Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 20, 2003
Faith helps Kristin French's mother survive horrific grief
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
How does a parent survive the overwhelming grief that comes with the brutal murder of a teenage daughter?
Donna French knows only too well. "There is only one way and that is through faith and support," says French, whose daughter, Kristin, 15, was abducted, raped and murdered by convicted killer Paul Bernardo with the help of his wife, Karla Homolka.
"Each step of this horrible nightmare has only deepened our faith and we have found never ending support," she said in a talk to hundreds of students, parents and teachers at All Saints Catholic High School in Ottawa Oct. 8.
The painful ordeal for Kristin's family started in the afternoon of Holy Thursday, April 16, 1992, as the popular and attractive girl was returning home from Holy Cross secondary school in St. Catharines, Ont.
Lured over to Bernardo's car by Homolka on the pretense of asking directions, Kristin was forced by him at knifepoint into the backseat of the car.
"Our perfect happy lives were shattered," recalled French. "What no one thinks will ever happen to them, what everyone thinks only happens to bad kids, what everyone thinks only happens in big faraway places - happened."
The days that following were agonizing ones, said French. "It was the most helpless feeling in the world to know that my little girl was in trouble and there was nothing I could do to protect her."
Two weeks after she was abducted, the body of Kristin French was found in Burlington, Ont.
"I felt like all of life had been taken from my body," she said. "The pain hit me like a physical force. It was all consuming."
The lead investigator, Inspector Vince Bevan, who is now Ottawa's police chief, broke the news to Kristin's mother.
"Vince Bevan sat beside me and held my hand as he told me that the girl they had found was Kristin," said French. "He told me she had been sexually assaulted and asphyxiated.
"The pain I saw in his eyes as he broke the news to me told me he cared. It made me feel that his heart was broken too and it meant so much to know that he was genuinely sorry."
However, the media, who had been "extremely sensitive" during the search for Kristin, "suddenly seemed like a pack of vultures," said French.
"We had just received some of the most devastating news that a family could possibly receive. We were in shock, in a stage of grief beyond words, and yet the media, which had been very supportive, now seemed totally insensitive to our need for privacy.
"We felt betrayal.
"We felt disgust."
Since her daughter's brutal murder, French has spoken with many other victims of violence and their family members, she said.
"No one is immune to violence. Each and every one of us is a potential victim. Violence affects us all."
As parents, teachers, friends and neighbours "it is our responsibility to teach young people self-esteem and compassion," she said.
"We must teach them right from wrong, and maybe even more importantly, we must teach them responsibility and accountability."
The federal government must be told that "we are disturbed by the increase in violence and that we expect them to implement effective crime prevention programs and hold violent offenders appropriately accountable for their actions," added French.
Following her talk, French was presented with a large-sized cheque of $1,000 on behalf of the students of the Catholic school. The money is to go toward the Kristin French scholarship program.