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Teens Charged With Killing Girl

November 26, 1997

SAANICH, British Columbia (AP) _ Fourteen-year-old Reena Virk was torn between reconciliation with her family and friendships with other rebellious teens. Her choice may have cost her life.

Her battered 5-foot-6, 120-pound body was recovered Saturday, and seven girls and a boy have been arrested and charged in the case.

``The very people who did this to her, she thought they were her friends,″ her mother, Suman Virk, said Tuesday. ``She was vulnerable because of her trusting nature.″

A 15-year-old girl has been charged with second-degree murder, which may be upgraded to first-degree murder, police Constable Chris Horsley said.

Some of the seven teen-agers charged with aggravated assault could be charged with second-degree murder, and some may be prosecuted as adults rather than as juveniles, Horsley said.

A week of rumors in local schools culminated in the arrests even before police found the girl’s body in the Gorge Waterway near the Craigflower Bridge, about two miles from her home in this Victoria suburb, population 110,000. Her neck, back and arms were broken.

``Our hearts are totally torn,″ said Manjit Virk, Reena’s father. ``She was like a flower I raised.″

Residents of Victoria, a popular waterfront tourist town, were appalled by the brutality of the death.

``Nothing like that ever happens here,″ said Craig Gelling, 26, a waiter at a downtown restaurant. ``A murder here is big news _ let alone a child being murdered by its peers.″

At their two-story blue house, the parents said they don’t blame the teen-agers who were arrested as much as the agencies that placed their daughter in foster care after a falling-out at home.

``This is the time for people to show love to one another and to think about forgiveness,″ Mrs. Virk said. ``I think I’ve forgiven them because these children are confused and misguided and they don’t know God.″

The Virks, Jehovah’s Witnesses with roots in the Punjab region of India, are well-regarded in the neighborhood and the local East Indian community. They also have a daughter, 12, and son, 10.

Virk, 41, worked as team leader at a carbide and steel manufacturing plant and Mrs. Virk, 38, tended to the household.

Many believe Reena’s problems began when she was 12.

``She was an awkward kid because she was really big for her age. She had low self-esteem, and kids would pick on her,″ said Richard Legg, a family friend.

Her parents said friends began pressuring her to become sexually active, smoke and take drugs. Acquaintances who lived in foster homes began advising her on ways to gain more liberties.

She accused her parents of mistreatment and, beginning in late 1996, began bouncing between her grandparents and foster care.

By late summer, however, she was unhappy with her foster home, partly because she had to cook her own food and do her own laundry, and moved toward reconciliation with her parents.

She returned home in September, but re-entered the foster home in late October rather than quit smoking as her parents wanted, Virk said.

Nonetheless, he said, things were going well.

``She realized that she belonged to a family who will die for her,″ he said.

On Nov. 14, the parents said, Reena had planned to spend the evening with the family. But that night, she got a call from friends _ including two now charged in her death _ who invited her to go shopping and then to a party, her mother said.

Virk said he also overheard her say someone was going to get beaten up that night.

At 9:45 p.m., she called home to say she’d be back in about 20 minutes. When she didn’t return, her parents thought she had gone to the foster home. Authorities there reported her missing when she missed a 10 p.m. curfew.

``It’s horrible,″ said Jody Legg, Richard’s wife. ``Poor child. She’s just a victim of rotten children who abused her.″

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