Just over a year ago, Milagros Ramirez and her husband Carlos Mechan moved to Calgary as refugees from Peru, where they ran a clothing store. Ramirez said they were victims of extortion and death threats in her home country.
“I was afraid,” Ramirez said. “We tried to find an exit but we can’t because they called and they know where we live and they know where is my family.”
In Calgary, things were looking up for the young family with a baby due in May 2019 — joining their two sons — and Mechan getting a sales job at a car dealership.
“He is happy all the time. He is smart. He was smart,” Ramirez said of her 33-year-old husband.
In early December, Ramirez said Carlos got a phone call from the people in Peru who had been harassing them. She said Carlos suddenly changed at that time.
“Carlos, two weeks ago, is completely different, so different,” Ramirez said. “He is so quiet and he is thinking all day.”
On Dec. 15, the couple’s eight-year-old son found Carlos dead in the family’s southeast home. He had died by suicide.
“He was a good father,” Ramirez said through tears. “My kids now have emotional problems.”
Ramirez doesn’t have any family in Canada, but as of Saturday, Calgary’s Latin American community has raised over $17,000 through a GoFundMe campaign with strangers stepping up to let the family know they are not alone.
“We are overwhelmed with all the support we have received from the community,” said Mariela Parra, a volunteer with the Venezuelan Canadian Association of Calgary.
“It’s important talking about depression, saying that [it’s] a silent killer, that we have to be aware of our surroundings, especially our friends because what I heard about Carlos is that he was a happy man,” Parra said. “His coworkers liked him very much because he was making jokes all the time so nobody saw this coming.”
In addition to dealing with her loss, helping the children cope and paying the bills alone, Ramirez has learned that her refugee claim was denied.
“I want to try to start a new life with my kids,” Ramirez said. “I need an opportunity for my kids and for me and for my new baby.”
The friends who have become family to Ramirez and her young boys are now assisting her however they can. Mary, Mother of the Redeemer Church in northeast Calgary has donated Christmas gifts to the children, while a local immigration consulting firm has offered to appeal the case.
“She doesn’t have family here but she has friends that have become family now,” Parra said. “We are doing our part, but they need to stay here legally.”