The last time Priya Ramdin saw her daughter Riya was on their shared birthday in February, 2019. Little Riya, who was turning 11, was wearing a pink dress with sparkly hearts and her hair was curled just the way she wanted it – just like in the YouTube video she showed her mother. They had had their nails done together that morning and planned to end the day with a birthday dinner at Riya’s favourite restaurant, Moxie’s. But before that, Riya was going to have a short visit with her father, Roopesh Rajkumar. They met at a gas station in Mississauga, Ont., where they usually did all pick-ups and drop-offs and Riya jumped out of the car, so excited about her birthday that she forgot to kiss her mother goodbye.
Two hours later, Ms. Ramdin answered her phone, expecting Mr. Rajkumar to tell her he was ready to drop Riya off.
Instead, he told her she would never see her daughter again.
For the past two years, Ms. Ramdin has replayed her final moments with Riya over and over in her head. She remembers covering her daughter’s face in kisses to wake her up that morning, as she did every day. Not kissing her goodbye that day is one of her many regrets. That evening, Mr. Rajmkumar shot and killed Riya before turning the gun on himself. He died six days later, on the same day as Riya’s funeral.
“The fact that her own father could do that to her and I was not there to help her … it still hurts me. I think about it every day,” Ms. Ramdin says, through tears. “Did she cry out? How long did she feel pain for?”
Ms. Ramdin says she is sharing her story for the first time with the hope of helping other women experiencing domestic violence. She also has lingering questions about how Peel Regional Police handled the case. It took police more than four hours to issue an Amber Alert, and longer before they found Mr. Rajkumar, 130 kilometres away from his home in Brampton, Ont. It wasn’t until after they located him that they later entered his home and found Riya’s body. Ms. Ramdin can’t help but wonder if the situation would have turned out differently if police had forced their way into the home earlier.
At the time of Riya’s death, Ms. Ramdin and Mr. Rajkumar had been apart for more than two years, though their relationship had always been volatile.
“He was very abusive, like mentally abusive,” Ms. Ramdin says.
She says there were also two physical incidents, one of them taking place when Riya was an infant. She says Mr. Rajkumar pushed her, so she called the police. He was charged, but never convicted. To this day, Ms. Ramdin regrets giving him another chance.
“From the first time, I should have just cut it off and not given him access to Riya,” she says.
It was something Riya herself said that was the last straw, Ms. Ramdin recalls. When Riya was eight, Ms. Ramdin once picked her up after a visit with her father, who was upset and cursing. As she and Riya drove away, Ms. Ramdin remembers her daughter saying: “Mom, I don’t know why you let him speak to you that way. When I grow up, I would never let a guy speak to me that way.”
“My eight-year-old child is telling me this – that I should know better,” Ms. Ramdin says. “I didn’t want to raise Riya thinking this is the way a guy is supposed to treat you.”
Ms. Ramdin moved to a new place, found a new job, and Riya switched schools. At the time of Riya’s death on Feb. 14, 2019, Mr. Rajkumar did not know Ms. Ramdin’s new address or where she worked. Still, he continued to send her messages, asking to reconcile and promising to change. Ms. Ramdin refused, but didn’t want to prevent Riya from spending time with her father just because her parents didn’t get along.
Mr. Rajkumar often tried to make plans to see Riya on short notice. It was no different on her last birthday – he called the night before and begged to see Riya. After talking to her daughter, Ms. Ramdin agreed to drop Riya off for a short visit in the afternoon.
Ms. Ramdin was watching TV when Mr. Rajkumar called around 5:25 p.m. She was expecting him to say he was at their usual meeting spot at the gas station, but what he told her chilled her instead.
“Me and Riya are going to go to my dad,” he said. His father had died three years earlier. “From the time he said that ... just his voice and even the background ... it was so silent – there was just something about it that told me something was not right,” Ms. Ramdin recalls.
She immediately got into her car, driving straight to what she thought was a police station, but ended up at the Emil V. Kolb Centre in Mississauga, a Peel Regional Police training facility. Ms. Ramdin says she told a security guard and a man she believed was a police officer about the threatening phone call.
She says the officer then gave her the address for a nearby police station, but neither the security guard nor the officer suggested calling 911 for help.
“I was panicking,” she says. “I didn’t even call 911. Nobody knows how they’re going to react in that situation. My reaction was to grab my keys and try to get there as fast as I could.”
Ms. Ramdin believes she arrived at the police station around 6:05 p.m. An officer was sent to Mr. Rajkumar’s Brampton home and called her shortly afterwards, saying there was no answer at the door and that Mr. Rajkumar’s car wasn’t there.
“Looking back at it, why didn’t [they] break the door down?” Ms. Ramdin wonders now. “I mean, if I’m going to kill someone, I’m not going to come out and open the door.”
The timeline over the next several hours is a blur, Ms. Ramdin says. She remembers police asking for a photo of Riya and addresses for Mr. Rajkumar’s family members. One fact is clear, she says: Police did not issue an Amber Alert until after 11 p.m. – more than four hours after Ms. Ramdin had first gone to the station.
Today, she questions why it took so long for police to act, noting she has since seen other alerts issued much more quickly.
The alert led police to locate Mr. Rajkumar in the Township of Oro-Medonte, about 130 kilometres away from his home. Ms. Ramdin, who by then had been joined at the police station by some family members, remembers getting the news.
“We thought, ‘Okay, Riya is with him – she’s probably just crying, she knows she’s safe,’” Ms. Ramdin says. “In my head I was like, ‘When I get her, he’s never going to see her again.’”
A short time later, police took Ms. Ramdin to another room and told her Riya’s body had been discovered in her father’s home. It would be another two days before she learned that Riya was found in her bed and that she had died from a gunshot wound to the back of her head.
The day after Riya’s murder, Peel Regional Police were asked whether they would review their policy on forced entry when looking for a child, based on the case. At the time, police said it was a possibility. When asked last week whether Peel police had – or will – review the case, media relations officer Constable Sarah Patten said the force would not comment pending a potential coroner’s inquest. Stephanie Rea, issues manager at the Office of the Chief Coroner, said this week no decision has been made about whether an inquest into Riya’s death will be held.
On Sunday, Ms. Ramdin turns 42 – the same day Riya would have celebrated her 13th birthday. She is planning to have a cake with family and take some balloons to a bench dedicated to Riya’s memory at the school she attended.
She has decided to share her story now hoping it might encourage another woman to leave an abusive situation before it turns tragic.
“These things keep happening ... and I think we need to talk about it and put it out there,” she says. “It’s not something you can ever get over. You learn how to live with it – but it’s not something easy to live with.”
Ms. Ramdin says she never thought Riya was in danger because Mr. Rajkumar did not raise his voice or get physical with their daughter. She now understands what happened was his way of hurting her.
“For a father to use his child for revenge, I can’t understand that,” she says. “I would rather he had done it to me.”
She says she knows her daughter would be proud of her for speaking out.
“If Riya had survived, I’m sure she would have been sitting here with me telling her story – because that’s who Riya was. She was a very caring and happy kid, and she loved to help people.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.