For Marilyn Ortega, the recently developed peace garden in her Scarborough backyard is a place for meditation and a symbol of peace. It’s also a space where she seeks comfort 15 years after her son, Ruddin Greaves, was murdered.
“Each morning, I water the plants and I have a conversation with them as if I am talking to my son,” said Ortega. “I feel his presence there.”
The grieving mother is still looking for closure as the individuals responsible for his death are still at large. Greaves, who was 22 at the time, and Michelle Gonsalves – they did not know each other – were fatally gunned down in a hail of bullets fired indiscriminately into a crowd outside the Calypso Hut 3 restaurant in July 1997. The club’s bouncer was also injured in the shooting.
“They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the now retired Toronto Police Service detective Mark Mendelson said at the time.
After her son’s death, Ortega became a bereavement counsellor and she switched careers from health care provider to social worker. She’s also a founding member of United Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere (UMOVE), which was formed 11 years ago by mothers who lost children to senseless acts of violence.
The recent Danzig St. shootings that claimed the lives of Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay brought back sharp and painful memories of the night doctors confirmed her son was dead.
“Every time a young person is shot, it’s like déjà vu all over again,” said Ortega. “It’s like opening a can of worms.”
On the 15th anniversary of Greaves death, Ortega attended Charles’ viewing.
“I signed the casket with, ‘Rest in Peace Angel’, for my family and UMOVE,” she said.
Three weeks later, Ortega visited the family to offer support.
“I spoke with the grandfather, but Shyanne’s mother locked herself in a room,” Ortega said. “She’s not ready to face strangers and I know what she’s going through. I can relate to the pain she’s enduring because I have been there and it’s not pleasant.”
Greaves had left home earlier in the afternoon with his stepfather, Lennox Ortega, to attend a family barbecue. Ortega later dropped the youth and his childhood friend, Callon Gibson, at the club. The deceased was in Canada just four months after migrating from Trinidad & Tobago and was expecting to begin electrical engineering studies in the fall of that year. He also had planned to return to the twin-island republic to wed his fiancée on January 1, 1998.
Less than an hour before he died, Greaves had phoned home to remind his mother he planned to fulfil a promise to take younger sister, Jillisa, who was seven years old at the time, to the annual kiddies parade on Eglinton Ave. W. the next day.
“I miss him a lot,” said Jillisa. “It was particularly hard when I turned 22 on August 7, 2011 because that was the same age that he died.”
Six years ago, Ortega and her family launched the Ruddin Greaves Memorial trade scholarship.
“Ruddin did not get the chance to fulfil his dream of becoming an electrician, but I want to give youths that opportunity to consider the skilled trades and other related areas,” Ortega said. “Not everyone is going to have book knowledge, but having trade experience is just as important and beneficial. I also want our young people to go to school and stay in school.
“I still care about other young people even though my son is gone far too soon and I want to give them a chance to get something that he was denied.”
Jalissa Edwards, 21, is the recipient of this year’s scholarship which was presented last Saturday. The Francis Libermann Catholic High School graduate completed Centennial College’s Biotechnology Technologist three-year advanced diploma program and is pursuing a degree in Biotechnology at the University of Toronto.
“This award gives me the encouragement to go forward in pursuit of my dream to become a biotechnologist,” she said. “Right now, I work at a Dollarama to make money to help with my tuition. This scholarship will augment that.”
Scarborough Rouge-River councillor Raymond Cho attended the scholarship ceremony.