Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"The Day an Entire City Grieved"

Memorial held in memory of Kristen French
Montebello Park, St. Catharines, ON (1992)

As I am just now returning from a week of vacation, I unfortunately didn't see this thoughtful article written by Doug Herod for the St. Catharines Standard until now. Although I regret not sharing it on the date that it was published, I feel that it's an important read for anyone who's been following this case.

Two decades later, many wounds have yet to heal.

April 30, 1992: The day an entire city grieved
By Doug Herod, April 29, 2012
Twenty years ago Monday, a community’s desperate hopes were shattered.
Kristen French’s body was found in a rural area of north Burlington.
That such a discovery had become an ever-more depressing possibility mattered little when the gut-wrenching news broke April 30, nearly two weeks after her abduction.
A pervasive, unrelenting gloom enveloped the community.
One could only imagine the emotional devastation on the family.
To reflect back on the events of this time remains difficult.
It was a nightmare.
So why do it?
I’m not sure.
The most defensible reason is that doing so pays homage to the memory of Kristen, a 15-year-old Holy Cross Secondary School student who during the heart-wrenching period following her abduction on the day before Good Friday became every St. Catharines resident’s daughter, sister or granddaughter.
Noting the anniversary also provides another opportunity to remember her legacy, one the community was determined she would leave.
There’s the Green Ribbon Trail, a memorial garden at Jaycee Park, a rowing shell, scholarships at Holy Cross, a citizenship award at Dalewood School, the Green Room at the Hotel Dieu Shaver. Those are some of the physical reminders; the emotional ones are harder to quantify, even more difficult to shake.
But what makes attempts at recalling these times questionable, perhaps upsetting, is the likelihood it will stir a host of unpleasant memories.
The deep sorrow over Kristen’s death; the unsettling atmosphere in St. Catharines caused by the belief a teen-stalking killer was on the loose; the long police investigation, lowlighted by a fruitless, ultimately pointless search for a yellow Camaro; the frenzy surrounding the arrests of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka; the fury unleashed over the sweetheart deal given Homolka; disbelief that the details of her involvement were blanketed by court order; stunning rumours about videotapes; the soul-destroying evidence revealed at Bernardo’s trial.
And all the while the St. Catharines community was placed under the harsh glare of the national media, a microphone thrust into our collective face constantly wanting to know how we felt with each new or imagined-to-be new revelation.
Our feelings?
At worst, we felt anguished, horrified, angry. At best, numb.
There remains, however, one uplifting memory from this otherwise despairing time 20 years ago that lingers to this day.
The day following the discovery of Kristen’s body, a candlelight vigil in Montebello Park was hastily arranged by Women in Niagara, an umbrella group of local agencies that addressed violence against women.
A small item noting the Sunday event appeared in Saturday’s newspaper.
Not knowing what to expect, I headed downtown early on the cool April evening.
The core was its usual empty, sleepy state on Sunday, but that changed rapidly.
Hundreds upon hundreds started streaming into the park, seemingly from everywhere, until the grassy expanse was jammed with 3,000 people.
The turnout was amazing, the silence was striking.
People were lost in their thoughts, internally trying to cope with the incomprehensible, but needing to share grief with strangers over the loss of Kristen.
It was a moving, spontaneous expression of a community coming together at a time of incredible hurt and sorrow.
And here’s hoping it never has to happen again.

-- Source: Niagara Falls Review 

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