Louise and Nelson de Sousa paid a sombre visit to the Peace Garden at Dawson College on Monday, 15 years to the day after their 18-year-old daughter Anastasia was killed during the Dawson College mass shooting.
“Where would she have been today and what would she be doing?” said de Sousa’s mother. “Would we have been grandparents?”
The space was created to honour those affected by the shooting that killed Anastasia and wounded more than 15 others on Sept. 13, 2006. That day, a lone gunman walked into Dawson with a handgun and a rifle and opened fire.
Meaghan Hennegan survived being shot that day and is now a 33-year-old mother of one. She says the mental and physical pain have dulled over the years, but the anniversary will always be hard.
“It’s still very sad, but at the same time, you know, every year I get to look at where I am right now and be really proud of it,” Hennegan told Global News.
Like last year, there was no formal memorial because of COVID-19. People were invited to visit the garden and pay their respects on their own time.
“We decided to take a step back this year and and observe quietly, and we made the decision with the full consultation of the De Sousa family,” explained Dawson College spokesperson Donna Varrica.
Current students descended on the garden to look at the picture of de Sousa and reflect on what happened. Some were only toddlers at the time of the shooting.
“The first thing I noticed was how beautiful she was and how young she was. She was our age, basically,” said Dawson student Juliette Houle.
De Sousa’s father remarked at how quickly the years had passed.
“It’s a very emotional day. We don’t know where the time went,” said Nelson de Sousa.
Meanwhile, as they have on several occasions for a decade and a half now, Hennegan and her mother Kathleen Dow-Dixon used the grim anniversary to call for stricter gun control in Canada.
Many assault weapons are banned now, but at the time, the shooter obtained his legally.
“There’s no reason anybody needs to own a weapon like that at all. If you’re a hunter, you’re not going to go use a Beretta CX4 storm to shoot a deer. It’s overkill,” Hennegan said, speaking of one of the weapons the Dawson shooter used.
The pair are asking Canadians to vote for the Liberal Party or Bloc Quebecois, saying they are stronger on gun control.
“If you care about strengthening and maintaining gun control laws in this country, then the Conservative Party is not the party that you want to vote for,” said Dow-Dixon, who was at the college with her daughter at the time and said bullets passed through her jacket and purse.
With in-person learning back, the college has once against started using the Peace Garden as a classroom, in honour of the teen whose education here was abruptly cut short.