Priya Ramdin stood outside Meadowvale Public School in Mississauga quietly looking at a wooden bench which the Peel District School Board engraved in the memory of her late daughter, Riya Rajkumar.
Ramdin has visited this spot often over the last two years. On this day she has a sign with her that reads, “Happy 13th Birthday and Valentine’s Day Riya. Lots of love xoxo.”
She said she still struggles to believe her daughter is dead and has many questions about the night she last saw her only child alive.
“It took a long time for the Amber Alert to go out and that’s one of my questions, Why did it take so long?” Ramdin asked during an interview with Global News.
It was on Feb. 14, 2019, when Ramdin, who shared a birthday with her daughter, drove Riya to the parking lot of a gas station in Mississauga to drop the 11-year-old off for a scheduled visit with her dad.
Ramdin said she and her only child spent the morning together, got their nails done, and curled Riya’s hair before heading out to meet her dad. Two hours later, at 5:30 p.m., around the time Ramdin was expecting to pick Riya up, she got a call from her ex-boyfriend and Riya’s 41-year-old father, Roopesh Rajkumar.
“He said, ‘You will never see Riya again’ and I was like, ‘What do you mean? And he was like, ‘The pain and hurt I’m feeling, you’re going to feel it for a lifetime. Me and Riya are going with my pops,'” she recalled.
“So when he said that, I knew what he meant because his dad passed away three years ago. And I was like, ‘Let me speak to Riya. I want to talk to Riya,’ and he’s like, ‘No, you’ll never speak to Riya again.'”
She said she immediately hung up the phone, jumped in her car and drove to a Peel Regional Police building on Derry Road.
Once inside, Ramdin said she told a security guard sitting at the front desk about the disturbing phone call only to be told that it was not a police station. She said the security guard stopped a passing police officer in an effort to get her help, and the officer told her she was not in a police station and gave her the address for the service’s 22 Division station.
She said she put the address in her car’s GPS and left.
“But I always think back, as a cop, you could have called it in,” Ramdin said.
At around 6:20 p.m., she arrived at 22 Division and told officers her fear.
“I just went there and repeating myself exactly what he said to me, that he’s going to kill my daughter,” she remembered.
A short time later, she got a call from an officer at Roopesh’s home near Kennedy Road and Vodden Avenue.
“He’s like, ‘We’re at his house, he’s not here, I don’t see his car.’ You know at that moment I’m not thinking straight to ask all the questions,” Ramdin said, adding she wonders why they didn’t break down the door into Roopesh’s basement apartment sooner.
“My question is why didn’t they break the door down? There was a child in danger”.
It was only hours later, at around 11 p.m. and just after the Ontariowide Amber Alert had been issued, that police broke down the door and found Riya’s tiny, lifeless body. Paramedics were called, but Riya could not be saved. The cause of her death has never been released.
Just after midnight, the O.P.P. arrested Roopesh in a high-risk takedown near Oro-Medonte. He was injured and ultimately the Special Investigations Unit was called in.
He was charged with first-degree murder, but a week later police announced that Roopesh died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“I always wonder like how could you look at Riya, and it was her birthday and it was the happiest day for her, and how could you look at her and do that to her?” Ramdin said.
Michael Pulley, who was the acting inspector of the Peel Regional Police Homicide Unit at the time of Riya’s murder, told Global News it’s expected a coroner’s inquest will be called into the case given the accused died while in police custody.
“I also believe the case will be subject of the domestic review committee in Peel,” he said, hopeful that many of Ramdin’s questions will be answered during those reviews.
Ramdin said she regrets that she could not protect Riya from Roopesh, but never thought he threatened Riya despite being verbally and physically abusive toward Ramdin over the years.
In June 2008, when Riya was only four months old, Ramdin called police officer after a fight during which Roopesh shoved her onto her bed at the apartment where she and the baby lived. The assault charge was eventually dropped after Ramdin said Roopesh convinced her he wouldn’t hurt her again.
“As much as he was horrible to me, he was very mentally abusive, I always put that aside, Because I always wanted her father in her life,” she explained.
Ramdin recalled an incident in which Roopesh threatened to punch her. Another time, he spat on her. And during a third incident, he ran over her foot with his car. She said she didn’t call the police because every time he convinced her not to.
As Riya got older, Ramdin said she could not hide the abuse from her daughter.
“One time she said to me, ‘Mom, I always want to cry for you’ and that kind of hit me,” she said.
“That’s when I said I need to cut him out of my life because what am I teaching my daughter? I’m teaching her this is OK for a guy to treat you this way. I don’t want her to think this is how a man’s supposed to treat you.”
Ramdin said there was a time she was so afraid of her ex-boyfriend that she picked up and moved Riya to a new neighbourhood, quitting her job, and moving Riya to a new school.
For about two years, Roopesh could only text Ramdin when he wanted to see his daughter until one day she asked him to pick Riya up from a Kumon math class and when Riya was asked what her address was, she said it in front of her dad.
Ramdin said she and Roopesh never went to court for a custody agreement and said she didn’t ask for child support.
“Whenever he called to see Riya, which wasn’t very often, I would let Riya go,” she said.
In September 2018, just five months before Riya’s murder, Roopesh told Ramdin he wanted to try again. Ramdin said the two had only dated for a year before Riya was born.
“He kept calling me out of the blue and asking me, he wants to make-up, he wants us to work things out, he wants to move in and I said to him, ‘No,'” she said.
Ramdin said she believes that Roopesh’s threats on the night of her murder was his way of getting back at her, using Riya to hurt her.
“He knew at this point it was over. Part of me will always remember his last words to me that ‘you’re going to be punished for the rest of your life.’ I was like, ‘I’m not going to let him win,’ like his wish come true,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ramdin said she hopes Riya’s story is a reminder for other victims of domestic abuse to go to the police and to not drop the charges if they report to officers.
“I regret it to this day that I did. I don’t know if it would have made a difference,” Ramdin said, explaining that she told no one about the abuse.
“We think we can change them, we can make them better, we can help them, but you can’t.”