‘Riya is an angel’ — Mississauga community gathers to mourn slain 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar

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In the flickering light of white candles, mourners cast long shadows Saturday on the snow-covered playground of Meadowvale Village Public School.

They had gathered on this cold evening to pay respects to Riya Rajkumar, the 11-year-old Mississauga girl who was found dead Thursday at her father’s residence in Brampton. Police had issued a late-night Amber Alert when he failed to return Riya to her mother after the two celebrated the girl’s birthday earlier in the day.

Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday evening at Meadowvale Village Public School, where Riya Rajkumar was a Grade 5 student.
Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday evening at Meadowvale Village Public School, where Riya Rajkumar was a Grade 5 student.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

“It’s so sad and tragic. She just turned 11. It was her birthday,” said Debra Oliver, who was among more than 300 people attending the candlelight vigil at Riya’s Mississauga school, where she was a Grade 5 student.

“She was so young. She had not even lived her life,” said Oliver, who, like many attendees on Saturday, had never met Riya.

The girl’s father, Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, has been charged with first-degree murder. Police said he was taken to hospital and later a trauma centre, suffering from an undisclosed medical issue. His case will be “looked at” by a judge on Tuesday, regardless of his condition.

Vigil organizer Amrita Naipaul said she was aware of a missing child from the Amber Alert Thursday evening, but didn’t realize until later that the victim was her former school friend’s daughter.

“I have my two nieces living with me and I can’t imagine having them taken away from my family,” said Naipaul, who went to cosmetology school with Riya’s mother and got her permission to organize the two-hour vigil that started at 6 p.m.

Read more:

Peel Police charge father of dead girl, 11, with first-degree murder

Late-night Amber Alert about missing girl, found dead, prompts complaints to 911: Peel police

“It is going to be a very long journey for Riya’s mother. We just want to give her all the support she needs so she knows she is not alone.”

Among the mourners who crowded the playground and laid flowers and candles were parents and children from Meadowvale Village P.S., near Mavis and Derry Rds., which has just over 500 pupils from kindergarten to Grade 5.

“We all got a newsletter from the school Friday morning about the incident. My daughter was shocked and didn’t want to eat,” said Angela Lee, a member of the school’s parents council. Like Riya, her daughter Kaitlyn is in Grade 5.

“There were police in the school. There were counsellors. The girls were crying. They all made cards and put them on a memorial table for her,” added Lee, waiting for her turn to lay a candle in front of a placard printed with the photo of a smiling Riya.

“The community is traumatized,” said parent Sushma Aradhya, who came to the vigil with husband Uday and their daughter Sanskriti, a classmate of Riya. “As parents, we don’t know how to explain it to our kids.”

Riya Rajkumar was found in her father's home in Brampton, hours after she vanished while in his care. Roopesh Rajkumar is charged with first-degree murder.
Riya Rajkumar was found in her father’s home in Brampton, hours after she vanished while in his care. Roopesh Rajkumar is charged with first-degree murder.  (Facebook)

Bianca Johnson, who teaches at a different school, said she was saddened by the little girl’s death and felt angry at those who complained to police about being disturbed by the Amber Alert notifications sent to mobile devices on Thursday night.

“That was driving me crazy,” she said. “I teach social justice and tell my students to care about other people, but some people are selfish and self-centred. It’s mind-boggling.”

Imam Ibrahim Hussain, who didn’t know Riya or her family, said the girl’s death had brought together a community from all faiths, ethnicities and cultures.

“Riya is an angel. She has brought out our humanity, love and compassion,” Hussain said.

Balloons and flowers sit outside the home in Mississauga where 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar was found on Thursday evening.
Balloons and flowers sit outside the home in Mississauga where 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar was found on Thursday evening.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

Another vigil, organized by Brampton Councillor Rowena Santos, will be held in Brampton’s Garden Square on Tuesday evening from 5:45 p.m until 7 p.m.

A community program called Neighbourhood Watch Brampton has also started an online fundraiser to go toward Riya’s funeral costs. The original goal was $2,500, but by Saturday evening it had raised nearly $25,000.

