SURREY â€” The senseless murder of 53-year-old Julie Paskall rocked the community of Newton, and beyond, but Paskall’s sister-in-law hopes the tragedy can be a catalyst for positive change – change, she hopes, that comes from the people.
"I think that people need to take back their power, their own personal power, and that will help them take back their community," said Joan Ross, who is married to Paskall’s only sibling.
Paskall was beaten in what police believe was an attempted robbery on Dec. 29 while picking up her son from the Newton Arena. She died in hospital days later. Paskall is survived by her husband Al, their 16-yearold son and two adult daughters. "We can’t take back Julie’s death, but we can take back the meaningless nature of her death," Ross said. "I’d really like to empower people on a personal level, on an individual level. And every person has something, they have something that they can give."
Ross said she sees the community is energized, and she hopes that energy goes in a positive direction.
"You can’t destroy energy, you can only redirect it. So, yes, they’re having meetings for safety and all sorts of things, but I think that people really need to start with themselves. Start in their own backyard, on a real personal level. How can I make myself a better person? By making yourself a better person, you’re going to strengthen your community. And Julie was all about that."
Despite being considered a hero by some in the community, Ross said Paskall likely never thought of herself as anyone of importance.
"She probably never saw herself as having a whole lot of talents, or worth for that matter, and she was a very quiet, unassuming person. She didn’t need a lot of accolades, but she had strong opinions and she would voice them if you asked her. She was no doormat to anybody."
While Ross is pleased to see the community taking Paskall’s death personally, she also sees feelings of fear and helplessness developing in the community.
"Don’t let it terrify you like it’s terrifying me now," she said, tears streaming down her face. "It’s hard for me to let my family out the door. And I do it, and it takes every ounce of courage I have to not barricade myself. And I have to find the courage to go back out in my community."
Ross said she also hears the anger coming out of the tragic incident.
"You don’t think we’re angry? We’re angry. It’s just too high a price for our family to pay. But it could be your family next. Don’t be us. I can’t change it by myself, but I know that everybody has power."
Right now, Ross said criminals are robbing the public of their peace of mind.
"We’re letting them. So they’re not really robbing it, we’re giving it to them. Because we won’t stand up for someone being bullied in a crowd, someone stealing the cookie at Superstore. I don’t mean go and beat them up or have road rage, but say something. Do something. Don’t shrug it off and say, ‘Oh well, I can’t fix that.’ You sure can’t with that attitude."
Ross said she’s glad to see the public demanding change, but added she doesn’t want to see people blaming one another.
"Stop blaming, stop pointing for someone else to make this a better world – to make this a better place, to make my community safer. Turn that finger on yourself and ask how you can make it safer."
Ross said she knows the reality of her neighbourhood. In fact, she said her daughter was once attacked at the Newton bus loop.
A woman told her daughter she didn’t want her there, and ended up assaulting her.
"Not one person stood up for a youth," Ross said. "I understand people are afraid. And people have been taught not to make eye contact, not to get involved, you might draw that fire. And they’re saying you won’t be safe, but are you safe? Is that attitude creating a safe place? No, it’s not."
Ross said Paskall’s death doesn’t have to be for nothing if the community bands together to help one another.
"I’m hoping to give her children something that does feel good in the future. They’re not going to have their mother, but maybe they’ll have a little piece that says my mother helped the world in a small way," she said. "Don’t let your mother, your child, your husband, your loved one, have to even be injured, much less killed. Don’t let your family suffer because you didn’t learn this lesson. Don’t let it be your Julie."
‘BE PART OF THE SOLUTION’ Ross acknowledged that the community has been speaking out about the area’s decline for some time, but said Paskall’s death has now made it impossible to ignore.
But don’t point fingers, Ross urged. "Be a part of the solution," she said.
The people in power – like the mayor, elected officials and police – all have a responsibility, she said, but they don’t have all the answers or unlimited resources.
"So don’t be mad at them. Support them.
How many of you go out and wave, or go up and congratulate them… They are people too, and they’re trying hard," she said.
Volunteer or tutor someone, extend a kind word, speak up when someone is being bullied, get to know your neighbour, Ross said, stressing that these are all things that make a community stronger, and safer.
She pointed to the Nova Scotia students who began Anti-Bullying Day in 2007 by distributing 50 pink T-shirts after a male Grade 9 student was bullied for wearing pink.
"Those were kids, and they took their power back. They stood up united and said they wouldn’t stand for it. And look what happened," she said. "Everybody can think of someone that said something to them one day that made a difference. And what I’m challenging you to do is to be that for someone else. Say something, do something, make a difference if it’s only for one moment in that person’s life."
GOOD STORIES NEEDED
Ross said she wants to hear the stories of compassion that are spurred from Paskall’s death.
"I want to hear them, I want people to call into the Now, and say this is what I did, this is what someone did for me, this is how this story inspired me," she said. "I bet you if we start to hear stories of the good things, it will spark more. The mayor’s working on it, and well she should be, but we have a responsibility to do something too."
Beyond that, be an extra set of eyes on the street and call the non-emergency police line if something seems suspect, she said.
"Start taking license plate numbers, start phoning the police, start getting after them, that sort of thing. Notice. Look. Be aware," she said.
While police have yet to release any solid leads in the case, Ross is confident Paskall’s killer, or killers, will be caught.
"There’s just not a big enough rock in Surrey to hide under anymore," she said.
Ross believes the attack was drug related and has a message for those responsible: "Look at yourself. Is that where you want to be? Killing someone for drug money? Are you going to allow your addiction to control you? Do you think there aren’t other people in the world that haven’t had your bag of hammers, your life, your horror, your grief? There are," she said.
"Maybe there’s hope for someone like that, some kind of redemption. It isn’t going to come from me, I don’t have that much charity in my heart, but I don’t hate them. But I don’t want them on the street. I don’t know that there’s any rehabilitation in that regard. I want the streets to be safe, and I don’t want them out there. They’ve lost that chance."
Meanwhile, police continue their hunt for her killer and the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team asks anyone with information to contact them at their tip line, at 1-877-551-4448, or by email at email@example.com.
Tips can also be left anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.solvecrime.ca.