They gathered underneath a grey sky beneath a bright blue portable canopy, each holding a single yellow rose.
About two dozen people attended the Monday (May 30) afternoon service to bless the simple black granite headstone at the Boundary Bay Cemetery in Tsawwassen.
The marker read: “In Loving Memory of Justin Vasey” above the date of his birth, Jan. 29, 1994, and death, Feb. 25, 2008.
Vasey was 14, a foster child who lived and went to school in Surrey when he suddenly spiralled into despair and began hanging out with a group of older teens who turned on him one night and killed him.
He was buried in Delta because that was where the B.C. Ministry of Children and Families happened to have an available plot.
In January of this year, a follow-up story on the Vasey case by The Leader disclosed that nearly two years after his death, Justin’s grave still only had a temporary metal marker.
It read “VASEY, JUSTIN” spelled out with a crooked stamped-plastic label.
Calls started coming in after the story was published.
People who never knew Justin Vasey phoned Delta municipal hall offering to fund a proper gravestone.
The mayor’s office started accepting donations.
There were dozens of donors, including the RCMP officers and support staff at IHIT, the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team which helped obtain the conviction of four people in Vasey’s death.
More than $1,900 was raised, slightly more than half by police, including IHIT, the Surrey-based forensic identification section and the local detachment.
At the Monday afternoon service, a minister made the sign of the cross on the headstone with sand and praised the donors for their “act of kindness and graciousness.”
He read the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”
A piper played “Amazing Grace” and a singer sang, “I will remember you” by Sarah McLachlan as, one by one, the donors laid the yellow roses at the headstone.
Some were in tears.
Mayor Lois Jackson expressed thanks to the community, to the “friends and unknown friends” of Justin Vasey.
“We hope Justin rests in peace,” Jackson said.
While some Vasey relatives have welcomed the outpouring of community support, other family members have expressed unhappiness, saying they intended to do their own headstone.
There was no reference to the family disagreement at the service, which was described as a recognition ceremony for the donors.
Vasey received a full funeral service attended by his biological father and foster mother when he was first interred at Boundary Bay.
Meanwhile, the three teenagers and one young adult convicted of stabbing Vasey to death in the backyard of a derelict Surrey house are nearing their first parole eligibility dates.
In February of 2008, Jordan George was 17. Jade Pollard was 16 and Danielle Wood-Sinclair was 15. George’s half-brother Cody Pelletier was 20.
All four were sentenced as adults after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
The Leader follow-up reported that a month before Justin died, the dutiful foster child suddenly turned rebellious, staying out late with a group of older teens who were also in foster care, but far more troubled than Justin.
“He was a lamb among wolves,” IHIT spokesman Cpl. Dale Carr told The Leader.
On the evening Justin Vasey died, he was hanging out at an abandoned, graffiti-covered single-storey house, drinking shoplifted vodka.
It appears Justin made some comment about his father punching First Nations people, trying to mimic the trash talk he heard the three teens and Cody Pelletier, all of them aboriginals, express to one another.
All four attacked him, and after the eldest, Cody, passed out, the violence escalated.
The autopsy showed Justin was stabbed eight times, four of which were life-threatening, once with enough force to break a rib.
His nose was broken, there were eight blunt force injuries to his head and multiple abrasions and bruises.