Som­bre an­niver­sary for bullied teen

Twenty years later, gath­er­ing re­news ded­i­ca­tion for pre­vent­ing sim­i­lar at­tacks in fu­ture

The Province - - NEWS - DIRK MEISSNER

SAANICH — Reena Virk strug­gled to un­der­stand why peo­ple con­sid­ered her dif­fer­ent and a tar­get for school bul­lies, her fa­ther said Tues­day at a me­mo­rial to mark the 20th an­niver­sary of the Victoria teenager’s death.

Stand­ing just steps away from the beach where his daugh­ter was mur­dered in Novem­ber 1997, Man­jit Virk said Reena was a naive, 14-yearold girl try­ing to find her­self in a hard world and ended up the vic­tim of a “hor­ri­ble act.”

About 200 peo­ple gath­ered out­side a his­toric school­house along the Gorge Wa­ter­way to mark the som­bre an­niver­sary dur­ing a pound­ing rain­storm. The site over­looked the beach near where Virk was killed and is not far from the Craigflower Bridge where the teen was lured and beaten by a group of girls.

“When she went to school, she had a hard time,” said Man­jit Virk. “She was very puz­zled. Why would peo­ple pick on her?”

He said as par­ents, he and his wife, Su­man, were wor­ried about their daugh­ter’s strug­gles to find ac­cep­tance among her peers. Virk said his daugh­ter was trust­ing, and their at­tempts to warn her about pos­si­ble trou­bles ahead did not sink in to a teenager seek­ing her in­de­pen­dence.

“We al­ways told her, ‘Reena, this is a part of life. Some peo­ple have dif­fer­ent val­ues. They will mis­treat you, but you al­ways make sure you be kind with them. You don’t re­tal­i­ate. You don’t fight back. Talk to your teachers. Talk to us.’ ”

Virk’s death made in­ter­na­tional head­lines af­ter it was re­ported she was the vic­tim of a swarm­ing at­tack by a group of girls who in­vited her to meet un­der the bridge to hang out. The at­tack started when one of the girls ex­tin­guished a lit cig­a­rette on her fore­head and ended with her death in shal­low wa­ter near the bridge.

Six girls were con­victed of as­sault caus­ing bod­ily harm and sen­tenced to up to one year in cus­tody.

War­ren Glowatski and Kelly El­lard were con­victed of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der af­ter they fol­lowed the limp­ing girl away from the fight and drowned her in the Gorge.

Glowatski was 16 at the time of Virk’s death and has been re­leased on pa­role, while El­lard, who was 15, re­mains in prison.

Virk’s death also spear­headed anti-bul­ly­ing cam­paigns.

“Any­body who lives in Victoria will tell you they can’t drive over this bridge or walk over it and not think about Reena Virk,” B.C. Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Rob Flem­ing said af­ter the event.

Flem­ing paid tribute to the Virk fam­ily, who turned their grief into a pub­lic cam­paign against bul­ly­ing.

He said in the two decades since the girl’s death, schools have launched nu­mer­ous suc­cess­ful anti-bul­ly­ing and in­clu­sion pro­grams, but it’s dif­fi­cult to for­get the price paid by Reena Virk.

“It’s a day to cel­e­brate tol­er­ance and di­ver­sity and to reded­i­cate our­selves in Reena’s mem­ory to make sure no child is bullied in the way that she was,” said Flem­ing, who called her death a na­tional tragedy.

— THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Mukand Lal Pal­lan, left, fa­ther of Man­jit Virk, cen­tre, and Amar­jit Pal­lan, right, take com­fort Tues­day as sup­port­ers speak at a me­mo­rial mark­ing 20 years since the bul­ly­ing death of 14-year-old Reena Virk.

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