There’s not a day that goes by that Andrea Kiehlbauch doesn’t think about her childhood friend — and the tragic way she died.
Kiehlbauch says thinking about Const. Heidi Stevenson‘s last moments, as an on-duty RCMP officer responding to the mass shooting that left 22 people dead in Nova Scotia last April, has been difficult.
But knowing Stevenson’s career, and how much she loved it, has helped.
“I like to believe that she knew she had him, and that she would just be so focused on that and not be scared at all and just get the job done,” she said about her 48-year-old friend.
Stevenson was killed by a gunman disguised as an RCMP officer.
Time has also given Kiehlbauch the chance to think of a way to honour Stevenson with the help of six high school friends.
The group has raised money, through a GoFundMe page, to create the ‘Constable Heidi (Burkholder) Stevenson Memorial Band Award.’
This annual award of $1,000 is meant to honour Stevenson and recognize the time she spent in band as a student at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High in Antogonish, N.S. from 1986 to 1989.
Kiehlbauch and Claire McIntyre were the main group members who worked to get the approval for the award from Stevenson’s family, school and the RCMP.
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Both knew Stevenson from elementary all the way through high school, and their mothers were all close friends.
“She was a really independent thinker, and she always was very confident about her opinions and her beliefs, and that was something I always admired about her,” said McIntyre. “It really allowed her to just kind of go for things.”
Claire said that Stevenson was involved in a lot of community work, and the winning student would have to exemplify that.
Among her roles with the force, Stevenson served in community policing, communications, drug recognition and represented the RCMP as part of the Musical Ride.
“I think she would be happy that we’re finding some kind of positive in this horrible situation and that a student will be given a little bit of a leg up,” she said.
The group also made sure that the criteria does not include a lot of academic requirements because they wanted to make the award accessible. The main focus is for the winning student to be hardworking and show a proven commitment to community.
“(Stevenson) didn’t take things for granted, she was a hard worker and she didn’t wait for things to be handed to her,” said McIntyre.
After graduation, McIntyre, Kiehlbauch and Stevenson went their separate ways, but kept in touch whenever they could.
Kiehlbauch now lives in British Columbia, while McIntyre is in Ontario, where they both found out about the tragic incident.
“We’re already feeling separated from Nova Scotia and to have everything that happened happen and not be able to be there … is difficult,” said McIntyre.
“Nobody can grieve normally these days (because of the COVID-19 pandemic), but to be far away from it really hurts,” she said.
This is why many of Heidi’s high school classmates of ’89 gravitated towards a Facebook page that was set up by alumni a long time ago to organize a reunion — it got turned into a place where people shared memories of Stevenson, and condolences.
“Working on this has been really good because it has allowed us to do something after feeling so powerless,” said McIntyre. “We’ve been able to come together and make something good and I think that is a comfort for me.”
The GoFundMe has also been a huge success, raising more than $12,000 and surpassing the initial goal of $10,000.
“That’s enough now for at least 12 years of scholarship, which is amazing … and we’re definitely committed to keeping it going for years and years to come,” said McIntyre.