Residents want permanent memorial to Nadia Kajouji

Where Clegg Street meets the gently flowing waters of the Rideau River in Old Ottawa East, an old bench covered with flowers and little baby angels forms a makeshift memorial to Nadia Kajouji, the 18-year-old Carleton student whose body was found there after taking her own life in 2008.

The words “Nadia: 1989-2008. You will never be forgotten,” are written on the bench. A young girl’s slippers lie torn on the ground nearby. There’s a metal chime hanging above, with two poems stuck to the tree adjacent — one entitled “Hope” and one by Kajouji herself.

Now, some residents of the neighbourhood want a more elaborate and permanent memorial for Kajouji set up at the spot.

“It’s a nice way for the association to make a gesture,” said Catherine Pacella, communications director of the Old Ottawa East Community Association. “This is the place where her family and friends choose to remember her. They should be allowed to grieve in the community.”

Claire McMenemy, a neighbourhood resident, proposed the idea, adding the memorial would be funded through private fundraising.

“I see this as a place of reflection for our community,” McMenemy said.

Some residents supported the proposal, while some questioned whether Old Ottawa East was the right place for the memorial.

“Her only connection to the neighbourhood was that her body was found here,” Pacella said. “[However] . . . this is a very nice spot to remember someone.”

One resident suggested Carleton may be a more appropriate location for a permanent memorial.

The proposal, and possible funding for the memorial, would be considered in further detail at future meetings, Pacella said.

Kajouji, of Brampton, Ont., committed suicide by jumping into the Rideau River in March 2008. It was later discovered she was encouraged to kill herself by a Minnesota man, William Melchert-Dinkel, in an online chatroom. Melchert-Dinkel was found guilty by a Minnesota judge and sentenced to 360 days in prison.

Kajouji’s brother, Marc Kajouji, is now an ambassador for Your Life Counts, a national suicide prevention group that works with several schools to raise awareness. He said he supports a permanent memorial, but for reasons that go beyond his own sister and family.

“It’s not so much about Nadia, I think,” Marc said. “It’s more about the issue and the awareness it can bring.”

Marc said he tried for a while to reach out to Carleton by using his sister’s story to bring awareness to the issue and how to prevent similar occurences in the future, but “unfortunately the dialogue wasn’t reciprocated.”

“The offer’s still on the table,” he said.

“We are not interested in blaming Carleton or suing or anything, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about helping others, and I hope Carleton is willing to work with Your Life Counts in order to set an example for other schools across the country.”

Marc said he’s visited the little makeshift memorial several times, and a permanent memorial would be a “place of reflection and a place of serenity and peace to think.”

“Nothing will help bring [Nadia] back,” he said. “But we can help save other lives.”