Husband of youth worker attacked by clients wants system to change
Published Sunday, November 3, 2019 4:07PM MST
Last Updated Sunday, November 3, 2019 7:33PM MST
CALGARY – While one family is still coming to terms with the death of a Calgary caseworker, another whose loved one survived a brutal attack says more needs to be done to protect personnel who work with troubled individuals.
It's been three years since Heather Vanderzee was attacked while on the job at Elk Island Youth Ranch.
Her family says her assailants were two teenagers staying there.
"Every bone in her face was broke," her husband Larry Achtemichuk told CTV News. "There's 92 titanium screws and eight plates, plus an eye socket that was all broke up. She's got a plastic eye socket on her right eye."
He says the attack left her with a permanent brain injury that's affected her daily life.
When Achtemichuk learned about the recent fatal attack on caseworker Deborah Onwu, he says the news brought back horrible memories of that experience.
"It hit me hard. I just couldn't do anything. I just… how can kids do that? I don't understand it."
Onwu was stabbed to death on October 25 while at an assisted living home. Police say she was in an argument with an 18-year-old man at the time the incident occurred.
That man, Brandon Newman, has been charged with second-degree murder.
Achtemichuk says changes are needed to prevent these sorts of tragedies in the future. He wants to see harsh sentences handed down to offenders.
"The [Youth Criminal Justice Act] in this country just doesn't cut it. It's got to change. It's not working. It hasn't worked since they changed it. Kids got to be held accountable," he says. "I just want to see more done."
Meanwhile, Onwu's sister says more rules should be in place to make sure companies that work with troubled youth know who they are dealing with.
"You need to assess someone to know how bad or how difficult they can be before you decide how many that can be there," Nancy Uwangue said.
The union that Onwu belonged to said more could have be done to prevent her death, such as ensuring proper protocol was in place to make sure she wasn't alone while on the job.
"We would like to see no working alone..and we would like to see better safety standards," said Lou Arab, with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
"It's tragic that Debbie had to die to get some of these issues confronted."
The accused in Onwu's murder is expected to appear in court on Monday.
(With files from Timm Bruch)