RE­MEM­BER­ING REENA VIRK

Twenty years af­ter los­ing her, steps to fight bul­ly­ing fill Reena Virk’s fa­ther with hope

Times Colonist - - Front Page - KATIE DeROSA kderosa@times­colonist.com

Hun­dreds gath­ered steps away from the Craigflower Bridge, where 14-year-old Reena Virk was swarmed, beaten and drowned 20 years ago, to mark the an­niver­sary of her mur­der on Tues­day.

As rain poured down, Reena’s fa­ther, Man­jit Virk, said he was grate­ful to a com­mu­nity that en­sured the fam­ily was never alone in its grief.

Twenty years ago, the fam­ily strug­gled to un­der­stand what had hap­pened to Reena and why.

“I didn’t see any light on the other side of the tun­nel. Ev­ery­thing was dark and our fam­ily just dev­as­tated,” Virk said out­side the Craigflower School­house, where the me­mo­rial took place.

Now, re­flect­ing on the an­tibul­ly­ing pro­grams in­spired by Reena’s death, Virk said he’s filled with hope “that things have changed and her death has not been in vain.”

Reena was look­ing for ac­cep­tance and be­long­ing when she got in­volved with a group of high school stu­dents her par­ents feared were a bad in­flu­ence.

On Nov. 14, 1997, she was in­vited to a party un­der the Craigflower Bridge. A group of mostly teen girls beat Reena and burned her with cig­a­rettes. As she limped across the bridge af­ter the at­tack, she was fol­lowed by War­ren Glowatski and Kelly El­lard. The two con­tin­ued the as­sault, and then drowned Reena by hold­ing her head un­der wa­ter.

Saanich po­lice Staff Sgt. Chris Hors­ley was in­volved in the search for Reena’s body, which was found in the Gorge wa­ter­way eight days af­ter her death.

The dis­cov­ery launched a mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, made dif­fi­cult by ru­mour, spec­u­la­tion and a cul­ture of se­crecy among teens who didn’t want to be seen as snitches.

“To be­lieve that young ladies just 14 years old could com­mit a crime like this was a shock, not just to the com­mu­nity, but to us as a po­lice or­ga­ni­za­tion. It re­ally was a turn­ing point for the Saanich po­lice,” Hors­ley said af­ter Tues­day’s cer­e­mony.

“It was hard to be­lieve, but there were young girls who wouldn’t speak to the po­lice and wouldn’t co-op­er­ate.”

Reena’s death gripped the en­tire na­tion, said Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Rob Flem­ing.

“As the de­tails, grisly as they were, emerged, it was a story of vi­o­lence in our school sys­tem that had the most tragic con­se­quences that any­one can imag­ine,” he told the crowd.

Flem­ing said Man­jit and Su­man Virk, who have trav­elled the coun­try speak­ing to stu­dents about the dangers of bul­ly­ing, helped to con­front bul­ly­ing and vi­o­lence in the school sys­tem.

“They turned their own pri­vate tragedy into a pub­lic cam­paign to en­sure other peo­ple’s chil­dren would not en­dure what Reena en­dured,” he said.

While some progress has been made, Kaylee Men­nie, a 17-yearold stu­dent at Artemis Place, an al­ter­na­tive school for young women and trans­gen­der youth, said bul­ly­ing is still a ma­jor prob­lem for teens.

“There’s still threats, there’s still cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, there’s still vi­o­lence, there’s still sui­cides that hap­pen,” she said.

Men­nie said Reena died be­cause there was no one there to stand up for her.

“And still, no­body stands up about any­thing be­cause they’re scared,” she said.

Inside the Craigflower School­house, peo­ple were en­cour­aged to take photos hold­ing a sign read­ing “I com­mit to non-vi­o­lence” with the aim of spread­ing the mes­sage across so­cial me­dia. Poster boards were set up with photos of Reena as a young child.

“Reena’s story is not her death,” said Rachel Calder, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Artemis Place So­ci­ety, which or­ga­nized the event along with Learn­ing Through Loss, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps youth deal with grief.

Rather, she said, it is in the art projects, books, re­search, leg­isla­tive changes and school pro­grams cre­ated in her name.

Sit­ting next to Man­jit Virk at the cer­e­mony were Reena’s grand­par­ents, aunt and sis­ter.

Her mother, Su­man, was not well enough to at­tend.

Virk said that while the fam­ily misses Reena ev­ery day, they take com­fort in the num­ber of lives she has touched.

“In a way, [Reena’s] life was sac­ri­ficed, but look at the re­sult — so many thou­sands have been saved, hope­fully,” he said.

ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Hun­dreds gath­ered in the rain Tues­day out­side the Craigflower School­house in Saanich to com­mem­o­rate the 20th an­niver­sary of the vi­o­lent death of Reena Virk, right.

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