Brampton court records show that Roopesh Rajkumar entered into a peace bond on Nov. 30, 2015 — the same day an assault charge against him was withdrawn.

According to the Department of Justice website, people can obtain peace bonds from court against defendants when someone appears likely to commit an offence “but there are no reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has actually been committed.”

A court may impose certain conditions designed to prevent the defendant from harming others, as part of a peace bond.

Another vigil for Riya is planned for Tuesday evening in Brampton's Garden Square from 5:45 p.m until 7 p.m.
Another vigil for Riya is planned for Tuesday evening in Brampton’s Garden Square from 5:45 p.m until 7 p.m.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

In 2009, a mischief charge and an assault charge against Rajkumar were also dismissed.

With files from Emerald Bensadoun, May Warren, Alexandra Jones and the Brampton Guardian

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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Teen killed at home owned by Michael Wekerle remembered as ‘angel of a kid’

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Tyler Swartz is being remembered as a caring and sensitive teen who had for years devoted time to charity work.

Swartz, 18, was found dead on Dec. 27 by Caledon OPP at the home of former Dragon’s Den star and business entrepreneur, Michael Wekerle.

The day after the killing, an OPP vehicle blocked the driveway to the gated house, just outside the community of Cheltenham.
The day after the killing, an OPP vehicle blocked the driveway to the gated house, just outside the community of Cheltenham.  (Karen Martin-Robbins / Metroland)

Jonathan Weir is charged with first-degree murder in Swartz’s death. Weir, 20, will appear next in Orangeville court on Jan. 21.

There’s a court-imposed publication ban on the case.

On Dec. 28, an OPP SUV blocked the driveway to the gated house, just outside the community of Cheltenham. There was also a CTV van across the street from the property.

According to documents obtained by the Caledon Enterprise, Wekerle is listed as the owner of the 80-hectare property on King St., east of Mississauga Rd., where Caledon OPP were on the scene.

The property has been known for its yearly charity concert event, Wekfest, featuring acts such as Snoop Dogg and Sloan.

Michael Wekerle speaks to the Chamber of Commerce at the Waterloo Inn and Conference Centre in this April 2015 file photo. An 18-year-old man was found dead on Dec. 27 by Caledon OPP at Wekerle's home just outside Cheltenham. A second man, 20, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death.
Michael Wekerle speaks to the Chamber of Commerce at the Waterloo Inn and Conference Centre in this April 2015 file photo. An 18-year-old man was found dead on Dec. 27 by Caledon OPP at Wekerle’s home just outside Cheltenham. A second man, 20, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death.  (Hannah Eden photo)

Swartz attended high school at the Blyth Academy at the Thornhill campus, until 2017.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he was going to Sheridan College to become a plumber.

He was also an aquarium enthusiastic and hoped to one day open a fresh water aquarium business.

He had a part-time job at Jacob’s Deli — which coincidentally closed down over the Christmas holidays.

Since he was 8 years old, he went once a week to volunteer with his older brother with the Friendship Circle, an organization for children with special needs.

Esther Grossbaum, co-ordinator of the program, said that in 2017 Swartz received the City of Thornhill’s longest standing volunteer award for his service.

“He was a very caring individual,” Grossbaum said. “An angel of a kid.”

The Friendship Circle brings together teens with special needs youth either in home visits or at a two-hour program at the centre.

Tyler Swartz was described as "an angel of a kid."
Tyler Swartz was described as « an angel of a kid. »  (Facebook photo)

Swartz did well helping their special needs clients, said Grossbaum. For the last few years he worked with one youth in particular.

“This is a very challenging client,” explained Grossbaum. “(Swartz) did amazingly well.”

When Swartz left to go to college, the organization couldn’t find another suitable volunteer for the client.

Family and friends held a private funeral for the teen on Dec. 31 at the Steeles Memorial Chapel.

A man who answered the phone at what is believed to be Swartz’s family home said, “We don’t want to comment.”

Karen Martin-Robbins is a reporter with the Caledon Enterprise. Reach her at kmartinrobbins@metroland.com and follow her on Twitter @karenmartinrob6

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