HALIFAX – Family and friends of a Nova Scotia teen whose suicide has again put the spotlight on bullying were urged at her funeral on Saturday to celebrate her life but also to use her story to draw attention to larger problems in society.
Rehtaeh Parsons has gained widespread international attention since her family blamed her death on bullying that was linked to an alleged sexual assault by four boys at a house party in 2011.
More than 100 people filed into St. Mark’s Anglican Church in the city’s north end under grey skies to say goodbye to the 17-year-old who hanged herself and was taken off life-support last Sunday.
In his eulogy, Rev. John Morrell noted that social media contributed to Rehtaeh’s depression and death, but said it also allowed her family to share her story around the world.
“It is a time of celebration and thanksgiving of her short life amongst us,” said Morrell in a copy of the eulogy. “However, given the worldwide attention to the events leading up to this tragedy, it is appropriate to focus on what happened tomorrow, and the day after, and weeks and years to come.
“How can our society provide a safe haven for young girls? Why do young men feel that young girls are but objects for their sexual fantasies and pleasure? Why do teenagers avoid seeking help when they are depressed and suicidal?”
The sound of church bells could be heard echoing through the busy street over the sound of a bagpiper as an eclectic mix of people — from teenagers to politicians — filed into the church.
Some could be seen hugging and crying as the rain gently rolled off their umbrellas.
After the service, a handful of pallbearers in dark suits carried an urn encased in a glass box down the church’s steps and into a hearse as family members followed behind.
Angella Parsons, Rehtaeh’s cousin, said since her death, the support from the community has been overwhelming, calling it “A true testament to the beauty of humanity.”
“We are eternally grateful for the large gathering of friends and strangers that Rae’s story has touched,” said Parsons, clutching a small stuffed dog — its tag baring the name Rehtaeh. “The family has been recipients of random acts of kindness from people who we don’t even know.”
Parsons said some of Rehtaeh’s close friends held a private vigil in front of their home in the suburb of Cole Harbour on Friday. The night before, about 300 people gathered in a downtown Halifax park to pay tribute.
The funeral service comes a day after the RCMP announced it would reopen its investigation into an alleged sexual assault of Parsons in 2011.
Investigators say they received new and credible information from a source who is willing to work with them.
On Monday, her family went public with her suicide, which they said stemmed from months of bullying that was the result of the alleged assault by four boys when she was 15-years-old.
At the time, the RCMP and Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution Service said there were insufficient grounds to lay charges.
The family contends it took 10 months for investigators to interview the boys, but the RCMP have said they can’t confirm or deny that.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said he came to the service as a father and noted the tremendous outpouring of support for Rehtaeh’s family.
“I am thankful that they have not taken into their own hands what properly belongs in the hands in the justice system,” said Dexter . “Violence is not the answer.”
Morrell said Parsons should be remembered for her loving and caring nature.
“Rehtaeh was a lovely young woman on the threshold of adulthood and maturity,” Morrell said.
“The most important part of our service this morning is to remember Rehtaeh in her early life, to celebrate the love and service she showed to others, and to commend her soul, the spirit that have her life in her earthly body, to the arms of her maker – the eternal God who loves all his children.”
The issue of bullying was propelled into the public spotlight last fall over the suicide of British Columbia teen Amanda Todd, whose heart-wrenching video about bullying and cyber-stalking was seen worldwide.
© The Canadian Press, 2013