From Rick Boguski’s porch, you can sometimes see eagles surfing the winds gusting across pastures that skirt the fringes of the Rocky Mountains’ Livingston Range in southwestern Alberta.
Boguski sold his house in Calgary and brought his brother, Darryl Boguski, here, to a rented ranch house that’s more than a century old, as the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping the world in the spring of 2020.
Darryl has cerebral palsy, is autistic, blind and can’t speak. The house, nestled about 30 kilometres north of Pincher Creek, became a refuge for Darryl, surrounded by magpies, hawks, swallows and their two dogs, Gracie and June.
Now, the rhythms of Boguski’s life revolve around his brother’s needs.
On one June morning, Boguski made Darryl an omelette with a side of strawberries and pineapple for breakfast. He sliced the omelette and fed Darryl morsel by morsel. For lunch, Darryl ate ham and cheese on sourdough bread. Boguski then gently fed his brother one blueberry at a time from a bowl.
Boguski changes Darryl’s clothes multiple times a day, cleans him, ferries him between his bedroom and a bed on the porch, where Darryl likes to lie, wrapped in a blanket.
“I really thought that we were going to be happy here,” said Boguski.
On April 20, Darryl’s 62nd birthday, Boguski baked a cake, sang happy birthday and lit the barbecue to grill steaks when the telephone rang.
It was an RCMP officer asking if Darryl once lived in a group home for individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities called Shepherd’s Villa in Hepburn, Sask.
The officer said Darryl was allegedly a victim of sexual assault.
“It was like a dagger in my heart,” said Boguski, who cried himself to sleep that night and phoned the RCMP officer back in the morning.
“I needed to hear everything again because I wasn’t sure the first time they told me if I had properly understood everything.”
There was no misunderstanding. His brother was identified as one of five alleged victims of sexual assault at Shepherd’s Villa.
Brent Gabona, 52, paused before answering a question tormenting parents and siblings of those who were in his care for nearly two decades at Shepherd’s Villa.
Did the sexual assaults stop at five victims?
For about 25 seconds, Gabona, a married father of two children, remained silent, the question floating in the hiss of a weak cellphone connection.
“Sorry, I can’t, I can’t respond to that at this point,” he said in an interview with CBC News.
“I’ve just caused enough already and I don’t want to cause any more.”
WATCH | CBC News receives a call from Brent Gabona:
After a three-week investigation, RCMP in Rosthern, Sask., charged Gabona on May 10 with eight sex abuse-related charges — five counts of sexual assault and three counts of sexual exploitation of a person with a disability — which court records say occurred between 1992 and 2006.
His five alleged victims – three males and two females who lived in the group home – couldn’t speak or care for themselves. They needed one-on-one help for tasks like eating, bathing or putting on their clothes. Three of the alleged victims have died.
The charges span the years Gabona worked at Shepherd’s Villa, which sits in a tree-shrouded corner of Hepburn, a town of about 780 people about 45 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
Gabona, who lives in Waldheim, Sask., was released without needing to post money for bail, but one of his conditions stated he could not be alone with his children without the presence of their mother. His next court appearance is scheduled for July.
The RCMP detachment in Rosthern, which sits 49 kilometres northeast of Hepburn, received a report of sexual assaults at the group home on April 19, according to a police statement.
Gabona, who left the group home in 2009, told CBC News he approached the RCMP before he was charged.
Some of the families of those who were in Gabona’s care believe police only scratched the surface in the investigation. They believe police should have contacted the family of every resident who was in the group home during Gabona’s time as a worker.
“I believe that there are a lot of holes in this investigation,” said Jaqueline Forbes, whose brother, Dean Astle, 38, was in the home during Gabona’s last years there and remains a resident today.
Astle, who is non-verbal, was not identified as an alleged victim.
“I don’t believe that a line was just drawn at my brother’s door,” said Forbes.
For Boguski, after learning of the charges, past events in Darryl’s life took on new form — the radical changes in his brother’s behaviour during his time at the group home, the increased medication needed to calm him.
