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Man cries for change after daughter killed by intimate partner violence

‘I want to stop this from happening’: Dan Jennings, whose daughter was killed in her London, Ont. home this summer, is on a mission to raise awareness and save lives

Warning: This article contains graphic details that may disturb some readers.

As many people in Sault Ste. Marie were hearing the term "intimate partner violence" for the first time in response to last week's mass murder-suicide, one local man was all too familiar with it: His 22-year-old daughter lost her life to similar violence in southern Ontario just a few months ago.

Dan Jennings told SooToday he hadn’t heard that term until dealing with the aftermath of his daughter Caitlin Jennings’ death in London, Ont., in July.

“I’m not used to the new term intimate partner violence," he said. "To me it’s always been domestic violence."

Caitlin was found dead in a London home on July 5. David Norman Yates, a 50-year-old construction worker, was arrested at the scene and London police said the two were known to each other.

The charges against Yates have not yet been tested in court.

In response to her death, London city council unanimously passed a resolution a few weeks later declaring intimate partner violence and femicide an epidemic.

Jennings is hoping a similar motion on the agenda for today’s meeting of city council in Sault Ste. Marie will be passed, putting pressure on higher levels of government to do something. Despite increasing pressure, the Ford government has yet to declare an intimate partner violence epidemic in Ontario.

“There’s no comparable pain that I can describe," Jennings said. "It truly means a piece of me died when she died. But if we can put an end and more awareness and find the resources for people — I want to stop this from happening."

Although many communities are calling on the province to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic, Jennings said it can’t stop there.

“It has to go higher than that because we are talking about the Criminal Code," he said "It has to be Ottawa."

A total of 1,351 intimate partner violence calls for service were made to Sault Ste Marie Police Service in 2022, says a resolution to be presented Monday by Coun. Angela Caputo and Coun. Lisa Vezeau-Allen.

Jennings will be speaking in council chambers today in response to the resolution, as will Brian Sweeney, father of Angie Sweeney, one of the four victims killed in the Oct. 23 shooting rampage carried out by 44-year-old Bobbie Hallaert.

On Friday night, Jennings was present at a vigil for healing and remembrance held outside the Machine Shop. Gripping a photo of Caitlin, he stood in the front row alongside his fiancée, Michelle Gilpin.

Jennings was living in London when he and Caitlin’s mother separated in 2015, around the same time he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He became estranged from Caitlin and her brother and, until a meeting last year, last saw his daughter in 2015.

“I am very up front about this — I was suicidal and my son once saw me try to slice my wrist,” he said. “She took them away, that’s a very good thing taking kids away when someone is alone and suicidal.”

Originally from the Sault, Dan made the decision to move home and eventually began a new life, marrying Melody Robson-Jennings. Their time together was marked by major health issues to both; Jennings with a brain tumour as well as hip and shoulder replacements, Robson-Jennings with colon, liver and lung cancers.

Robson-Jennings died as a result of her health issues on April 9, 2022 at the age of 51.

Just a few months later, on Father’s Day 2022, Dan received an unexpected but welcome Facebook message.

“I thought it was the perfect Father’s Day gift just out of the blue,” said Dan. “I discovered she was living with — I don’t even want to say his name, we call him monster.”

The father and daughter were able to see each other in person in London in September of 2022 and she introduced Jennings to her much older boyfriend. Yates was six-foot-two, while Caitlin was only about five-foot-six.

“One thing that was always a red flag to me was the age. He was 50 and when she died in July she was 22,” Jennings said. “There was obviously an issue there, but for me to reconnect I had to pick my battles, so to speak. We talked many times on the phone, texted and I went down to see her when she was living in Strathroy.”

Yates and Caitlin later moved into a new home in London, the same home where she was eventually found dead.

In keeping in touch with his daughter by long distance, Jennings kept hearing about problems. But he also heard reassurances.

“There was some warning flags, some messages she sent me, but she said it was all worked out,” he said. “I had no issues at the time I was there, he was great. I tried to keep an open mind.”

Jennings was even told one of the reasons Caitlin reached out to him was due to a suggestion from Yates.

”So when things happened it was hard to rationalize having any sort of gratitude to somebody who took my daughter,” he said. 

Dan Jennings, in his Sault Ste. Marie Home, shows a tattoo of his daughter's name he had done around the time they were estranged. The date of her death was added after Caitlin Jennings was found dead July 5 in her London home in a case of intimate partner violence. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

Another reunion between father and daughter was planned for last August, but before that could happen Jennings received a late-night knock at the door by a Sault Ste. Marie Police officer. It was July 5, the same day London Police found Caitlin. 

The officer asked if he has a daughter named Caitlin Jennings.

“Before he could finish I knew what he was going to say and who did it,” Jennings recalled. “I wish I could remember the officer’s name, he was so compassionate.”

Jennings travelled to London for the celebration of life and was eventually able to receive some of his daughter’s personal items from the London home where she was killed.

“What was disturbing — the place was at least cleaned — but there were many bags there with various things from couch cushions and clothing and all of that that were either labelled contaminated or not contaminated," he said. "That’s obviously blood we are talking about."

While in the home, Jennings saw what he can only assume was evidence of the attack.

“A telltale sign of how violent it was is the glass on the oven was smashed,” he said.

A bail hearing was recently held for Yates, with a decision expected next month. Jennings cannot share the traumatic evidence or testimony presented as part of the hearing because it is covered by a publication ban.

“I am not only dealing with how brutal her life ended — I was just starting to reconnect. That’s the tragic part about it for me,” he said. “I didn’t know the story — now I do. All of the warning signs were there.”

Gilpin, Jennings' fiancée, said she has one big regret in the situation.

“I never got to hug her,” she said.

She and Jennings would like to see more awareness of the problem of intimate partner violence and to ensure people know the warning signs to look out for.

Although Jennings is planning to follow the case of his daughter’s accused killer to the end, he stressed he is seeking justice for Caitlin, not vengeance.

"There is a whole difference between wanting vengeance and wanting justice. Vengeance is the evil side and I don’t want that,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to be like that and it’s important.”

Jennings has started a Facebook group for anyone who wants to share memories of Caitlin and to follow his search for justice in the case.

Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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