The children’s shoes were clustered and grouped together; as in life, so in death.
- Moriah Handel
- Ledia Handel
- Roxanne Handel
- Levi Handel
- Sebastian Handel
- Martial Handel
The six children all died on March 11, 2002. Their father, Jay Handel, was convicted of first degree murder in the death of his children, ranging in age from two years to 11 years old. Mr. Handel, 45 at the time, killed the children, then burned down the family home with the children inside, to punish his wife Sonya, who he erroneously believed was having an affair.
As the home burned in the small hamlet of Quatsino, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Mr. Handel drove his wife to the top of a hill overlooking their property to show her what he had done. Ms. Handel, who had talked of leaving her husband, had stayed that weekend with a friend. Mr. Handel was sentenced in 2003 to life imprisonment with no opportunity for parole for 25 years. Ms. Handel passed away in August 2009 of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. (Rod Mickleburgh, Globe and Mail, Aug. 4, 2009).
The shoes, and the corresponding obituary, were part of the Powell River Shoe Memorial, an emotionally moving display of hundreds of pairs of shoes – spread out at the Town Centre Mall over the weekend. Each pair, or group of pairs of shoes, were accompanied by a short, written obituary describing the victim’s life. Viewers walked up and down the rows, reading the obituaries, taking in the horrifying information of yet another life lost.
The fourth annual PR Shoe Memorial was put together by Victim Services Powell River and was timed to correspond with Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The shoes, donated by local residents, are meant to represent the empty shoes, and empty hopes and dreams, of scores of women and children who fall prey to violence often at the hands of someone they know said Christine Schreiber of Police Based Victim Support Services.
Jen Ramsey pauses to read an obituary atop a pair of shoes at the Shoe Memorial, a display set up at Town Centre Mall over the weekend by Powell River Victim Services.
“The Shoe Memorial is an action to raise awareness about violence against women and children. It’s purpose is to remember, name by name, all the women who died by violence. They should not be forgotten,” Christine said. “At this point we have more than 800 names of BC women and children who have died because of violence, often in their own homes.”
Schreiber and colleagues appealed to the community for shoes for the display and the response was overwhelming. “We started collecting the shoes a few months ago and before long we had over 200 pairs, some of which are brand new,” Schreiber said. “When the display is over we will donate the shoes and boots to women and children in need.”
Over the weekend hundreds of people took in the display, some openly weeping at the sight of all the empty shoes. “All these women, and their children, lost through no fault of their own,” said Sheena, viewing the display with her infant daughter sleeping against her shoulder. “It’s sobering to see the shoes all laid out like that. They were here one day, simply gone the next. Why?”
Violence knows no social, demographic or economic boundaries. Violence happens in big cities and in small towns, and in rural towns like Powell River. This past year more than 50 women and 30 children have made use of Grace House, Powell River’s transition home for victims of abuse. Women in our community have died at the hands of family members. In January 2001 a community nurse was murdered on Texada Island and the woman’s 18-year-old son was charged with the crime. Four months later a three-year-old girl was murdered on Texada Island. The child’s stepfather was convicted of the crime.
Across Canada, organizers of Shoe Memorials got their message out in a poignantly powerful way. “Powell River is included, we need to remember, too,” Sheena said as she patted her daughter gently on the back. “And this display is simply unforgettable.”