“We were told Darryl doesn’t want to be touched, Darryl won’t go to the bathroom, Darryl is acting out, Darryl is yelling, Darryl is screaming,” said Boguski
After 25 years at the group home, Darryl was discharged in 2015 over his behaviour and transferred to another group home in Humboldt, Sask., said Boguski. His brother began to physically deteriorate, fell into a coma and nearly died.
“Look what happened to my brother. Look what the end result was when he was kicked out,” said Boguski.
Since that RCMP phone call on Darryl’s birthday, Boguski has become a vocal critic of the RCMP’s investigation.
“No one is listening to these individuals. No one is listening to their families saying that there may be more victims,” said Boguski.
Despite a publication ban on identifying victims in the case, Boguski began speaking out in local media while hiding his full name. Other families, whose loved ones were in Gabona’s care, began to reach out to him with their own concerns and anxieties.
He pressed the Crown to have the publication ban lifted on his brother’s name, which a judge granted on June 14.
“I will not rest until all the evidence is in and all the victims are accounted for,” said Boguski.
WATCH | The bond of two brothers:
Derek Hawkins lived in a room next to Darryl Boguski at Shepherd’s Villa between 2003 and 2005. He had a cognitive disability, epilepsy and scoliosis.
His mother, Naomi Hawkins, cared for him until he turned 18. He was moved to a group home because his parents felt Derek wanted to expand his horizons.
“He saw his peers leave school and move out into the world. Even with his limited cognitive ability, he could see that,” said his father, Al Hawkins.
The family worked through the community living division of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Social Services and a spot was found for Hawkins at Shepherd’s Villa, where he would receive one-on-one care from a worker named Brent Gabona.
“He was the person that was responsible for Derek’s daily care,” said Hawkins.
Gabona took Hawkins, who loved sports, to junior hockey games in Saskatoon. The Hawkins bought a family pass for the Valley Regional Park golf course in nearby Waldheim so Gabona could take Derek golfing.
“He would be able to go and ride in a cart because he loved swinging a club and hitting the ball even if it was five feet,” said Hawkins.
Gabona attended Derek’s high school graduation party.
His parents said Derek was “outgoing,” and someone who would “light up” the room. But Naomi and Al Hawkins said they saw changes in their son after he entered Shepherd’s Villa in 2003. They said he grew “angry” and “frustrated.” Derek’s behaviour increasingly turned violent, even lashing out against others. He was forced to leave Shepherd’s Villa in November 2005 and was never the same until his death from kidney failure, at age 27, in 2011, his parents said.
Naomi Hawkins kept her son’s records from his time at Shepherd’s Villa. She was hoping to write a book about Derek’s life. But after reading a newspaper article on the charges against Gabona, the documents raised new questions.
Al and Naomi Hawkins went through summaries of Derek’s incident reports of violence and misbehaviour at Shepherd’s Villa. Between April 2003 and July 2004, Derek never recorded more than three incidents a month. Then, in August 2004, he went from one incident the previous month to nine, according to their tally. In September 2005, there were 21.
At one point, his parents received an urgent call from Shepherd’s Villa to get their son or the group home would send him to a psychiatric facility in Saskatoon. When Derek’s parents arrived, they found him locked in a room, the window boarded up and the electricity cut. Derek clawed out the gyprock and insulation from the walls with his bare hands.
“There was a single mattress on the floor and a pile of rubble,” said Al Hawkins.
During Derek’s November 2005 discharge meeting with Shepherd’s Villa, Al Hawkins requested an investigation “toward identifying what may have happened in the late summer 2004 to trigger such a change in Derek’s behaviour,” according to a record from the discussion.
There was never an investigation, said Al and Naomi Hawkins.
The couple, who now live in Red Deer, Alta., contacted the Rosthern RCMP detachment. They wanted the police investigation to include their son.
“We were point blank told that he was not a victim simply because he was verbal…. The accused only assaulted non-verbal special needs people,” said Naomi Hawkins.
