Dawson College, five years ago today

I’m not a crime reporter and didn’t have not much experience doing “pick ups,” when I was sent to Montreal. So I was incredibly grateful when the De Sousa family let me into their home the day they learned their daughter had been killed at Dawson College. Her mom was particularly graceful at an awful time.

The Ottawa Citizen
Fri Sep 15 2006
Page: A1 / FRONT
Section: News
Byline: Glen Mcgregor
Dateline: MONTREAL
Source: The Ottawa Citizen

MONTREAL – Standing at the foot of the stairs in her Montreal-area home yesterday, Louise DeSousa clutched a four-by-six photograph from prom night and spoke about the bubbly and sociable daughter she had just lost.

“She was the one who got a party going,” Ms. DeSousa said, her voice wavering slightly as she carefully enunciated in the past tense.

“She always tried to help me — except for cleaning her room, but that’s OK,” Ms. DeSousa said, smiling for just a moment.

Anastasia DeSousa, 18, was a first-year student who began studying at Dawson College in the international business program in August. She was shot during the attack at the CEGEP on Wednesday and died at the scene.

Family members yesterday gathered in the attractive home in the suburb of Laval where Anastasia lived with her parents, sister and brother. Ms. DeSousa held up the photo, showing an attractive, petite blond woman wearing a pink dress and surrounded by a group of handsome young men.

“She had guys lining up behind her. She had an entourage,” Ms. DeSousa said. “She loved to party, to go out on the weekend and enjoy herself.”

But Anastasia, she explained, had a steady boyfriend, Nick, whom she adored. They had been seeing each other for three years. The couple talked on the phone constantly.

With his eyes moist and red, Anastasia’s father, Nelson, embraced a relative who had just arrived. Mr. DeSousa, an auto mechanic who works for Honda, paused for a moment when asked to describe his daughter. “She was a bottle of champagne, filled to rim, ready to explode,” he said. “She was always the centre of attention.”

Anastasia had graduated from St. Pius X Comprehensive High School two years ago and spent the following year working as a sales verifier for a telemarketing company while taking math courses at night school.

She suffered from dyslexia, a learning disability, but worked hard to improve her grades. She was excited to be studying at Dawson.

“It was always a struggle for her,” her mother said. “But she had extremely big goals. One day, she wanted to own her own business.”

Anastasia enjoyed international travel. She went to Europe on a class trip in high school, according to her aunt, and in July, took a holiday in Cuba with friends. Her sister, Sarah, 16, said Anastasia loved going to downtown nightclubs such as Systems, Club 737, Dome and Opera. “She like classy clubs,” Sarah said. She liked dancing to hip-hop, reggae and salsa. “We were best friends,” Sarah said proudly.

Anastasia’s room is painted bright pink and most of her clothes are pink, too.

“When you open her drawers, all you see is pink,” Sarah said. The family joked that Anastasia’s colour preference was a holdover from playing with Barbie dolls as a child. “She was our princess,” one relative called out from the kitchen.

As his relatives buzzed around, Nick DeSousa, 11, sat on the stairs and peeked through the railing. He said he would remember his big sister as someone who “would always take me places,” like out to lunch at McDonalds or to buy video games.

Her cousin, Priscilla Rivas, 11, said Anastasia has been extremely supportive as she tried to overcome the same learning disability. “She told me I had to be strong.”

Her grandmother, whom Anastasia addressed with the Polish term “Babcia,” yesterday held up copies of poems her granddaughter had written for her, printed in flowery pink script.

She pointed at several images of Anastasia as a child in a framed collage of family photographs the young woman had made for her.

“That’s her, that’s her, and that’s her,” she said, weeping.

Louise DeSousa yesterday described how, on Wednesday morning, she had gone into her sleeping daughter’s bedroom and kissed her on the cheek before leaving for the day. Anastasia spent half an hour at home, working on an English paper, then rushed off to take the Metro to school. Although she got her driver’s licence last year, she usually took the subway or train downtown. Her father remembers smelling her perfume after she left.

When they heard about the shootings at Dawson, family members repeatedly called Anastasia on her cellphone, but couldn’t reach her. The phone company used a global positioning system chip to track the handset. It showed the phone was still around the college. The DeSousas went to the Montreal General Hospital to look for Anastasia, and asked reporters at the emergency room for help locating her.

Family members yesterday complained that information was slow to come from the police at the hospital, while Montreal broadcast media ran with the story of the young woman’s death.

“Everything was hush-hush,” Mr. DeSousa said. The police eventually told the family that they believed a body found at the college might be their daughter and warned them to prepare for bad news. The worst was confirmed when the Surete du Quebec positively identified her using scars from surgery she had had for scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

Anastasia’s aunt and godmother, Natalya Hevey, said the family was frustrated they hadn’t been able to get more information about the shooting.

“We don’t know if she died instantly. We don’t know if she was in pain,” she said.

“It seems the body is still at the crime scene. She has been there all alone.”

Yesterday morning, the DeSousas were preparing for a horrible errand: a trip to the morgue to identify a photograph of their daughter.

They said they had never heard of Kimveer Gill, the alleged gunman, and said Anastasia had no involvement with the “Goth” subculture that Gill apparently favoured.

“She was too perfect and beautiful,” her mother said.



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