Ma Loreto's body was found severely burned in a Burnaby park on March 18, 2021. Loreto's family remembered her in a courtroom this week. (Perez Music Adventures & Memories/ YouTube)

The unforgettable mark left by Ma Cecilia Loreto

Ma Loreto's body was found severely burned in a Burnaby park on March 18, 2021. Loreto's family remembered her in a courtroom this week.

By Dustin Godfrey | March 23, 2022 |5:00 am

“Our family has been destroyed. Our dreams have been shattered.”

The words, spoken solemnly by Ma Cecilia Loreto’s brother in a small New Westminster courtroom, encapsulated neatly the sentiments of Loreto’s family.

Loreto’s brother spoke his words aloud to the court, with those of her three sisters, her mother, and her niece being read by a Crown lawyer as Carlo Tobias, 22, was sentenced to 10 years for his part in her death.

Tobias pleaded guilty to manslaughter and accessory after the fact, after he was originally charged with first-degree murder and indignity to human remains.

‘She was always the fun one’

On March 17, 2021, Loreto was killed in her own home—punched in the head and knocked out by Tobias and stabbed to death by a minor, who cannot be identified—rolled up in blankets and dumped in Greentree Village Park, along Wayburne Drive, where her body was doused in gasoline and set on fire, according to an agreed statement of facts put forward by the defence and prosecutors.

The loss of Loreto, often referred to by friends and family as Maricel, was described by family members as having had deep impacts on her loved ones, and leaving a gaping void in their lives.

“Without her, our house is now a quiet, sad place. She was always the fun one. We listened to music together, cooking in the kitchen together,” one sister wrote in a victim impact statement.

“I lost my interest in music because I always remember her.”

She was described by her brother as a passionate mother who would fight relentlessly for her child.

“So many people have been shocked and in disbelief. … Maricel is a lively person with a very positive personality,” he told the court.

“Since Maricel is gone, there’s no passing day that we don’t feel the emptiness in our home.”

He called the absence of Loreto “unbearable,” adding that it’s something that has driven him to, at times, drink alcohol just to be able to sleep at night.

“I have not done [that] before,” he said. “That negativity surrounds us every time. The fear, the grief, the sadness, and worries follow us anywhere, anytime. My daughter stopped talking about her aunt.”

Loreto’s death looms over the family

He described the impact on his life as a disruptive force, one that has caused him to dissociate from the world around him.

“I miss my appointments. I would need my daughter to remind me of things. I was reprimanded by my boss for being a slow learner and forgetting other things,” he said.

“I fear that I may lose my job [at] any time, as my brain becomes so reactive and not proactive thinking, as I used to do.”

The loss of Loreto in such a violent manner has had an irrevocable impact on her family’s peace of mind, he added.

“Our everyday life will not go back. … Our peace of minds will always be hampered by the horrible loss of a very understanding sister, hardworking parent, responsible mother, trusted friend, and a loving daughter to my mom,” he said.

“She’s really gone. It was hard to move on. My dreams of coming to Canada—gone. I lost the will to fix the paperwork that she was teaching me [about] what’s the next thing to do.”

Photo: Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon

Loreto, who was an immigrant to Canada from the Philippines, where she worked as a teacher, also had family in her home country, including her mother who had to fly to Canada to bury her daughter.

“When I came to Canada, I didn’t know that Maricel was gone. I was wondering why, when I came here to Canada, I didn’t talk to Maricel. We didn’t meet; we didn’t talk,” her mother wrote.

“Then, when we went to the park [where her body was found], that’s when I knew that she was gone.”

Her mother described going to the park where Loreto’s body was found with burns to 92% of her body.

“My legs … hurt. I had difficulty walking. And my body began to weaken. Maricel always helps me with supplements and my treatments for my diabetes. Maricel helps me get medical treatments,” she wrote.

‘My dreams of coming to Canada—gone’

Sisters to Loreto described feeling immobilized by the loss of their sister, feeling no motivation to even move both at home and at work.

“It really hurts, especially now that I can no longer talk to her, and I can no longer see her smiles on her face,” one sister wrote.

“When I meet my friends and coworkers, I can’t control my feelings. I’ll tell stories and just cry to them because of what happened to my sister. Nothing [is] as painful as what happened to her, heartbreaking and emotional.”

Another sister, who still lives in the Philippines, said she has been consumed by thoughts of Loreto, who she described as a personal guide.

“She’s really gone. It was hard to move on. My dreams of coming to Canada—gone. I lost the will to fix the paperwork that she was teaching me [about] what’s the next thing to do,” she wrote.

And family members wrote of feeling unsafe in the community and at home as a result of Loreto’s death.

Tobias’s 10-year prison sentence was broken down into two parts: eight years for manslaughter and two years for accessory after the fact. It was a joint submission by defence and Crown prosecutors, which was described by the lawyers as being well within the range that has been set by BC judges in past court cases.

Factors in sentencing

Aggravating factors in the sentence included the fact that Loreto was killed in her own home and the manner in which her body was disposed of—rolled up in blankets and burned in a park.

But the defence also pointed to a number of mitigating factors. Tobias admitted to his involvement in Loreto’s death shortly afterwards and ultimately turned himself in to police.

He pleaded guilty early in the case, both saving court resources and saving Loreto’s family from having to endure a potentially lengthy trial.

While he did not speak in his sentencing hearing, defence lawyer Matthew Nathanson said the young man has expressed “sincere remorse” and takes full responsibility for his role in Loreto’s death.

Tobias also is described in the agreed statement of facts as attempting to talk his co-accused out of killing Loreto, but was unsuccessful.

He also was not the one who had stabbed the 41-year-old woman, though he did play a larger role in disposing of the body.

And Nathanson noted that Tobias is still young and remorseful, and had a full-time job and a supportive family, all important factors that point to a higher likelihood of rehabilitation.

Tobias has been in jail since he turned himself in to police, just around a year ago, making him eligible for 1.5 years of credit for time served.

BC provincial court Judge Peter La Prairie accepted the joint sentencing submission put before him, meaning Tobias has another 8.5 years left to serve.

While accepting the mitigating factors put forward by the defence, he added that the sentence needs to reflect the seriousness of the crime.

“This was a senseless crime, which has destroyed the family,” he said. “Words cannot describe the loss they have suffered and continue to suffer.”

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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