For a month after her father’s body was discovered on a walking trail near Point Grondine, Melanie Burke spent a lot of time concerned about the well-being of the man who would later be arrested and charged with his murder.
Brant Burke, 56, was shot and killed, and his body was found on Oct. 25, 2020 on a trail near their camp in the Point Grondine reserve off Highway 637. The two suspects arrested and charged in his death sent shockwaves throughout Greater Sudbury, and across Northeastern Ontario.
Brant’s own brother, Kerry Burke, is now in jail and charged with first-degree murder.
Brant’s wife, Melissa Sheridan, is also charged with first-degree murder, however, she was granted bail under a strict set of conditions.
The Burke brothers were best friends, said Melanie, the second oldest of Brant’s daughters.
“When it all happened, my heart was breaking for Kerry,” she said. “They saw each other every day. They've been close for as long as I can remember. I promised dad that I will do my best to help Kerry through this.”
And then he was arrested.
Shock is an understatement, she said.
“Kerry was one of my closest uncles growing up,” she said. “We spent almost every weekend in the summer with him at our camp. He took us tubing; he was a very close uncle.”
The month before his arrest, she said her uncle was quiet.
“He was very off, but we just chalked it up to him grieving his brother, his best friend,” Melanie said. “I don’t know how you look someone in the eye and just play that role after what you’ve done. It was quite the performance.”
The first-degree murder charges have not been proven in court, and the matters are still working their way through the court system. For that reason, Melanie did not want to speak in great length about either her uncle or Sheridan. She does not want to have a negative impact on any of the proceedings.
Instead, she just wants to talk about her dad and how his death has changed her family.
A lot of the outdoor skills Melanie and her sister have acquired in her life, she owes to her father’s guidance and love.
Brant Burke taught his daughters to hunt and fish, because that’s what he most enjoyed in life.
“I’m pretty good out in the woods, I can clean my own fish, and I learned that all from my dad,” said Melanie.
It may be an obvious statement, but her father’s murder has taken over her life.
Thinking back to those days in October 2020 and the phone call she got from her mom on Oct. 26 brings a flood of tears.
“I was woken up by the call, and I heard my mom's voice, she could barely get the words out, and all she could say was, ‘it's dad,’” said Melanie. “I experienced for the first time in my life, but many, many times after that, what it feels like to be completely numb. I know I screamed. All I could do to soothe myself was sit in the middle of my floor, and I rocked violently, just not believing it.
“It affects you physically in so many ways. I couldn’t feel anything except my feet on the floor. I literally could not feel my hands, my face, my whole body, and all I could feel was my feet touching the floor.”
More questions than answers would arise over the next few days.
“We just knew his body had been found close to our camp,” he said. “We didn't know what had happened, we just knew that he was found. I think they told us right away that he had been shot.”
Melanie said her first thought was that her father had taken his own life, but was skeptical, because he has two younger children with Sheridan, and had them every second weekend.
The investigation and having to deal with countless questions by police exacerbated the anxiety and fears, although Melanie has nothing but kind words for the detectives handling the murder investigation.
“I don’t know how many times I was sitting in my dad’s kitchen, when a bunch of OPP officers would show up with search warrants. They would ask us to wait outside, and we could only look on through a window as they flipped mattresses. It was like a movie.”
The lead investigators have almost become like family, she said. She still gets phone calls just checking on her well-being, or the well-being of her children. She said those detectives have shown just how “human” they are, and their compassion will always be a silver lining in the dark times.
“It’s incredible what they do, and they even put time with their own families aside, and all for a stranger, really,” Melanie said. “I think I will forever keep in touch with (Det.-Sgt.) Todd (Fox), of the Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service. He is just one of the most compassionate and kind-hearted people I think I’ve ever met.”
At the one-year anniversary of Brant’s death, Melanie and her family went to the site of his murder to hold an Indigenous healing ceremony. Not only was her family there, but so were several of the officers she got to know throughout the investigation.
“I asked them if they ever get to do things like this, and they all shook their heads. The emotions were very high during the ceremony.”
She said it was the most emotionally painful experience of her life.
“When I got there, I saw a murder scene, and I think I started hallucinating, because I thought I saw blood on the trees. After the ceremony, when we were leaving, I remember turning back and all I saw was a walking trail.”
She also started noticing all of the other wonders of nature, the image of a murder scene fading from her mind and making way for a more “peaceful” sight.
“That was one of the main purposes of the ceremony, to release the area,” she said. “Every time I would even get close to that place, I wanted to throw up. You could put a blindfold on me and not even tell me where I was, and I would still feel it.”
Now, she can drive past that trail and, while she is fully aware of its implications in her life, it no longer holds that sway over her.
Even though it has been a year and a half since her dad’s death, there are still triggers that send her back to the day she found out her father died.
“My kids have very much been affected by this, not that they understand what happened, and all they have seen for months is mom barely being able to pick herself up.”
There were times where, out of the blue, she just needed to be at her dad’s house.
“I would just tell my husband, I gotta go to dad’s now, and I would just take off,” she said.
For now, though, Melanie and her family can only look on as the matters make their way through the court system.
Kerry Burke has pretrial dates coming up in May, while Sheridan has a return date of June 7 to be spoken to.