BRIAN BERGMAN,VICTOR DWYER,E. KAYE FULTON,1 more...April181994
'An inquiring mind and a basic kindness’
E. KAYE FULTON
The card attached to a bunch of red roses, placed with care on a busy downtown Ottawa sidewalk, reads: “To innocence lost.” It was there, outside a popular Elgin Street nightclub called The Penguin and within the protection of a crowded street in a presumably safe city, that Nicholas Battersby was shot to death by strangers at 7:29 p.m. on Sunday, March 27. The 27-year-old British-born engineer, walking home to his apartment, was struck in the chest by a bullet from a sawed-off, .22 calibre rifle fired from a passing white Jeep Cherokee. The irony was horrific: Battersby chose a job in Ottawa over one in Los Angeles last November because of its crime-free reputation. “I lived in L.A. for 14 years,” said aerospace engineer Vivek Joshi, a friend and co-worker of Battersby at Bell-Northern Research Ltd. “I didn’t even know of a friend who had a friend who got shot. My very first six months in
Canada, and this happened. It is a case of disbelief.”
The randomness of Ottawa’s first driveby killing—preceded by a 20-minute shooting spree during which three central Ottawa storefronts were shattered by bullets—jolted a smug city that once believed that violent crime happened somewhere— anywhere—else. The arrest three days later of three suspects, all under the age of 18, fuelled debate at Parliament’s doorstep about toughening the Young Offenders Act. In fact, Crown prosecutors in Ottawa planned to ask this week that the trials of the trio—a 16-year-old youth, charged under the act with second-degree murder, and two others, aged 16 and 17, facing manslaughter charges—be moved into adult court.
The shock of Battersby’s death, and the poignant story of how he came to be at the wrong place at the worst possible time, has provoked more than outrage. At a memorial service on Easter
Monday, 500 people crowded into St. John’s Anglican Church, with another 1,500 spilling onto the street. Among those at the service were Battersby’s parents, Charles and Gay, and his brother James, 25, from the southern English town of Brackley. In Ottawa, the family had made a pilgrimage to the spot where Nicholas died and where every day last week passers-by added new bunches of flowers. From friends, they learned that the young engineering doctoral graduate had been on his way home to attend a friend’s birthday party across the hall from his apartment on nearby Somerset Street. He had made those plans with Joshi over lunch at his office earlier that day. “I told him I would knock on his door around 8 o’clock,” Joshi told Maclean’s last week. “I kept knocking, and didn’t hear anything, until a neighbor came up and said that he had been shot.”
Incredibly, no one at the scene could provide a licence-plate number or identify the assailants. The shots were lost in the bustle of street activity on the warm spring night; a dozen witnesses lining up outside the nightclub thought at first that Battersby had merely tripped and fallen. Only later did police piece together the tragedy. The white Jeep, later discovered to have been stolen, had been recorded by a video camera as it sped away from one of the three convenience stores hit by rifle fire. The owner and three customers inside one store were showered with glass.
The Jeep then drove along Elgin Street, its occupants apparently searching indiscriminately for targets.
Only hours after they were told of Nicholas’s death, the Battersbys received a letter he had mailed last month. He had proudly written that his job as a researcher working with semiconductors was going well, and that he had made new friends. He added that he had survived his first Canadian winter and had learned how to ski and skate. In a moving tribute to his son, Charles Battersby said that “Nick achieved more in his 27 years of life through hard work, an inquiring mind and a basic kindness and humanity than many people achieve in a whole lifetime.” He also said that the “crazy and senseless events that took place could have happened anywhere in the world.” That it happened in Ottawa is still difficult for many in the city to grasp.
BRIAN BERGMAN in Toronto,
VICTOR DWYER in Hamilton and E. KAYE FULTON and LUKE FISHER in Ottawa
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