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Rehtaeh’s friends and relatives say society needs to change

Reach out to loved ones, hundreds hear

by Hilary Beaumont

Young people comfort each other during the vigil. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
Young people comfort each other during the vigil. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
A young person writes a message of hope. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
A young person writes a message of hope. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
About 350 people attended the vigil. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
About 350 people attended the vigil. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
Young people lead the candle lighting. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
Young people lead the candle lighting. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
Her hat says "no bullying." (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
Her hat says "no bullying." (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)

**Trigger warning: This post talks about sexual assault.**

About 350 people attended a vigil at sunset for Rehtaeh “Rae” Parsons Thursday evening.

They held her photo printed on white, green and pink paper, and lit candles.

Politicians, social workers, members of the media and perfect strangers listened as Rehtaeh’s family remembered her.

They heard the 17-year-old was a talented painter, animal lover and avid reader.

Her aunt recalled “her incredible love for her little sisters, who she adored and cared for.”

“I still can’t accept that she’s gone,” a friend of Rae’s told the crowd.

“I’ll never get to see her again. I’ll never get to talk to her about what books she’s reading, and she’ll never get to tell me what books I should read.”

“The world lost a beautiful girl and we should be ashamed,” she said. “Society needs to stop bullying before someone else takes their own life.”

Rehtaeh told her family she was raped by four boys in November, 2011.

“[O]ne of those boys took a photo of her being raped and decided it would be fun to distribute the photo to everyone in Rehtaeh’s school and community where it quickly went viral,” her mother wrote in a Facebook post Monday.

She struggled with depression and anger, and was hospitalized as a result, her family said.

On the evening of April 4, Rehtaeh had an outburst and locked herself in the bathroom, her mother wrote.

“She acted on an impulse but I truly in my heart of heart do not feel she meant to kill herself,” Leah Parsons wrote.

Her mother couldn’t attend the vigil. Instead, Rae’s cousin, who said she only called the teenager “Rehtaeh” when she was in trouble, read a statement from the family.

“Bullying needs to stop,” Angela Parsons read aloud.

“Regarding bullying in the context of social media, policies are needed to limit its harmful effects on young people.”

Parents who had lost children, and women who had experienced rape contacted the family with their stories this week, and mentioned frustrations with the justice system, Parsons said.

“The system we have in place to deal with these issues failed Rehtaeh at every turn,” she said, quoting Rae’s father, Glen Canning.

“That being said, there have been several individuals working within those systems who helped and supported Rehtaeh immensely, and you know who you are,” she continued.

Parsons ended the family’s statement in tears. She read the words Rehtaeh posted on Facebook March 3:

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Watch Angela Parsons read her entire statement here.

Rehtaeh was a daughter, a cousin, a niece and a big sister. Her family told several media sources this week she was a free spirit who was interested in social issues.

“I couldn’t go for a walk in Halifax with her without her asking me for change to give to someone in need,” her father wrote in a statement.

She was also an organ donor, and when her family took her off life support, they said Rehtaeh gave her organs, including her heart, a kidney and her eyes, to others in need.

“Rehtaeh stood up for others, showed compassion to animals and people,” her mother wrote April 8 on Facebook. “She was an amazing artist. She made my life complete.”

El Jones, one of the organizers of the vigil, encouraged those in attendance to reach out to their loved ones and ask if they were struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Jones said it was important to enter crisis numbers into their phones, in case a loved one said yes.

Click here for a list of warning signs that someone might be struggling with suicidal thoughts.

If you or someone close to you is dealing with suicidal thoughts or depression, call:

Halifax Crisis Line: 421 1188
Mobile Crisis Team: 422 8167
Teen Help Phone: 1 800 668 6868


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