'He was a great man': Woman says father among three who died in Edmonton park

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A British Columbia woman is looking for answers after her father and two other men died suddenly in an Edmonton park.

Naomi Johnson says her father, 71-year-old Clifford Mitchell, was one of three men who went into medical distress and died in Kinistinâw Park Friday afternoon.

Reached Sunday, she knew little beyond what authorities had told the media — that the three men suffered cardiac arrest and died at the scene.

“He’d been on the street for about 20 years, he had a problem with alcohol,” she said. “But he was a great man. He had a great personality, a great sense of humour. He has five kids — I’m the oldest of five. We always knew he loved us, and loved his grandkids.”

Emergency crews responded to 96 Street and 103 Avenue Friday afternoon after three men were found unresponsive in Kinistinâw Park. First responders determined the men were in cardiac arrest and tried unsuccessfully to revive them, including by using Narcan, a medication used to block opioid overdoses.

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Police ruled the deaths were not criminal in nature, but nothing else has been confirmed about how they died. Neither police nor medical officials released their names.

Edmonton police and emergency medical services crews responded to 96 Street and 103 Avenue around 4 p.m. on Friday, May 21, 2021. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate three people who were in cardiac arrest, however all three died at the scene. The deaths are believed to be non-criminal.
Edmonton police and emergency medical services crews responded to 96 Street and 103 Avenue around 4 p.m. on Friday, May 21, 2021. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate three people who were in cardiac arrest, however all three died at the scene. The deaths are believed to be non-criminal. Photo by Dylan Short /Postmedia

For Jimmy Ali, owner of the Early Bird Cafe on 97 Street, Mitchell was a regular and a friend. Mitchell lost much of his eyesight in the past two years, leaving him reliant on Ali for rides. He lived at Hope Mission, where he hung out with a small group of companions who helped him navigate the city.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ali would pick Mitchell up from the shelter each morning, or make sure there was someone who could walk him to the restaurant.

“We’d hang out, we’d play poker and stuff, he’d have coffee and breakfast or whatever,” Ali said. “His friends were all there so he’d chit chat. He couldn’t really watch TV but he liked to listen.”

Ali saw Mitchell with several other men and a woman around 7:30 a.m. Friday. Because of the pandemic they were hanging out in front of the cafe. Ali gave Mitchell some coffee and cigarettes. About 20 minutes later, the group left for Kinistinâw Park, one of their usual hangout spots.

Ali has since spoken to the woman who was with the group. She declined to speak to Postmedia, but told Ali they spent the day drinking beer and that at some point, smoked a joint. When the woman returned from a beer run that afternoon, “everything was good,” Ali recalled her saying. “And then (the three men) fell asleep and they never woke up again.”

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An undated photo of Clifford Mitchell, who family say died in a central Edmonton park on Friday, May 21, 2021.
An undated photo of Clifford Mitchell, who family say died in a central Edmonton park on Friday, May 21, 2021. Photo by Supplied

He said the other two men who died were in their 40s or 50s — considerably younger than Mitchell.

Johnson got a call from her sister around 6 p.m. Friday informing her of what happened. Her sister learned the news from Ali, who heard it from the woman who was hanging out with the group.

Johnson has been in touch with the medical examiner but does not know when she will have answers about her dad’s cause of death. She also contacted Edmonton police but was told the file is closed.

The shortage of answers over the long weekend has frustrated both family and harm reduction advocates, who say there needs to be more information about how the men died.

“Three people dying in a public place in the middle of the day is a massive indication there is a huge problem that needs to be addressed immediately,” Johnson said in a text.

Both she and Ali are baffled as to what might have happened. Both said Mitchell and his friends did not use drugs besides alcohol and marijuana.

“He wasn’t a person who was looking for that,” Ali said.

An undated photo of Clifford Mitchell.
An undated photo of Clifford Mitchell. Photo by Supplied

Johnson and her dad talked regularly on the phone. She lives on Vancouver Island and last saw him three years ago when she visited Edmonton with her kids. It was the first time he met his grandchildren.

“It was a really great visit,” she said. “He stayed in a hotel with us, we went mini-golfing. The kids had a great time.”

She planned to return last summer, but was unable due to the pandemic.

For now, Johnson takes some solace in the fact that her dad spent his last moments with friends in the park on a sunny day. But she and her family are still troubled by the lack of answers.

“I’m in the dark, and I don’t understand,” she said.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

Clifford Mitchell, seen with kids in an undated photo.
Clifford Mitchell, seen with kids in an undated photo. Photo by Supplied

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