It was a normal Sunday afternoon last month in Portage la Prairie. The weather was pleasant and people were working in their yards doing the usual things they would do to get ready for the colder weather. In an instant, the day became anything but normal for several Portage residents when a 13-year-old and 14-year-old from the community decided to initiate several attacks on random strangers while using a machete.
Most residents heard of the events and were shocked. Some had conversations with their kids while others made changes to how they would approach walking alone. After several weeks, many have forgotten about the event or it is no longer top of mind. But for the families involved, the implications of the events have meant a permanent change in the way they do things.
A family member of one of the teenagers attacked describes what happened that day near downtown Portage.
"It was a bright, sunny afternoon. Our teen was leaving an event as it ended a little bit early. Somebody arrived to pick them up at the scheduled time but they thought I'll just walk home because it was so nice. They ended up being approached by a kid who asked what their name was. That person then spit in their face and ripped them to the ground. From there, two other kids joined in on the assault. Luckily, there ended up being a bystander that we knew and they recognized who the teen was. He saw the whole event happen and intervened. It was at a point where one of the kids had yielded the machete. He had pulled it out and if it wasn't for that bystander creating a diversion, thoughts of what could have happened go through my head a lot."
The family member says something this extreme isn't something you would expect in our community.
"You know, walking around during the day, you would like to think that you are safe enough to be able to do that. It makes you stop and second-guess. Do you allow your kids to walk home even for lunch at school? During the daylight, when we thought that it was supposed to be safe to walk around, it has made us feel like we are not. It's unsettling, it was unprovoked, and it was certainly unexpected."
Many people across the province have expressed frustration over the last few years at how many crimes in the area seem to go unpunished, or if people do receive punishment, they are back on the street in no time. The family has also struggled with these thoughts and the process a victim has to go through.
"When we were asked what we would like to do about it, there were lots of questions. They asked if our kid could come down to the station to see if they could pick these guys out from a photo lineup. I was concerned that we might have to see the perpetrators face to face and they would see us. After being assured that this wouldn't happen and there would be no names released unless charges were placed, I questioned things and wondered what was meant by that. I was informed once charges were laid, in all likelihood, they would be given unconditional sentences and would be released. At that point in time, they would also know the victim's name that charged them. It makes you feel like you are the victim all over again. You want to feel safe, but how can you when your name is now out there? Absolutely you fear retaliation, and to family members as well. It is just all so unsettling."
Despite the horrific attack, the teenager is doing as good as you can expect.
"They are faring quite well. There is a good support system of friends and family that have rallied around them. We had to be mindful of the physical injuries but also the emotional effects. We don't know a lot about the justice system but at what point in time does it become a much bigger issue when somebody is able to walk around yielding machetes and randomly attacking people for no reason? At what point in time do we assess these youths and just say this is not outpatient rehabilitation worthy? At what point in time does our community become more at the forefront in making it safe? Because it does not feel safe to walk around. I feel that we are constantly taking a look at our surroundings, even in broad daylight when we're out doing grocery shopping, even just taking a look at who may be around. My teen is now asking what they could have done differently when the answer is nothing. This is normal for a victim"
In the end, the family is doing the best they can to move forward, but when something like this happens, it is very tough. Especially when they arrived at the hospital that day to find out the attack on their kid wasn't the only one that day.
"I feel that violent crimes define neighbourhoods and cities. People have stated to me a lot since this happened that other communities are in crisis as well. We certainly know that the world is in a drug epidemic crisis. But we also know that not all towns and cities are published in magazines as being one of the top most dangerous cities to live in. I think we need to, as a community, take a look at that. To see what can be done, what we can do to make our streets safer for everybody."
Police were able to identify the assailants and a 13 and 14-year-old male, both from Portage, were arrested.
The 13-year-old was charged with Aggravated Assault, Possession of a Weapon for a Dangerous Purpose, Robbery with an Offensive Weapon, and Assault with a Weapon.
The 14-year-old was charged with Aggravated Assault, Possession of a Weapon for a Dangerous Purpose, Assault with a Weapon, Robbery, Failing to Comply with a Probation Order, and Failing to Comply with a Release Order.
There is no word on whether the pair remain in custody or if they were released.
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