Teen ‘so trusting and forgiving’
Until now, Stefanie Rengel has only been a name, a face — and the city’s first homicide of 2008.
Toronto residents came to know her demure smile, chipmunk cheeks and soft brown eyes — and the way she was killed, stabbed in the stomach and left to die in a snow bank metres from her east Toronto home on New Year’s Day.
Until her funeral yesterday, when her mother, grandmother and science teacher stood and spoke about the tenacious 14-year-old, we knew little about Stefanie Rengel.
Her four grieving parents, biological and through marriage and all Toronto police officers, have so far declined media interviews, but at Presteign-Woodbine United Church, Stefanie’s mother, Patricia Hung — flanked by Stefanie’s brother, Ian, and stepfather, James — spoke of her daughter in front of about 400 mourners. “She had strength in spades and the courage to stand her ground,” Hung said. “She was responsible beyond her years and yet I worried
about her every day, because she was so trusting and forgiving.” It was that trust that cost Stefanie her life, Hung said. Two teenagers, a 15-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy, who has since turned 18, have been charged with first-degree murder in her death. It is alleged the girl, motivated by jealousy, asked her boyfriend to kill Stefanie. The relationship between the three is still not clear. “I know there are feelings of frustration. There are questions for which we can find no answer,” said Rev. Scott Patton. “I must confess that my own faith has been tested this past week.” Stefanie often could be found at the church, teaching Sunday school, planning the youth service, or washing dishes in the kitchen, often convincing her friends to volunteer too, said Patton. She loved to sing and write. She was fluent in Spanish, like her parents. Her grandmother, Mary Fraser, recalled trying to decipher baby Spanglish. On a trip to McDonald’s, she called Stefanie’s mom for help. “ ‘Patty,’ I said. ‘I understand that “pollo” is chicken, and “papas” is fries, but what the heck is “kitzup”?’ ” Fraser asked. “Patty burst out laughing. ‘Mom,’ she giggled, ‘kitzup is not a Spanish word. It’s English.’ ” Kitzup, of course, turned out to be ketchup, Fraser said. “In spite of her mischievous, funloving nature, Stefanie had depths often not outwardly apparent,” Fraser said. “Stefanie was one of the gutsiest kids I’ve ever known. Never crying if she was hurt and always up for a challenge. And yet at the same time she had a soft core at the centre of her heart.” Stefanie’s Grade 9 science teacher, Brian Lim, recalled a recent parentteacher meeting. Stefanie was “an enthusiastic participant in class discussions, willing to speak her mind. This is, of course, teacher-speak for gregarious, social and highly chatty in class,” he said. Stefanie and her mother once launched into a lively discussion on the topic of homework, Lim said. “Her mom expressed confidence that Stefanie was perfectly capable of being an A+ student,” he said. “She rolled her eyes and she told her mom that she was wildly overestimating Stefanie’s abilities and that making such statements made her sound arrogant.” At the time, Stefanie was bringing home low 70s. “I was looking forward to seeing her after the Christmas break, because I wanted to see her face when she found that she had scored an 81 per cent on her December exam,” Lim said. “I’ve been asked to be here because of the impact in Stefanie’s life her parents tell me I made. And I wish with all my heart that Stefanie instead was here to tell me herself.” A common theme in the eulogies was Stefanie’s stubbornness and outspoken nature. Her parents used to joke she would be a lawyer. “I was going to tell this story at Stefanie’s wedding,” Hung said. When Stefanie was 3, Hung took her rambunctious toddler to McDonald’s indoor playground. Stefanie had been complaining of a diaper rash, but Hung was out of diapers so she cut down a panty liner and applied some cream. “She didn’t seem to notice, so I didn’t say anything,” Hung said. As Stefanie conquered the monkey bars, Hung relished a moment of peace, sipping on coffee and skimming through the paper. “ ‘Mommy,’ ” Hung remembered Stefanie yelling amid the climbers. Hung waved. “ ‘MOMMY!’ ” “What?” Hung called back loudly. This earned “the undivided attention of everyone.” “ ‘Mommy, this tampon you put on me is really bothering me.’ “You could have heard a pin drop,” Hung said. “Everyone in that room turned around to stare at me.” Like many teens, Stefanie was a challenge after hitting high school. Always on the phone with friends, talking back to her parents, experimenting with piercings and different hair colours. But through every fight, Stefanie was a caring daughter and devoted sister. Losing her, Hung said, has been unbearable. “Stefanie died because she was a kind, trusting and forgiving person,” Hung said, her steady demeanour cracking. “That was my Stefanie and I was very proud of her.”