I got this story via the Globe and Mail, but it was all over the news on the day it happened and I’ve been thinking it over ever since. I’ve been listening to the excuses of the residents of this street and after they’ve had the chance to share their story, I have to say that their excuses are weak and there isn’t a hint of regret or guilt in anything I’ve heard or read.
Read the following article, and at the end look for my thoughts on this.
In the snowy streets of a Scarborough, Ont. neighbourhood, Judy Tak Fong Lam Chiu left a chilling trail that led to her frozen body.
Her winter coat and glasses were discarded, a symptom of the dementia that clouded her mind, while fingernail marks on the screen door of a house and on a parked car demonstrated her desperate attempt to stay alive as the temperatures dipped as low as -20 C early Monday morning.
The body of the 66-year-old woman was discovered on a sidewalk on Kennaley Crescent around 5:30 a.m., just 300 metres from her home on Cleadon Road in the city’s northeast.
According to police, her husband, 60-year-old Chiu Wing Tung, noticed that she was no longer in bed around 2 a.m., but assumed she had gone downstairs to sleep on the sofa. When he awoke again an hour later, he realized she had disappeared, and he began driving around the neighbourhood looking for her. He finally called police around 4:45 a.m.
She was eventually found by a newspaper carrier, her body so cold that paramedics were unable to revive her.
She was pronounced dead in hospital at 7:05 a.m., but may have survived, police say, if some of the neighbours who heard her screams for help around 2 a.m. had intervened or called 911. One resident even looked outside and noticed someone stumbling around in the dark and cold, said Sergeant David Dubé, and then went back to bed.
“It’s a circumstance where we should have been notified to attend,” Sgt. Dubé said. “As a community, we have an obligation to look after each other. That’s what it’s about.”
Some 500,000 Canadians live with dementia, and their relatives live with the fear that they may just wander away.
Ms. Chiu’s neighbourhood is populated with a mix of long-time residents and recent immigrants, residing in unassuming, attached brick homes. Many, like her, have a Chinese background.
But few of her neighbours reported speaking with the couple, and most did not know her name. Some said she would rarely leave the immediate area around her house, and she would often walk back and forth in front of her driveway, or pace to the edge of the curb.
“There seemed to be some evidence of illness, but also some evidence of awareness,” said neighbour Courtney Fisher, who lives two doors down from the couple.
George Cheang, a 22-year-old York University business student who lives on Kennaley Crescent, awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of screaming, but assumed it was neighbours arguing or returning home from a party, and stayed in bed. He would have acted differently if he had he known what was happening, he said, and insisted that most neighbours on the quiet street are friendly, say hello and help each other out.
“The way I see it is, it happened on my street. It could have happened on your street,” said Mr. Cheang, who has lived with his parents in the neighbourhood since they moved from Macau 10 years ago. “I’m not worried about people judging me. I’m more worried about what happened to the woman on the street.”
Other residents said they believed people should have helped, but may have been too fearful to intervene. “You don’t know who’s going to be there when you open the door,” said Lucy Abdelmaseeh, who lives about half a block down from where the woman was found, but said she didn’t hear anything.
The elderly woman would often stand alone at her doorway, staring at the street for hours, said Jian Cao, who lives across the street. He said the couple rarely had visitors, and he was unsure whether they had any other family living in the city.
Domenico Capotorto, 60, lives two houses over from the elderly couple, and said Ms. Chiu didn’t appear to speak English. Property records show the couple have owned the house since 1989.
“She was a nice lady. I would see her walking in front of the house and say hi, but that was it,” he said.
He said he wasn’t aware of ever seeing the woman looking lost or confused, but said that he had heard she had gotten lost last year and that police had become involved. Eventually, he said, she was found wandering at a nearby shopping mall.
Mr. Fisher believes his neighbours would have helped Ms. Chiu, had they known what was happening, and may simply have not heard her cries for help. “I don’t like to believe that people heard her and did nothing.”
Years ago, an elderly neighbour of mine went missing. All of his friends were coming to the apartment, knocking on his door and it was out of place, normally he never had anyone to his home. So I asked what was going on, not to be nosy but because this was out of place. They told me they hadn’t seen or heard from him in a week and they were concerned because nobody knew of his whereabouts. I waited for a bit, continued to keep an eye out of him. I still had no sign of him, so I attempted to call the landlady and see if she’d heard from him, but I got no response.
This was during a heat wave and all his windows were sealed tight, and I knew he had no AC, so I called the police. They broke down his door and to all of our relief we discovered that he wasn’t in his apartment. He showed up the next day and told me he’d fallen on his way home and had been in the hospital for the past week. He thanked me for my concern.
I didn’t do it because of any other reason than it is my obligation to be a good person and look out for others as I’d hope they would do for me.
This lady didn’t just lie down on someones driveway and fall asleep in the cold. She cried out for help. She tried to claw her way into a warm place and nobody cared. Perhaps they just thought it was some homeless person and that it wasn’t their problem to deal with it. The idea that homeless people chose to be homeless and that means that we’re relieved of our obligation to treat them as people is widespread and it disgusts me.
But no excuse of ‘you don’t know what’s on the other side of the door when you open it’ or ‘I assumed it was neighbours arguing’ will ever wash their hands clean of Judy Tak Fong Lam Chiu’s blood.
At the worst I would hope that charges for blatant disregard for human life be brought against these residents, and at the very least I hope that for the rest of their lives they carry this moment with them and hopefully if they ever have the chance to help out a person in need again, they won’t make the same mistake twice.
A few years ago, another elderly neighbour of mine passed away and to this day I am still disturbed by his death. He was a sweet old man and before I got my job I’d see him almost every day as he walked by my house. But once I got my job I stopped watching for him, suddenly my life became too busy.
So when I came home from work to discover he died and nobody had missed him, the guilt was horrible.
As a society we need to look after each other better. We should each and everyone of us be held accountable for our actions or lack thereof.
Never again should someone be able to throw their hands up in the air, shrug their shoulders and make lame excuses as to why they just walked away from another person in trouble!