abuse and cruelty. Her body was buried in the bushes on Fisher River First Nation and her death hidden from Child and Family Services officials for nine months.
Her mother Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay, Kematch's then-boyfriend, were convicted last year of first-degree murder.
Phoenix was a ward of CFS for much of her life before her mother regained custody after walking away with the girl during a visit to her foster mother's home in 2004.
Her death became a symbol of a broken child-welfare system, but her father would like the public to remember her as much more than that.
"She was just a person like everyone else," said Steve Sinclair yesterday, speaking publicly for the first time about his daughter. "She loved to swim and have fun. She was a typical kid.
"I remember her smile, her laugh, everything. How she used to wake me up on the couch and say 'Dad, time to get up.'"
Sinclair, who never saw his daughter after Kematch took Phoenix, remembers how much the child loved watching Armageddon while eating breakfast, and how she loved to visit her cousins down the street.
When asked how he pictures the image of Phoenix in his head, Sinclair replied "pudgy." Then he laughed.
"I still love her and I still miss her," he said. "I look at her little sister and I see her in there. I look at all the nine-year-olds and wonder how she'd be now. She'd probably be scrawny like me."
For more than three years, Phoenix's body has been in police custody as the murder trial slowly made its way through the courts. Now the wait is over and the child can finally be laid to rest.
Sinclair has not cut his hair since before Phoenix was born, but intends to cut off a good portion of his long locks during her burial today and lay her to rest with it.
"It's to honour my daughter. Her life is on my head," he said, referring to his hair.
He and Kim Edwards, Phoenix's foster mother, co-founded a charity called the Phoenix Sinclair Foundation in 2007. The framework is in place, but they are waiting for appeals of the murder convictions to play out before going full-steam ahead.
"I want it to be an advocate for the children that are in care, even those who aren't," Sinclair said. "I want to work to change the system, like when you throw a pebble in the water, you get ripples, and it reaches the whole length of the pond."
Edwards expects even strangers to come out and wish Phoenix the best at this morning's funeral. "Manitoba fell in love with her," she said. "She became their little girl."