Claresholm Highway Murders: Anniversary Of Roadside Shooting That Claimed 4 Lives

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TABITHA STEPPLE
It's the one-year anniversary of the Claresholm highway murders that saw Derek Jensen gun down Tabitha Stepple and two promising baseball players near Claresholm, Alta., on Dec. 15, 2011, before killing himself. Pictured above is Tabitha Stepple. (Facebook) | Facebook

CLARESHOLM, Alta. - They were shot on the side of a dark highway 10 days before Christmas by a young man angry at his former girlfriend.

Derek Jensen gunned down Tabitha Stepple and two promising baseball players near Claresholm, Alta., on Dec. 15, 2011, before killing himself. He and Stepple, both 21, had been living together but had recently separated

Stepple and her friend Shayna Conway were driving Tanner Craswell and Mitch Maclean to the Calgary airport so they could fly home for Christmas. Craswell, 22, and Maclean, 20, were both from Prince Edward Island, but had come to Alberta to hone their skills with the Lethbridge Bulls of the Western Major Baseball League.

STORY CONTINUES AFTER GALLERY..

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Conway, also from P.E.I., survived the shooting and moved back home to begin a long recovery. The 22-year-old, who was Craswell's girlfriend, hasn't returned to Alberta.

A memorial was held Saturday at the Prairie Baseball Academy grounds in Lethbridge to remember and pay tribute to those who died.

Kevin Kvame, who coached the players and boarded them in his home, said at the time of the murders that the entire baseball community was devastated.

"They were in the wrong place at the wrong time,'' he said a day after the shootings.

In the year that has passed, friends and family, the baseball team and the community of Claresholm have coped in different ways. There have been fundraisers, memorials and monuments.

The Prairie Baseball Academy and the Lethbridge Bulls set up a scholarship in the dead players' names. It's to be awarded to young men who want to chase their baseball dreams.

The Craswell and Maclean families were invited to a Toronto Blue Jays game this year where they met players and were given signed jerseys.

A roadside memorial with crosses, flowers and baseball items still stands just outside Claresholm. Mayor David Moore told one media outlet that the town has bounced back, but the tragedy reminded everyone that "you never know what's coming."

Police said at the time that Jensen's actions were fuelled by a recent breakup with Stepple. But there was no known domestic abuse between the pair and no foreshadowing of the violence to come.

Conway, Craswell and Maclean were all studying at Lethbridge University.

Conway was driving Stepple's car that night. They had hours earlier celebrated Craswell's birthday at a pub in Lethbridge, where they ran into Jensen. There was an explosive argument.

The foursome left to go to the airport. Investigators said Jensen was driving up Highway 2 towards Calgary when he spotted Stepple's car outside 7-11 store in Claresholm where the group had made a pit stop. Whey they got back on the road, Jensen continued to follow them a bit further before he rear-ended the car. Conway got out first, possibly unaware of who was driving the other vehicle.

Jensen shot her several times with a handgun, then walked to the car and fired many more shots inside, killing Stepple and Craswell. MacLean was wounded but managed to climb out of the car and crawl a short distance into a ditch.

MacLean and Conway were both taken to a Calgary hospital, but MacLean died before he arrived.

Jensen, an avid hunter and skeet shooter, killed himself at the scene.

Mounties found two more loaded guns in his vehicle — a shotgun and a rifle. They later discovered another rifle and some ammunition at his home.