Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a beautiful stone bench in a community garden now commemorates the tragic death of 20-year-old nursing student Rayel MacDonald.
Last Saturday Rayel’s family, surrounded by friends and community members, gathered for a service at the site where she was killed while walking across Carson Drive with a group of friends in the early morning of April 22, 2012.
Her family unveiled a memorial bench created in Squamish by a mason named Moses.
The bench contains three seats. Each seat is engraved with messages. One from each of Rayel’s sisters, Rilla and Olivia. The third one has a line from a song.
Two large rocks, originally from the Squamish area, are anchored between the three seating slabs.
Family friend Dr. Doug Neufeld, who was MC for the event, said a year before Rayel’s death the students at Williams Lake Secondary School chose Memory Garden as the name for the garden.
After Rayel’s death, the food policy council, who had organized the garden, welcomed the MacDonalds and the memorial bench project with open arms.
“It was a perfect blending of time,” Neufeld said. “It gave us something to focus on for family and friends, and something to work on to remember Rayel.”
Support from the food policy council, the city, that owns the land, city staff and local contractors ensured completion of the project in time for the anniversary.
“There were also donations through the food policy council from family and the friends of Rayel and the TRU nursing group. The biggest contributor by far to the memorial is actually Penelope, Olivia’s pig,” Neufeld explained.
Through the Williams Lake 4H Show and Sale held in August, the sale and resale of Penelope generated thousands of dollars, he added.
Family, friends, and the RCMP also came out to do some work on the garden itself.
“I certainly encourage people in Rayel’s memory and other kids’ memories to come out and help to make it a success for our community.”
The location of the memorial bench strategically remembers Rayel.
“If you look around, that’s where Rayel was born, Jan. 7, 1992 at Cariboo Memorial Hospital. The memorial faces where Rayel was brought up in Big Lake.
“I didn’t believe Andrea when she said it faced Big Lake, but then when I thought about it realized when you drive to Big Lake you drive south and then up and back.
“It actually does.”
Williams Lake Secondary School is directly above, where Rayel went to school, made a lot of friends, played rugby on the fields, and graduated.
At the time of her death she had completed her second year of the nursing program at TRU and had done her clinical at the hospital.
“Part of the way I knew Rayel, aside from through my children, was watching her evolve as a nurse. I’d see her and bug her in the hospital. She was involved with patients I work with,” Neufeld said.
Sadly, he added, the spot marks the place where Rayel died.
“It’s a difficult one, but it brings everything together. It marks where she died, but also where she lived.”
“Hopefully this is the first of many events,” Neufeld said.
Future plans for the site include an archway to the entrance.
After MacDonald’s death, Martin William Gentles, then 27 years old, was charged with impaired driving causing death and impaired driving causing bodily harm. On June 27, 2012 the charges were stayed in Williams Lake Provincial Court pending further investigation.
Criminal Justice Branch spoksperson Neil MacKenzie confirmed the Crown is in the process of completing the charges assessment file.
“I cannot say when the process will be completed, but there has been some communication back and forth between the Crown and the RCMP about the case.”
Neufeld said when the court proceedings are over, there is a plan to put up a plaque.
“We need to protect her rights through the court process. She still has rights that persons are dealt with.”
He also encouraged the community to continue supporting the family.
“Don’t be afraid to talk about Rayel with them. They want you to,” he said.
MacDonald’s friend and fellow nursing student Alysha Mullett was seriously injured at the scene, but said Saturday she’s recovering physically, has continued some nursing courses through correspondence, and will be taking a practicum soon.
The bench honours all young people who have died, Neufeld told the crowd.