The day after Devan Bracci-Selvey was stabbed and killed outside his east-end Hamilton high school, football coach Kevin Harrison called an impromptu practice to check in on his players.
As the team sat together in the stands at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School on Tuesday, metres from where their classmate had died, Mr. Harrison – also a parent at the school, and a social worker − asked the teenagers what they wanted to do about their coming home game. It felt like a given that it would be cancelled given the circumstances, but the kids felt the need to do something – not just for their team, but for the broader community.
“Every one of them said ‘we want to continue. We want to dedicate the game to Devan,’ ” Mr. Harrison said. A few of the younger teammates, who had known the 14-year-old personally, suggested they wear purple, his favourite colour, as a tribute.
There was a hope among the group, team member Glen Potter, 16, explained, that the gesture could be “for something bigger than the football team. It kind of brought us all together and took our heads out of the place that we were in.”
On Thursday evening, thousands of people – students and their families, school alumni, neighbours and local politicians – lined the field in purple T-shirts to show support for the teen’s grieving family, in the face of a violent tragedy that the entire community is still trying to wrap their minds around.
In the background of the crowd, behind the school, leftover candles and flowers from a makeshift memorial could be spotted, marking the spot where the boy was stabbed.
A short time before he was killed, Devan had called his mother, Shari-Ann Selvey told reporters this week, after he’d run into a boy that had been bothering him. Ms. Selvey drove to the high school to pick him up, where she says “my life fell apart.”
There was a confrontation. He was then chased and, before he could reach his mother’s car, stabbed.
A 14-year-old and an 18-year-old (whose identities are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act) have been charged with first-degree murder. Three other students were arrested, but released without charges. All five are current or former Churchill students.
The details of the case – specifically the “why,” Hamilton Police Detective Steve Bereziuk said – are still under investigation. But after revelations about bullying that the boy had faced in his short time in high school, the case has sparked outrage across the country.
Devan was a good kid, his mom said. He loved video games and classic cars. He helped her look after rescue cats and had dreams of becoming a mechanic. His mom recalled how he would break into spontaneous dances to make her laugh. At 14, he was tall and skinny – a “toothpick,” his mom said – with colourful, dyed hair. He stuck out for being different. High school, she said, was hell.
On the second day of school, she said, Devan and a friend were “jumped” and chased by a group of kids. They had their bikes stolen.
“And then they harassed him ever since,” she said. He missed a lot of class as a result; sometimes calling her midday to come get him, and other times refusing to go at all. His mom reported the bullying to both the school and the local police.
“For a month, we’ve been trying to get this dealt with,” she said.
The Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) confirmed that incidents had been reported to the principal and said that information would be provided to police.
The board said a formal review of their safe-schools practices will be conducted, along with an internal review of this specific case. The province’s Minister of Education has said that he will launch a review. The board has also begun a school-level investigation of the students who were released, in line with safe-school procedures.
Hamilton Police Det. Bereziuk confirmed that the bike theft incident had been reported to police. No charges were laid in that case.
He said that the kids involved in that incident were not the same ones who were charged (or arrested) in the stabbing, but that investigators would be looking at any potential links, with bullying encompassing a “growing” part of their investigation.
In the meantime, the family prepared this week for the 14-year-old’s funeral on Saturday. A GoFundMe started by his sister to cover the costs had raised more than $100,000 by Friday evening.
Out front of Ms. Selvey’s home Wednesday, neighbours gathered around a memorial that had been set up with candles and flowers and photos of the slain teen. Anti-bullying slogans scrawled on colourful poster boards were taped to the house. Throughout the morning, strangers stopped by to offer their condolences.
Penny FitzSimmons, a neighbour, said that’s the kind of neighbourhood it is.
“It’s a family mentality,” she said. “Because it’s just so senseless, it really brought the community together.”
That unity was palpable at the football game Thursday night. Ms. Selvey and her family sat huddled in the middle of the stands, surrounded by family and friends. One student brought them a bouquet of purple flowers. Others passed around purple “Churchill Strong” T-shirts, signed with messages of grief and hope.
For Shirley Wilson, who has two grandchildren at the high school, it was an emotional night. She has been haunted by news of the killing; unable to sleep until she knows the kids are safe in the house at night. For many parents, that this happened midday, at school, makes it even more incomprehensible.
She was touched by the turnout at the football game and said she admired the family’s strength for being there. She hopes that they are able to take solace in that sense of community.
“We’re the east end,” she said. “We stick together.”