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Teenage tragedies stun town

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Rudy Kelly, Raven's Eye Writer, Prince Rupert







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The adoptive father of a teenage girl found dead recently on the Prince Rupert waterfront-one of three shocking incidents involving Aboriginal youth in one week-is hopeful that the efforts of a new local committee will help prevent further such incidents in the community.

The discovery of 13-year-old Kayla Rose McKay's body April 15 near the train tracks on Prince Rupert's George Hills Way was sandwiched between the suicide of a teenage girl in a neighboring Tsimshian village two days before, and an attempted suicide by a teenage boy in Rupert just hours after McKay's body was reported found.

The specifics of the individuals involved in the suicide and attempted suicide have not been disclosed. The cause of McKay's death is still unknown but Prince Rupert RCMP said it is now considered neither a murder nor a suicide.

A large local committee, involving community leaders and service providers, has been formed. It is putting together a protocol agreement, as well as coming up with both short- and long-term preventative measures.

"I'm glad to hear that there is a committee working to help the kids," said Gary Brown, McKay's grandfather, who with his wife Rose had raised her since she was two months old. "There needs to be something done to get the kids more involved because they're so bored, and so they stay on the streets at night, where they're in danger."

The weekend following McKay's death, social workers, counsellors and RCMP officers patrolled the streets looking for at-risk youth and handing out cards to most youth they ran into. Also, the local Friendship House youth centre, Planet Youth, stayed open extra days and later hours, so that it could be used as a base of operations.

The extra attention continued for the next two weekends, until it was felt that there was no longer any immediate danger of suicide attempts. But the work of the committee continues.

"Short term solutions are fine, but this isn't the first round of incidents like this," said committee chair and Tsimshian Tribal Council President Bob Hill. "Over the years, we have experienced a high number of suicides and youth tragedies and we need to know why. So our commitment has to be for the long term."

"We have drafted a protocol, that's the first step. Now we have to prepare for the migration of youth from the villages into Rupert for the summer. We have a lot of work ahead of us."

Brown took the opportunity at McKay's April 27 memorial service, held before a crowd of about 300 people at her high school, to make a plea to the youth of the community.

"I wanted to tell them to respect their parents when they tell them when to be home; to phone and let them know where you are, or to tell them if you're going to be late."

Brown said he was grateful for all the support he has received from the community, particularly McKay's two schools, Roosevelt Elementary and Prince Rupert Secondary, which paid tribute to her in the weeks following her death.