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20 years after Reena Virk’s death, a focus on healing, youth-violence prevention

Vancouver Sun logo Vancouver Sun 2017-11-10 Katie DeRosa, Victoria Times Colonist
102716-1025_na_ellard-1028_ellard_lawyer-W.jpg 20 years after Reena Virk’s death, a focus on healing, youth-violence prevention

Twenty years later, the brutal killing of 14-year-old Reena Virk still resonates as one of the most horrific cases of teen bullying ever witnessed in Greater Victoria.

On a rainy night Nov, 14, 1997, Reena was swarmed and beaten by a group of teens under the Craigflower Bridge. As Reena limped across the bridge, Warren Glowatski, 16, and Kelly Ellard, 15, followed her, continued the assault and then drowned her by holding her head under water. Her body was found eight days later.

Reena’s parents will mark the somber 20th anniversary of her death with an event focused on healing and preventing youth violence.

Remembering Reena: A Community’s Commitment to Nonviolence takes place Nov. 14 at 1 p.m. at the heritage Craigflower Schoolhouse in Kosapsom Park. Reena’s father Manjit Virk, Education Minister Rob Fleming and University of Victoria professor Mandeep Mucina are among the speakers.

“I think Reena’s death is so poignant because it surpassed what the community thought was possible,” said Rachel Calder, executive director of Artemis Place Society, which is co-organizing the event with Learning Through Loss. “In addition to the grief, there was shock and inability to comprehend that this was even possible.”

It’s also crucial to remember, Calder said, that discrimination and racism contributed to the vicious attack against Reena, a young woman of colour.

“It’s important for the community to foster inclusion so that everyone can experience belonging,” she said.

Six girls were convicted of assault causing bodily harm and Glowatski and Ellard were convicted of second-degree murder. Glowatski has been released on full parole since 2010 after taking responsibility for Reena’s death. He apologized to Reena’s parents, who forgave him.

Ellard acknowledged her role in the death only last year, but has repeatedly been denied day parole. She now has a baby, who lives with her in an Abbotsford prison.

Reena’s parents Manjit and Suman have dedicated their life to speaking to students about bullying and inclusion. Reena’s murder has inspired several programs that promote non-violent conflict resolution.

While progress has been made, bullying continues, largely moving from the school yard to online, Calder said.

“In the 90s, a student can go home and be safe,” she said. “Now when they’re at home, they’re not safe because they have social media on their devices. It’s almost impossible for these developing brains to turn these devices off.”

Calder hopes the anniversary of Reena’s death will continue her legacy of shaping the way teens treat each other.

“I’m hoping youth and community members will walk away feeling like they have a renewed commitment to non-violence,” she said.

Calder also hopes people will spread the message through social media, with hashtags #iremember #reena and #icommit2nonviolence

kderosa@timescolonist.com

Click here to read more stories from The Victoria Times Colonist.

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