10 years after Dawson: Anastasia De Sousa's family is moving forward
Published Monday, September 12, 2016 10:10AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 12, 2016 12:07PM EDT
It took Louise and Nelson De Sousa a long time to begin to come to terms with losing their eldest daughter in an act of random violence.
"Everybody was in shock. It took us at least two years to calm down, to get back to normal or at least almost normal. At least two years. It was incredible. To digest all that commotion, I call it noise, It was incredible," said Nelson.
Anastasia De Sousa was shot and killed at Dawson College on Sept. 13, 2006, one death among the many injured by a lone gunman lashing out at those he called jocks and cheerleaders.
Her death sent the De Sousa family into a whirlwind of pain.
"Mentally it's difficult to accept. A lot of fighting with accepting and getting life done one day at a time," said Louise.
Ten years later, Louise said she can remember the events and the emotions of that day with ease.
"I still remember it as if it was just yesterday. I still get flashes but you've got to learn to live with it," said Louise.
"I was at work. I was at my lunch hour. It was a crazy day and I finally went down for my lunch and then some co-workers came screaming my name and I was 'Would you just leave me alone? I'm trying to have lunch.' No, no. There's a shooting going on at Dawson. Have you heard from Anastasia?" said Louise.
"I ran to my office to grab my phone to call Anastasia but there was no answer. So slowly panic started. My mother started calling me. 'Have you spoken to her?' Nelson was at home. I'm calling him, and then we just left work and I went to the hospital. I was told to go to the hospital and Nelson was searching with my brother-in-law. He was trying to find her."
Hours after the shooting, as officials were connecting loved ones with victims sent to several hospitals, a social worker realized nobody had found Anastasia.
"I gave the description and a few hours later unfortunately we got the news. It was her. But deep down in my stomach around supper time I had a funny feeling, down in the pit, something was wrong," said Louise.
But a family cannot live in shock and pain forever. There are other children growing up, and work that must be done.
"The children are growing so, that's reality," said Louise
"We have two other kids to raise and try to have a normal life. It's tough but I think we've been doing pretty good."
Part of what helped the De Sousas heal is how the Dawson College community rallied around them.
In addition to support from the shooting victims and their families, many of whom knew Anastasia, total strangers offered to help.
"It gave us strength. We kind of had to release a lot of frustrations, a lot of anger," said Nelson.
"It helped us a lot actually because people were asking us questions and we just let it out, said how we feel and how we're dealing with it. If we had crawled under a table, under a little corner, we would have been way worse today," said Nelson.
After the shooting, Louise joined the gun control group Poly Se Souvient and was in Quebec City to witness the National Assembly vote to maintain Quebec's gun registry.
"From the beginning we've been involved and I'm the one that's taken over, will go more to Quebec when there's something going on in part to make people understand," said Louise.
"We're not against gun owners. We just think they should have it registered."
A new tree lies at the centre of the Dawson College peace garden
The De Sousas have created a bursary in Anastasia's name at Dawson College, and organized fundraisers for the Montreal Children's Hospital.
Anastasia was frequently at the Children's when she was young because of asthma and scoliosis, and frequently told her mother that she wanted to help others as a result.
"She said when I grow up that's what I'm going to do," said Louise.
Now Anastasia will be remembered with a room.
"We're going to have a plaque in memory of Anastasia at the hospital or room... and we chose a room facing east," said Nelson.
"I remember when she was born, the sun was rising."
The toughest time for Louise and Nelson is Anastasia's birthday.
"We have family over. We just don't have a cake because there's no one to blow our her candles but we remember her," said Louise.
Seeing their daughter's friends, now getting married and having children, is also difficult.
"You wonder where would she be today? Would I have been a grandmother? Would she have been married? You wonder."
But one part of Anastasia will live with them forever.
In the months after Anastasia De Sousa was shot and killed at Dawson College, school officials planned a Peace Garden, a place to honour the shooting victims and to renounce gun violence.
At its centre they planted an almond tree that would blossom with pink flowers.
However after several years the tree began to falter, and so Nelson and Louise offered to take the tree to their house, and give the school something from their yard.
The swap worked, and the almond tree has doubled in size since being transplanted.
"Certainly in the spring when it blossoms, all these little pink flowers, it's like she's really home. She came back to where she should have been all along," said Louise.
"To me she'll always be in this home. She'll always be with us. She's in our heart and she's always there."