During the holiday season especially, a local resident is acknowledging a monument that sits out front of Severn Shores Public School which remembers children who lost their lives much too soon.
Former Westshore resident Jeannette Barlow says the monument was formerly located at Ardtrea-Cumberland Beach Public School and was almost “lost in the shuffle” when the school permanently closed in 2016.
“I got a hold of Severn Township Mayor Mike Burkett, and he said 'OK, I have connections, let’s see what I can do,'” she explained. “Thank goodness he got the monument moved to Cumberland Beach.”
The monument features the names of local children who have passed away over the years. One of the names is Leah Sousa who was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered in her Cumberland Beach home when she was just 13 years old.
“The police still have the file open,” Barlow explains. “They are still looking for the person who raped and murdered her and beat her mother Lora to the point where she has no memory.”
Barlow’s neighbour at the time had a young daughter who was supposed to have a sleepover at the Sousa house on Sept. 1, 1999, the night of the murder.
“She got sick and backed out,” the Orillia District Collegiate & Vocational Institute graduate recalls. “Otherwise, she probably would have been one of the victims as well.”
At the time of the murder, Barlow had a young daughter herself, so the murder hit particularly close to home.
At Christmas time, Barlow, 67, hopes community members will take some time to reflect on children like Sousa who died too soon.
“I think it’s important for the history of our community,” she said. "It's important to remember these children who died too soon."
Burkett says after Barlow brought the potential fate of monument to his attention, he contacted Simcoe Country District School Board trustee Jodi Lloyd who made sure it was moved to the new school site.
Lloyd says the monument is very important to community members and families.
“It’s always important that we recognize those students who we have lost,” she said.
Lloyd says a lot of time and effort goes into things like creating monuments to recognize former students.
“When we close a school and open a new one, we try to incorporate as many of those things into the new build because it’s a part of the history of the schools.”