Girl, 13, who died in Sylvan Lake remembered by family: ‘We are heartbroken and devastated’

Several families are dealing with a pain no parent should ever have to face, after two young girls died on Sunday in Sylvan Lake in central Alberta.

One of the girls was 13-year-old Olivia Dawn Johnson from Red Deer, and the other was a 12-year-old girl from Sylvan Lake.

“The hole Olivia has left in our hearts and in our lives is enormous, and our family is still trying to come to terms with the reality of not having her bounce into the house, spunky and smiling,” the family said in a statement to Global News on Thursday.

“We are heartbroken and devastated by the loss of Olivia.”

The family said the teenager was a compassionate soul, always generous with her kindness and caring for others. She loved to laugh, and her sense of humour was contagious, often making others laugh right along with her, the family said.

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“Olivia was a talented young woman with a bright future ahead of her. She was a skilled painter, loved hanging out with her friends, and most of all, made the world and our family brighter.”

Read more: RCMP investigating deaths of 2 girls found in central Alberta hotel room

Those who knew her said she was a gift, and even after her passing, she continues to be a leader in the community.

For several years, she was a member of the Red Deer Indigenous Dance Troupe, which this week came together to celebrate her life with a traditional Indigenous ceremony such as a smudge, songs, dance, drumming and prayer.

Olivia Dawn Johnson, 13, from Red Deer, Alta. Credit: Red Deer Indigenous Dance Troupe

Dance troupe staff posted a tribute to the teenager, saying their hearts, thoughts, prayers and best energy were with the Johnson family at this time.

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“In the midst of this heartache, Olivia continues to be a light and leader for our families and youth. We will miss her Kokum energy and beautiful smile deeply.

“What a gift she is to our community.”

In a post earlier this week announcing the celebration of life for Olivia (Morning Star Walking Eagle), her mother Connie Lokken Johnson said her daughter came home from the hospital on Easter Sunday “and she left us on Easter Sunday.”

Alberta RCMP are investigating the death of the two girls after their bodies were found in a room at the Best Western Hotel in Sylvan Lake, a town about 15 kilometres west of Red Deer popular with recreationists and lake-goers.

The night Olivia passed, her family said she was with a friend at a birthday gathering.

“In the way most young women like to do — celebrating with a dinner with parents, swimming, and doing each other’s makeup,” the family statement said.

There was a parent nearby, police said. The family said the two girls had a room next door to the parent, who would check in periodically.

The Best Western Hotel at 5027 Lakeshore Drive in Sylvan Lake, Alta. on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Global News

Police said there are no indications Olivia or the other girl took their own lives or were killed, and believe the deaths are non-criminal.

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“We know there are many unanswered questions, and some we may never have answers to. For now, our family is focusing on supporting each other and grieving the loss of our Olivia,” the Johnson family said.

Alberta RCMP media relations Cpl. Troy Savinkoff said the medical examiner’s office is looking into the possibility the girls died from an overdose, but toxicology testing takes anywhere from a few days to a few months to complete.

The family said it is confident the RCMP investigation will shed light on how the evening unfolded.

“Speculation about what happened will do nothing to further this work, and will only bring more hurt in an already incredibly difficult time.”

The family extended gratitude towards everyone who has kept them in their thoughts and prayers and has shared in their grief.

“We are so very grateful for the outpouring of love and support we have received from the community, friends, and particularly the Red Deer Aboriginal Dance Troupe.

“We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of kindness. We will keep that with us. Thank you for respecting our privacy as we move forward.”

The girls’ deaths have deeply impacted their communities.

“Olivia is in our hearts forever, and she was taken from us far too early. She had big dreams and we can’t believe we won’t get to cheer her on as she grows up. We know whatever Olivia would have chosen to do, she would have done it like she has always done – full of confidence, growing and learning every step of the way,” the family statement said.

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“We miss Olivia and love her, and we will remember her vibrant presence forever.”

Olivia’s wake and funeral are planned for next week in Red Deer.

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