Dozens of community members gathered in Tuesday’s rain and wind for a sobering hour of tribute to Reena Virk at the place of her death, Kosapsom Park.
It was there that Virk, then 14, was kicked, punched, and eventually drowned in the Gorge Waterway below the old Craigflower Bridge on the night of Nov. 14, 1997. It shocked the nation when it was announced she was murdered by a group of classmates and friends (known as the Shoreline Six which included Kelly Ellard and Warren Glowatski), the oldest of which was 16. The details were gruesome and the conspiring of the teens to keep the murder a secret from authorities and parents for nearly a week caught international attention.
Local organization Artemis Place Society and Learning Through Loss organized Tuesday’s tribute.
Minister of Education Rob Fleming outlined the legacy of anti-bullying that’s been deployed in the B.C. school system since then. Virk’s father, Manjit, also spoke. He spoke of putting family first and the importance of maintaining a dialogue with children as they reach adolescence and seek independence.
“We know there will be times when these things will happen but let’s look at our own family situations,” Manjit said. “What our kids learn in the family stays with them.
“Reena was protected, she was raised with love and kindness [and] she was trusting. When she went to school she had a hard time, people bullied her, people thought she was different [and] she was very puzzled. Why would people pick on her. We always told her, this is part of life, people have different values, they’ll mistreat you, be kind to them, talk to teachers, talk to us.”
But Reena was at a crucial time in her young life, seeking independence from her parents, which is a natural thing, Manjit confirmed.
“She wanted to hang out with these girls [and] as parents we were really concerned. We knew she was a very trusting person. They told her the story, ‘We’re your friends,’ but at the same time she was afraid of them.”
Reena’s death resonated with people internationally. In the time since, Manjit and Suman (Reena’s mother) have been dedicated to several causes and across the province, the Virk name has been affiliated with anti-violence and anti-bullying.
READ MORE: It’s been 20 years since death of Reena Virk
“Reena’s life did not go in vain,” Manjit said Tuesday, pointing to the many anti-bully programs and awareness now in place.
The murder and its cover-up certainly stunned Staff Sgt. Chris Horsley and the Saanich Police. Horsley was only three years into the job when he handled the media relations role for Saanich Police at the time.
“There were murders in Saanich but not one of this magnitude, who happened to be girls,” Horsley said Tuesday.
Within 24 hours the news of the murder, which took a week to get out, had gone international. It changed the department and was a catalyst for many of the programs Saanich Police runs today, Horsley said.
“We have a Community Engagement division, youth investigators, a bike squad, school liaisons, and all work hard on crime prevention programs which … take years to see those benefits,” Horsley said. ”My own daughter, born two days after Reena’s death, went through the school system, and one of her assignments was to read the book about Reena Virk. That was a barometer for me.”
Ten years after the murder of Reena her dad recounted it in a book Reena: A Father’s Story. It told of Reena’s upbringing and also included just how cruel the final moments of Reena’s life were.
“My message is to keep the family together, have strong family ties, do things with one another, now we live in a world online…,” Manjit said. “Put the [devices] down and spend time with one another.”
In 2005, Saanich’s Rebecca Godfrey also published a book, with an investigative journalist look at how a group of youth turned so violent, called Under the Bridge: The True Story of the Murder of Reena Virk.