Chet Greason firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s one thing to read statistics about violence against women in reports and newspaper articles, like how 91 per cent of domestic homicide victims in Ontario are female.
It’s indescribably heart-rending to come face-to-face with the results.
That’s exactly what happened to those attending a vigil held in memory of the 14 women murdered 25 years ago at Montreal’s École Polytechnique. The event, organized by the Emily Murphy Centre and Optimism Place, was held in the amphitheatre at Knox Church on Friday, Dec. 5.
The keynote speaker that night was Desiree Gallagher, along with her mom Susan Gerth. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s appeared in the Stratford Gazette before.
Gallagher was a student living in London during May of last year when she was beaten severely by Justin Primmer, who had already served five years of a 10-year sentence for the stabbing death of Stratford man Bill “Bonesy” Welsh in 2003.
Primmer took photos of Gallagher’s beaten and bloody face with his cellphone prior to her dropping, naked, seven stories from an apartment balcony.
Miraculously, she survived – barely. She’s now confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed, with screws and rods in her arm and spine, a large portion of her skull replaced with plastic, and her mangled foot fused together. She’s also blind.
She alleges Primmer threw her from the balcony. Primmer claimed she jumped. The damage her brain suffered makes her memory hazy, and she was unable to testify against him; therefore, he was only charged with Gallagher’s initial beating, for which he served six months.
The following January, he was again arrested in Huntsville for assaulting a woman. In total, he’s been convicted of manslaughter once, assault twice, assault causing bodily harm three times, as well as numerous breaches against court orders.
Gallagher’s mother called Primmer “an animal.”
Gerth’s speech dealt mainly with the aftermath of the attack, of the long drive to London only to find her daughter registered at the hospital as an “unknown,” and of the multiple surgeries and long months of rehabilitation that followed.
When Gerth began explaining the extent of her daughter’s injuries in detail, Gallagher began to cry.
“She was swollen three times the size she should’ve been,” explained Gerth. “She was 99 per cent close to death. The doctors said three out of four people that fall from that height die.”
Photos were circulated through the audience, first of Gallagher before the attack- smiling at a party with a drink in her hand and a friend at her side. Then came pictures of her in a hospital bed, almost every square inch of her body covered in traction casts and braces; feeding and breathing tubes extending from where her face should be.
After that came pictures of her prior to the surgery that replaced her skull with plastic- confined to a wheelchair, completely bald, with her head caved in like a deflated basketball, so severe an injury one wouldn’t think it was possible that a person could survive it.
The Gallagher that sat before the audience that night had a full head of hair, and the surgery recreated her skull so that you could never tell that half her head was a prosthetic. But she was still a far cry from the woman in the first photo.
“She was a social butterfly who danced since the age of three,” said Gerth. “Now all her hopes and dreams are gone.
“(Primmer) directly affected my family, my future, and my friends,” Gallagher told the audience. “I’m learning to grow up again; eating and dressing and bathing.”
Gerth had harsh words for the justice system.
“If the justice system worked, they would’ve kept him off the street, where he couldn’t have hurt Desiree and that girl in Huntsville.”
This was the first time the two have spoken publicly.
“We hope that hearing our story will have made an impact,” said Gerth. “Young people, I hope you know that you’re not invincible, and that violence against women needs to stop.
“It’s not fair that one person can hurt someone so much,” she added. “An abuser doesn’t have to feel the pain he inflicts.”