PHOTO | LINDA SCHMIDT
Students from Sacred Heart School in Wetaskiwin pause to pray at the bridge where Reena Virk, 14, was murdered in 1997.
WETASKIWIN – For the last eight years, Grade 9 students from Sacred Heart School in Wetaskiwin have been taking a year-end trip to Victoria.
The five-day field trip is filled with activities like caving, kayaking, whale-watching and museums. This year’s trip had a more poignant and sombre stop.
“We stopped and said a prayer for Reena Virk under the Craigflower Bridge, the very spot that she was killed,” said principal Ken Mastel. “It’s been something in my heart to do for a long time.”
Reena Virk was a 14-year-old school girl who was swarmed by a group of peers and beaten while partying at the Craigflower Bridge in 1997. The case garnered international attention as analysts and authorities put this case, and school bullying in general under a microscope.
“The kids on the trip are all 14 or 15 years old, the same age as Reena was,” Mastel explained. “But it happened when they were babies so none of them had even heard of her.
“There are so many lessons that we can learn from this tragedy. Reena was a visible minority girl that was desperately trying to fit in. There was gossip, bullying, peer pressure, and drug and alcohol abuse,” he said.
“When I told them Reena’s story, it got real quiet on the bus for a long time.” Mastel continued.
Later, the group got off the bus and went below the bridge where a classmate of Reena’s, Kelly Ellard, after knocking her unconscious, held her head under water until she was dead.
Her body was found in the Gorge Waterway eight days later. Ellard was convicted of second degree murder and after multiple appeals, remains the only person still incarcerated for the crime.
“When we got underneath the bridge I got a knot in my stomach. The place seemed evil,” Mastel said. It was cold and wet; the bridge was covered in dark graffiti.
“So we did the only thing we could do, we prayed. We prayed for Reena. We prayed for her family. We prayed for the kids involved in the crime and their families. We prayed that something good could possibly come from this sad place.”
Although it was an impromptu stop, it may become a regular part of the trip. Many students claimed that it was one of their favourite stops on the trip.
“It makes you thing about gossip and what it can lead to,” said 15-year-old Sacred Heart student Courtney Yost. Classmate Jay Nepoose joined in that he would like to one day meet Reena in heaven.
Mastel hopes to keep sharing Reena’s story with future classes and was surprised to see that there was no marker of any kind where Reena’s life ended.
“That seemed wrong. Maybe we can rectify that next year,” he said.