Hawkins said the officer based that conclusion “on [Gabona’s] confession.”
They do not know if police ever asked Gabona about Derek.
“I dream at least two or three nights a week about him … ever since he passed away. Maybe he was trying to tell me something all that time,” said Naomi Hawkins.
Gabona’s name, along with that of his wife, son and daughter, are carved into wooden plaques attached to brick by the entrance of their home in Waldheim, a town about 15 kilometres north of Hepburn. The home sits within walking distance of the Mennonite Brethren church he attends.
Gabona said his Christian faith led him to speak with the RCMP.
“Definitely. It definitely had something to do with it,” said Gabona.
Transcripts of his police interrogation are now part of the evidence in the case against him for the decades-old alleged crimes.
After Gabona spoke with police, he talked with his church’s pastor, Kim Worthington.
“Brent told me, after the fact, that … this was in the hands of the RCMP at that point,” said Worthington, who still takes phone calls from Gabona.
Worthington said that Gabona was moved to “own his mistake” through reading the Bible.
“That’s between him and God, how he was led to do that,” he said.
Gabona appears to have been an active member of his community. He organized a bottle drive in 2015 for the family of the town’s fire chief, whose son was diagnosed with leukemia, according to a Facebook post from Waldheim Fire and Rescue.
He served on the board of the provincially owned Valley Regional Park during the 2020-2021 season, according to records on the park’s website.
Gabona also worked as an assistant manager at the Martensville branch of SARCAN, an association that delivers recycling services for the province and provides employment opportunities for people with disabilities, according to his LinkedIn profile and court records.
One of the conditions of his release stated that, while at work, he couldn’t be with an employee unless he was in the presence of a manager aware of his charges.
A SARCAN official told CBC News Gabona is no longer employed by the association.
“It’s just devastating for me in many respects. I don’t want to make things worse,” said Gabona, during his interview.
During his June 14 court hearing, Gabona patched in over the telephone. He said he had COVID-19 and was still searching for a lawyer.
The families whose loved ones were once in Gabona’s care feel like they’re in the dark about the RCMP’s investigation and why it appears it was based primarily on Gabona’s own words.
Jacqueline Forbes said the investigation should have expanded to include all individuals who were in the home while Gabona was employed and handled by detectives experienced in sexual crime cases.
“We are talking about 17 years worth of abuse on several different individuals. To me, that’s serial,” said Forbes.
She said the RCMP should have sought the help of a clinical psychologist to interview other potential victims and gathered all incident reports generated by Shepherd’s Villa still held by the provincial Ministry of Social Services.
“I do believe that incident reports … could show trends,” said Forbes, a former child and youth worker from Shaunavon, Sask.
The Saskatchewan RCMP said in a statement its general investigations section provided “guidance and direction in this investigation.” The statement said officers from that section help RCMP detachments in serious and “complex incidents.”
RCMP officers concluded they did not need the assistance of a clinical psychologist in the investigation, according to the statement, and “obtained all evidence available from that time period.” The police would not comment on what it did with any additional information provided by families.
The current executive director of Shepherd’s Villa would not provide comment to CBC News.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services said it could not provide any comments on “this specific case,” but is “committed to protecting vulnerable individuals and providing person-centered care in a safe and secure manner.”
On a recent Thursday evening in June, Rick Boguski guided Darryl into a station wagon. Boguski opened the back doors to let their two dogs jump in for a ride to a creek that cuts through the back of the ranch’s land.
He parked the vehicle and led his brother to a folding chair. Boguski sat in the grass and held Darryl’s hand.
“I love you. How much do I love you? To the moon and back, right?” said Boguski.
“Hear the creek? Isn’t that beautiful? It’s like music.”
Boguski said these moments are precious. They keep the darkness away, even for just a little while.
“I’m not sure if we can heal. I’m not sure. I’m amazed at the resiliency of Darryl … but I feel so broken,” he said.
“I don’t know how we’re going to ever repair, how we’re ever going to feel better again.”
Top image: Kimberly Ivany/CBC