Rinelle Harper was breathing, barely. Her bare limbs were cold, red and purple with evidence of the violence she endured. When a man tried to help her, she mustered the strength to open her eyes and raise her hands, as if to push him away and defend herself.
That man was Ed Mehanovic, who, along with another construction worker, found the 16-year-old before starting their shifts at a building project.
"I kept repeating, 'Don't worry, you're safe. The police and ambulance are on the way,'" Mr. Mehanovic recalls. Then she closed her eyes and passed out.
Mr. Mehanovic had witnessed brutality before, back in eastern Europe. But finding Ms. Harper in that state angered him.
"I'm from Bosnia. I saw things like that in the concentration camps – women raped and beaten up," he says. "To see that in Canada? No. No."
It was the morning of Nov. 8, a chilly start to a Saturday. Mr. Mehanovic had arrived early to his 7 a.m. shift to sneak in a quick coffee when the other worker, Sean Vincent, was approached by a man who said there was a badly beaten woman down by Winnipeg's Assiniboine River, on the walkway near the bridge.
"I said … 'Did you call 911? Did you call the police?'" Mr. Mehanovic says. "He said, 'No, I have a criminal record.' I said, 'You idiot. Somebody's life is on the line.'"
Ms. Harper, an aboriginal Southeast Collegiate student who dreams of some day joining the military, managed to pull through. The attack was so gruesome, though – she was assaulted, ended up in the frigid Assiniboine River, and then crawled out only to be attacked by the same men again – that homicide investigators were immediately assigned to her case.
She was discharged from the hospital last week, and though she's still experiencing pain, on Thursday afternoon she is planning to meet the men who likely saved her life. And Mr. Mehanovic, a burly man with teenaged daughters of his own, is looking forward to it.
"She's a miracle kid, woman," he said. "It's amazing what a human being can do – the power and the will to live."
Mr. Mehanovic and Mr. Vincent called 911 on their way down to the path, not knowing what they might find. They found a young woman, alone, covered in blood and not much else. The men took off their bright orange work jackets and placed them over the teenager, and Mr. Mehanovic asked the 911 operator whether he could put her in the recovery position. She looked so cold, broken, he explained. That's when Ms. Harper showed signs of life, opening her eyes briefly and raising her hands. Before that, Mr. Mehanovic wasn't so sure the girl was alive; he hadn't been able to find a pulse.
"Nobody deserved that," he said. "That was some animal leaving a human being to die there. That's just beyond."
Police and paramedics soon arrived and Ms. Harper was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. After about a week in the intensive care unit and children's ward, she was released Friday. "We're so happy," her mother, Julie Harper, told The Globe and Mail the night her daughter was discharged.
Police have arrested Justin James Hudson, a 20-year-old member of Poplar River First Nation who lives in Winnipeg, and a 17-year-old male in connection with the attack on Ms. Harper as well as a separate assault on a 23-year-old woman a few hours later. They have been charged with attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon.
It appears Mr. Hudson, who could not be reached for comment, intends to make a bail application. He was in court earlier this week, but the matter was put over to the morning of Nov. 28. He has applied for legal aid, though as of Wednesday afternoon a lawyer had not been assigned. No information can be released about the 17-year-old because he is a minor.