They lit candles, shared their thoughts and collectively took a quiet stand against the kind of torment which caused a British Columbia teen to end her own life.
Hundreds of people in a number of cities around the world paused to remember bullying victim Amanda Todd on Friday, just over a week after the 15-year-old Port Coquitlam girl committed suicide following years of Internet sexual exploitation and bullying by her peers.
A Facebook page had been set up listing memorials for Todd from communities in the Vancouver area to cities in Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Vigils were to be held in at least five American states, as well as Copenhagen and various cities in India.
“I am overwhelmed,” said Lucky Gill, a Vancouver-area resident who co-ordinated one of the vigils. Ms. Gill launched an organization called Global Girl Power with her niece the same day news broke of Todd’s death.
“My vision was to get the word out. Even if one family lights up one candle in the house, kids in that house will see that ‘Oh, our parents care,’ so they will feel more comfortable with them. Maybe conversations at the dinner table will start.”
One of the larger gatherings was planned for Holland Park in Surrey, B.C., where a crowd of all ages, many dressed in pink, gathered with candles in front of a white tent and stage Friday night.
Supterintendent Bill Fordy, the officer in charge of the Surrey RCMP, read a statement from Todd’s father which thanked people for sharing their thoughts, prayers and love.
“We would like to see changes made around the world to put an end to bullying once and for all,” the statement said. “We want Amanda’s story to be heard loud and clear and most importantly to keep her voice alive forever.”
“It means a lot to see the world lighting up this evening in Amanda’s honour. Stay strong.”
In Victoria, about 100 people gathered at the city’s Beacon Hill Park, many placing lit candles under a large tree where a make-shift memorial that included pictures of Todd had been set up.
Victoria vigil organizer Vanessa Downie said this was the first event she’d ever organized, but felt she had to honour Todd in some way while standing up against bullying.
“When I heard what happened to Amanda, it just broke my heart,” said Downie, who plans to pursue a degree in social work.
“Then I got very angry that something so terrible could happen to someone so innocent and so young,” she said. “It just makes me think we keep passing the responsibility on to teachers and organizations and it’s not going to be solved by passing the torch. We have to take responsibility for it.”
Mental health worker Baylie McKnight said she was verbally and physically bullied during her high school years in Victoria. Now, 24, she says she wants to help stop bullying.
“I didn’t feel heard,” she said. “One of the worst parts is going to teachers and them not understanding.”
Earlier in the day, the Toronto District School Board had asked its 250,000 students and 40,000 staff members to pause for one minute of silence Friday morning.
That observance came at the same time as news was breaking of charges against eight girls in a bullying case at a high school in London, Ont. The students were suspended Friday.
An investigation found a student at the school had been the target of physical, emotional and online bullying, police said.
The girls are each charged with criminal harassment and have been released from custody on a promise to appear in court. Police said information about the alleged bullying came from direct statements and through an anonymous reporting portal on the school website.
Todd killed herself on Oct. 10. A month before her death, she posted a video to YouTube in which she flips through dozens of cards, writing her story in short, black sentences.
She said she was in Grade 7 when she was lured by an unidentified male to expose her breasts during a chat. A year later she said she received a message from a man on Facebook threatening that if she didn’t give him a show, he would send the webcam picture to her friends and family.
“He knew my address, school, relatives, friends, family names,” she wrote.
Over Christmas break there was a knock on her door at 4 a.m.
“It was the police... my photo was sent to everyone,” she wrote. “I then got really sick and then got anxiety, major depression and panic disorder.”
In the video that has now been viewed more than 8.5 million times, she outlines more recent bullying over her relationship with a boy that escalated to an assault that left her lying bloodied in a ditch.
She said she tried to kill herself twice.
Her last words on the video were: “I have nobody. I need someone.”
Police have launched an investigation into all aspects of her case, but were forced earlier this week to deny on-line rumours and accusations that named a Vancouver-area man as Todd’s tormentor. Police said the rumours and resulting Internet vigilante threats were delaying their investigation.
On Monday, a New Democrat member of Parliament, introduced a motion calling for the creation of a House of Commons committee to develop a national bullying prevention strategy that would examine the prevalence and impact of bullying and look for ways to prevent it.
Several provinces have also taken steps to tackle the issue.
Ontario passed anti-bullying legislation in June, a few months after a 13-year-old boy was acquitted of robbing and assaulting 11-year-old Mitchell Wilson in a bullying case that garnered widespread attention.
Wilson, who suffered from muscular dystrophy, killed himself last September.
The legislation was introduced in the wake of another high-profile case, the death last year of 15-year-old Jamie Hubley, a boy who was targeted as an openly gay student at his Ottawa school.
Recent federal studies indicate that one in five children or youth have reported being victimized by bullies.