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Slain Sooke woman celebrated life

Jan 12 2012

In life, Sarah Nickerson, who was killed in an attack at her home Sunday, didn't just dance at parties and weddings. She danced in the streets.

It was a characteristic of her free-spirited nature that endeared the mother and grandmother to most people who met her, said long-time friend Diana Cooper.

"She loved to dance and she was a beautiful pianist," Cooper, 65, said Wednesday. "She was really well known in Sooke because she was so friendly and caring."

Unfortunately, her childlike, "hippie" nature meant she wasn't always responsible and her generosity caused her to sometimes neglect her best interests, friends said.

On Sunday at 3:30 p.m., RCMP received a call for help. Police arrived at an Otter Point Road mobile home in Sooke to find a woman dead.

Court records identify that woman as Sarah Nickerson, 53. An autopsy to positively identify her remains was conducted Wednesday, police said. Results have not been released.

Alex Conte, 21, the dead woman's son, is charged with second-degree murder.

Cooper said Nickerson was an attractive and seemingly robust person but struggled with mental and physical health issues. "She never really made it with her music because of her own health problems."

Nickerson was "very close" to her daughter Phaedra and loved her two sons, Isaac and Alex. And she was a loving grandmother to Phaedra's two daughters, Cooper said.

Over the years, Cooper's two daughters and Nickerson's two sons spent many hours playing together. Kemp Lake was a favourite destination.

As a child, Alex lived with his mother but later there were concerns about his care, primarily Nickerson's home-schooling, Cooper said.

The Conte boys were sent to live with their father, Tony Conte, who also lives in Sooke. In recent years, Alex proved too difficult for his father and was taken back in by his mother, Cooper said.

Amy Rose Hamelin, 24, is one of Cooper's daughters. As children, "Alex Conte was like a brother to me," she said.

Two years ago Alex overdosed on drugs. Hamelin wrote him a letter, offering to bring him to Narcotics Anonymous. " 'I'm going to be fine,' is what he said," Hamelin recalled.

Friends and neighbours say at times Nickerson's unconditional love for her son was painful to witness. "She didn't want to give up on him," Cooper said.

Police confirm that Conte was known to them before the attack. Neighbours report that on several occasions, police were called to the Otter Point mobile home where he and Nickerson lived.

"She had a passion for helping other people," Hamelin said. "This ended up working against her sometimes."

Hamelin is angered by Nickerson's death. "I always felt bad for Sarah because she would try so hard and it was never good enough."

She hopes people remember Nickerson as she was: loving and hilarious. "[She] definitely danced to the beat of her own drum. Literally danced," Hamelin said.

"Anywhere there was music, she would openly dance in public and it looked so ridiculous you just had to laugh, but in a good way."

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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