Toronto Sun

May 18, 2002

Probe: Ayisha's tragic life

By SHANE HOLLADAY -- Sun Media
Toronto Sun

EDMONTON -- Ontario's ministry of community, family and children's services has launched an investigation into how a Toronto family retained custody of a former Edmonton man's child killed Tuesday in a housefire.

Six-year-old Ayisha Rea Benner died in the blaze at the home of her legal guardians, Raymond and Jaquie Clarke.

"The Children's Aid Society is investigating the case," said ministry spokesman Anne Machowski, from Toronto.

Ayisha was the daughter of Kevin Simpson, who for the last four years, has been fighting to win custody from the Clarkes.

Today would have been the first time in two weeks Simpson would have seen his daughter, during a supervised visit.

"The last time I saw her playing with me and laughing was the weekend before that. I see her every second weekend," Simpson said.

Ayisha, home sick from school, was upstairs watching a battery-powered television -- the electricity in the Old Weston-Davenport Rds. area home had been cut off days earlier -- and became trapped in her room by flames.

The funeral for Ayisha, known to classmates as Jessica, is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21 at Wychwood Presbyterian Church, 151 Wychwood Ave., near Christie St. near St. W. Visitation is Monday, 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at the Ogden Funeral Home, at 646 St. Clair Ave. W.

Simpson claimed after Ayisha was abandoned at about 13 months by her mother, the Clarkes kept his daughter for months without telling him.

For the first few years of his daughter's life, Simpson thought she was with her mother who had moved to Florida and said, through regular phone calls, Ayisha was with her.

Then on Christmas Day 1997, Simpson asked to talk to his daughter and learned she was in Toronto with the Clarkes.

-- With files by Ian Robertson

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