Calgary Herald

Friday, June 21, 2002

'I tried my best to become a good mother to my babies'

Court hears about abusive relationship, but very little on what led mother to take lives of her beloved children

Mayumi Futamura and Jason van Rassel
Calgary Herald

Rie Fujii, left, has admitted to killing her two children, 15-month-old son Domenic and three-month-old Gemini, above.

Rie Fujii asked a future visitor for a favour while she was being held in the Peter Lougheed Centre's forensic unit, awaiting a court hearing where she would ultimately admit guilt in the deaths of her two infant children.

"Can you cut out a picture of Domenic from the newspapers and bring it for me? I don't have any pictures of my children," she asked in a telephone conversation shortly after her June 2001 arrest.

Sometime between the request and the actual visit, Fujii said not to bother -- she had been able to obtain pictures of her 15-month-old son, Domenic, and three-month-old daughter, Gemini, from someone else.

How long Fujii held onto the pictures isn't clear.

But facts read into the court record Thursday detailed their fate -- a fellow patient saw Fujii rip them up and flush the shredded pieces down the toilet.

"They're gone, it doesn't matter," Fujii explained when the patient asked her about her actions.

All very strange for a woman who professed to love her children, but left them helpless to die together, starved of food, water and motherly love in their Calgary apartment.

From the forensic unit, she tried to explain and justify her behaviour.

In a letter to her parents in Japan, Fujii wrote: "I have no idea why things turned out like this.

"I have never confided this to anyone, but many times I thought I would rather die. I was happy for the three years living together with Peter, but at the same time, it was hard because he kicked and punched me.

"I cried many times. But no matter how abusive Peter became, I tried my best to create a happy family. I tried my best to become a good mother for my babies."

Tomoko and Hideto Fujii never knew of Domenic's or Gemini's existence, or of Rie's stormy three-year relationship with the children's father, Peter Brown, until Calgary homicide detectives called them shortly after her arrest on June 6, 2001.

"Domenic was born at 5:17 a.m. It was on the snowy day, February 9. Gemini was born at 6:46 p.m. on February 24. When I gave birth to Domenic, for the first time I really felt a great sense of appreciation for you, mother and father," she wrote.

To her visitor, Fujii was soft-spoken and polite.

Her greetings and conversation were punctuated by repeated thanks in Japanese.

The face-to-face meeting came after several telephone conversations and Fujii seemed pleased to have company.

"You somehow look like my mother. I don't feel like we're meeting for the first time," she said, allowing a small smile to cross her face. She said she was concerned about arrangements for Domenic's funeral, but added she hoped her parents would take care of matters.

When the conversation turned to Domenic and Gemini, Fujii's voice faltered and her eyes welled up and reddened. She regained her composure after a few moments and remained silent.

While not willing to say anything about her children's fate outright, at the end of the half-hour visit, Fujii produced a letter she wanted published in the Herald -- written in the voice of fictitious friend.

"Rie loved Peter so much. She tried to help him so many times, but she failed," Fujii wrote in English.

"Rie was being stupid. She should have left (Brown) long time ago. I wrote this letter because I want everybody to know what Rie was going through."

That desire to tell her side of the story was some time in coming. In a casual e-mail to a friend in Japan dated May 26 -- a week after she disposed of Gemini's body and wrapped Domenic's up in a comforter -- Fujii give no hint of the terrible truth.

"Hi, how are you doin'. it is rie fujii from canada. in canada , it is very nice and hot these days. i really love being here," she wrote.

"(I) am hoping one of you guys come visit me in canada someday. bye."

Less than two weeks later, Fujii was in police custody and would be sent for a psychiatric assessment at Lougheed.

Fellow patients on the forensic ward testified at her preliminary inquiry that Fujii appeared detached when speaking about her children. One even said Fujii appeared "happy" during her stay.

It was revealed during inquiry and in court Thursday that Fujii had sexual dalliances with several young male patients on the forensic ward.

"The accused and various male co-patients would put pillows over their laps and sit beside each other on the couches in the common area of the unit.

They would then each put their hands under the pillows and down the other's pants, fondling the other's genitals," Crown prosecutor Pat Yelle recounted.

During one phone conversation, Fujii excitedly described the arrival of child killer Tony Gallup on the forensic ward.

"Guess who is here -- it's that famous murderer, who's been making headlines these days, who killed that little girl in Lethbridge," Fujii said.

"He looks totally different from the picture that was published in the newspaper."

Fujii said she didn't speak to Gallup, who was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder for killing five-year-old Jessica Koopmans last year.

"No, he is kind of segregated from us, but there are lots of other criminals," she said, adding she wasn't intimidated by her company inside the ward.

"I'm fine. I've talked to them. It's fine."

Still, Fujii was well aware facing criminal charges and being held in custody was an unusual situation for someone to be in -- let alone a foreign student from Japan.

But until the initial charges were upgraded to second-degree murder in August 2001, she didn't seem to understand the seriousness of the situation.

"Many things have happened, indeed," she said in July.

"I should write about it and publish a book once I go back to Japan. Some publisher will be interested in my story."

The Rie Fujii case: Chronology of a Family Tragedy

April 1997: Rie Fujii arrives here on a visa to study English at Mount Royal College.

1998: Moves in with Peter Brown.

April 10, 1999: Returns to Japan when student visa expires. Comes back later that year on a visitor's visa.

Feb. 9, 2000: Son Domenic Ryu Brown is born.

April 10, 2000: Visitor's visa expires, but stays illegally.

Feb. 4-March 17, 2001: Moves to Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter.

Feb. 24, 2001: Daughter Gemini Brown born prematurely and spends first two weeks in hospital.

March 17-April 9, 2001: Fujii moves to Native Women's Shelter, kids cared for occasionally by Children's Cottage.

Late March 2001: Begins relationship with new boyfriend Chris Knowler.

April 10, 2001: Moves to rented apartment at 203, 126 14th Ave. S.E.

April 2001: Leaves kids at home frequently, sometimes overnight, to visit Knowler's apartment near Chinook Centre.

April 2001: Brown spots Fujii with Knowler, forces her to go with him, tells her he loves her but is rejected and never sees her or the children again.

May 3, 2001: Knowler moves out of his apartment, stays with Fujii and her children for a few days before moving to his father's residence in Cochrane.

May 8, 2001: Fujii goes to Cochrane to visit Knowler, leaving children alone in her apartment for 10 days. During that period, both die of starvation.

May 18, 2001: Returns to apartment and finds children dead. Puts Gemini's body in plastic bag and throws it into garbage dumpster.

May 20-24, 2001: Fujii returns to Cochrane to stay with Knowler, leaving Domenic's body in the apartment.

May 24-30, 2001: Returns to her apartment and is visited by Knowler, who is unaware the boy's body is there.

May 31-June 6, 2001: Stays with Knowler again.

June 5, 2001: Apartment owner Pritpal Sandhu opens door to Fujii's suite after getting no response to June 1 eviction notice, calls police after smelling rotting flesh.

June 6, 2001: Arrested for murder of Domenic.

Aug. 14, 2001: Charged with murder of Gemini.

© Copyright 2002 Calgary Herald