By Adrian Morrow
Near 1 a.m. on the day she died, Adele Turcotte had a long phone conversation with her old friend Jenna Stortini. Her phone dying, Adele promised to call Stortini in the morning before letting her go.
A few hours later, she chatted over the Internet with Mike Esson, a high school friend in her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. “She was excited about coming home [for Christmas] and seeing everyone,” he remembers. “She seemed fine — I didn’t think anything of it.” Adele signed off around 5 a.m. on Dec. 7.
Adele, the daughter of Algoma Steel president Denis Turcotte, died in her bed within hours of this conversation. An autopsy came back inconclusive, but police have ruled out foul play and suicide. They speculate that her death might have been related to her Type 1 diabetes.
Alex Kotsopoulos, one of Adele’s best friends and a former roommate in the Pitman Hall residence, was one of the first to notice that something was wrong. She planned to hang out with Adele at 11 a.m. that day.
She dropped by the evening before to borrow the last season of The OC. At that time, Adele was going out; Kotsopoulos was staying in. When she tried to call her friend the next morning, Kotsopoulos couldn’t get through.
Meanwhile, Adele’s mom, Julie, was also trying to reach her daughter. The two spoke on the phone every day and, when she couldn’t get through, Julie called one of her daughter’s friends to check up on her. She found her dead in her room. “I had a feeling something was wrong. I still couldn’t get a hold of her after 4 p.m., so I went upstairs to get the R.A. to break the lock on her door,” Kotsopoulos says. “There were already paramedics when I got there.”
It was 11 days before Adele’s 18th birthday.
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Born in Saint John, N.B., Adele grew up in the northern Ontario towns of Kapuskasing and North Bay before moving to Sault Ste. Marie in Grade 8.
On her first day in her new school, Adele was walking down the basketball court when Stortini introduced herself.
“I was the first person to talk to her. I remember how outgoing she was — by the end of that day, she had 20 best friends,” she says.
When her family went to their Brown’s Island cottage in the spring — where she was the first to jump off the rocks into the frigid waters of Georgian Bay — she would make friends with all the neighbours, spending days driving from camp to camp visiting them.
“She was as comfortable with peoples’ parents as she was with me. There wasn’t a single person she couldn’t start a conversation with,” says Brittany Shamess, who spent summers with Adele swimming and exploring the island on ATVs.
“I remember we used to take her family’s trash to the dump. One time we went and there was a Mennonite family there, and she went up to them and offered a little boy one of her brother’s toy trucks.”
Her love of fashion started in grade school, when she would sometimes attend class in a bathing suit or an outlandish costume of her own design. As she grew older, she would mix and match vintage clothes with designer items to create her own outfits.
But she was more than just fashion-savvy. “She was a good student, a very talented artist. She was very positive, a leader,” recalls Cindy Salituri, principal at St. Mary’s College, where Adele graduated in June.
Just months before she died, Adele left the north to start a new life in Toronto. She moved into a room in Pitman Hall with Kotsopoulos and two other girls in September. The two soon became close friends.
“She was my best friend. We would hang out every day,” she says, recalling how they would watch entire seasons of TV shows in a single night.
“She was very outgoing and she would always speak her mind. Even if it wasn’t the best thing to say, she’d always say what she was thinking.”
Eddie Crockford, a first-year business student, was stunned to hear of Adele’s death amid the bustle of exam period.
“It was really quiet for a couple of days. Really quiet. No one knew what to say, so they said nothing,” he says. “When somebody dies it just seems like exams are redundant.”
Adele had questioned the Catholic Church in which she was raised, but told Shamess just a week before her death that she had to find a faith.
“It was the weirdest thing for Adele to say,” she says, explaining that the two never usually spoke about religion.
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When she was 15 years old, Adele promised Stortini they would one day leave their hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, go to university and live together. After a day of shopping in Birch Run, Mich., the two girls couldn’t sleep. They wandered to the hotel’s vending machine, sat on an old washer and dryer, and talked about the future. It was midnight.
After talking for five hours, Adele grabbed an Abercrombie bag wrote a contract on a torn-off half, pledging that the two girls would go to the University of Western Ontario together when they finished high school. It was May 2005.
Four months before her death, Adele picked Ryerson over Western, also turning down offers from schools in New York and Montreal. Stortini left the Sault for the University of Ottawa.
“Whatever Adele’s goal was that week, she was passionate about it,” Stortini remembers. “Even if she changed it all the time.”
When Stortini returned to the Sault following her friend’s death, her father presented her with the torn Abercrombie bag on which she had signed her contract with Adele that spring night more than two years before.
“Even though that washer and dryer was really uncomfortable, it was one of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had,” Stortini says.
“Adele was a deep person.”
— With files from Jesse McLean and Amit Shilton