The death in suburban Sackville, N.S., sent shock waves through the quiet community 15 km northwest of Halifax. Early on the evening of Feb. 5, Dereck Shaw, 16, phoned his 16-year-old girlfriend, Tara, while his parents were out and told her that on the previous night he had been visited by Satan, appearing in a blue light and demanding his soul. Then Shaw told his half brother and stepbrother, both 8, to close their eyes while he went to his parents’ bedroom and fetched his stepfather’s hunting rifle. Shaw carried the rifle down to his bedroom in the basement of the family’s brick-and-frame town house on a quiet residential street. Then Shaw put the .30-30 rifle’s barrel into his mouth and fired.
Details of Shaw’s death emerged last week, after Dereck’s parents, Linda and Steven Taylor, approached the press in order to publicize what they suspected was part of a growing satanic obsession among teenagers.
Speaking out for the first time about their son’s death, the Taylors blamed his suicide largely on a two-year fascination with devil worship. And reports from across the country suggested links between satanic worship and ritual violence. But the subject is clouded by the obsessive secrecy of satanic devotees. And experts disagree about whether the practice is a cause or a symptom of other problems—including drug abuse.
For the Taylors, their son’s death was the culmination of four months of growing alarm about his involvement in satanic worship. Indeed, last October the couple confiscated black candles, a large hand-drawn pentagram— a five-pointed star-shaped symbol alleged to have magical powers—and instruction books that, Dereck had told his mother, he had used to conduct satanic rituals. “He told me Satan was his religion,” Linda Taylor recalled last week. Satanic symbols and macabre musings on death and evil dotted the 10th-grader’s school books. But so did allusions to drugs.
For Sackville family counsellor Thomas Osborne, the pattern has become disturbingly familiar in recent months. A small , but growing number of troubled teenagers, Osborne said, have told him that they practise satan-
ism, often in combination with drugs and the more oppressive varieties of heavy-metal rock music. “This is getting bigger,” Osborne said last week. “It’s scaring people.”
But such claims are hard to verify. Charles MacLeod, research co-ordinator at Montreal’s Cult Project, an education and resource centre on cultism, suggests that fully committed devil worshippers number “in the hundreds” in Canada. But he added that “facts are hard to come by. There is something inherently secretive about the practice.” Indeed, even those who give up the practice usually refuse to discuss it.
Still, Dereck Shaw’s death in the shadow of satanism recalled other violent incidents in several provinces. In
Valleyfield, Que., the gruesome murder in January, 1985, of a pregnant woman, who was ritualistically dismembered and burned, led to the conviction later the same year of Raymond Steele, a self-styled minister of the Universal Life Church of Enlightened Reason. Police found satanic literature at his home. Then last year police investigating the murder, still unsolved, of a Halifax prostitute found evidence that the victim had been tied with ceremonial black and silver rope before being slashed on her throat and both wrists, as well as being stabbed once in the heart with a knife displaying the number 666, which has satanic significance: according to the Bible, it marks the coming of the anti-Christ.
More alarming still, was a 12page university essay written by Alberta Royal Canadian Mounted Police Const. James Brown of Red Deer, which was made public earlier this month. An expert on satanic criminal activity, Brown wrote that an inference could be drawn linking satanism to the unsolved disappearances in recent years of several Alberta children. Declared Brown: “Children have a strong significance in satanic rituals, and there are suggestions they may be used [in sacrifices].” Assessments of the risks run by those who practise satanism vary widely. Said the Taylors’ United Baptist pastor, Rev. Hedley Hopkins: “Young people who are bored are trying to make contact with evil. And if you try long enough, you eventually find something intelligent S and malignant and destructive I on the other end of the line.” ^ Psychiatrist Dr. Khalil Ahmad, £ director of adolescent services I at the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth, offered a different explanation. “Teenagers are looking for excitement,” he said. “The weak-willed, often the losers, are attracted to [satanism]. It gives them a false impression of power.” Ahmad says that satanism is more a symptom of a troubled mind than a contributing cause.
But for the Taylors, there remain haunting questions. “There must be some mistake,” reads one of Dereck’s last notes, scrawled on a class schedule. “I didn’t mean to let them take away my soul.” And last week the Sackville detachment of the RCMP reopened its suicide investigation, probing for any evidence of criminal activity connected with the teenager’s satanic obsession.
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