TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - June 22, 2016) - A memorial fund has been set up in honor of Dwayne and Melonie Biddersingh, who died under tragic circumstances more than 20 years ago. Opal Austin, Melonie's mother, and her daughter Raquel Ellis want to honour the lives of their loved ones with a special legacy and have chosen the Child Victim Witness Support Program at Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre (Boost CYAC) in Toronto.
When her children moved to Toronto from Jamaica, Opal's wish was that they would lead a better life in Canada. Melonie, her brother Dwayne and step-brother Cleon were brought from Jamaica to Toronto by their father, Everton Biddersingh, in 1991. The next year, Dwayne died, allegedly by accident. In 1994, Melonie went missing and her father claimed that she had run away to the U.S. On September 1, 1994, police discovered a fire behind an industrial building. The charred remains of a female stuffed inside a suitcase had been burned beyond recognition. 18 years later, Melonie's stepmother, Elaine Biddersingh, confessed to her pastor the girl's identity -- she and her husband were arrested.
An autopsy revealed that Melonie, age 17, had 21 healing fractures, weighed 50 lbs and likely died from a combination of drowning and starvation. Her father, Everton Biddersingh was found guilty of first-degree murder in January 2016. Her stepmother, Elaine Biddersingh was found guilty of second-degree murder on Monday, June 20, 2016.
"Out of evil, on occasion, can come immense good," said Opal Austin, Melonie's mother. "There are many children who are in desperate need of support. It is our hope that The Dwayne and Melonie Memorial Fund will save lives. No child should have to endure physical and emotional abuse, pain and suffering, especially at the hands of a parent and caregiver. Raquel and I want people to remember the names of our beloved Melonie and Dwayne and not the 'girl in the suitcase.'" Opal describes Melonie as a quiet girl, a good girl, who loved to draw, read books, loved children, and aspired to be a nurse. Dwayne loved music and wanted to be a singer.
More than two hundred thousand child abuse investigations take place in Canada each year.
One in three children will experience some form of abuse before they reach the age of sixteen.
In 93% of the cases, that abuser is someone they know and trust.
"The devastating story of how Dwayne and Melonie lived and lost their lives is tragic," said Karyn Kennedy, President & CEO at Boost CYAC. "The sad reality is that abuse is under-reported, often because children are afraid to come forward or don't know how to get help. Boost CYAC helps children and youth in a number of ways; through primary prevention, public education, investigation, advocacy, counselling and court support."
Court is stressful for any witness and for a child, it can be terrifying. The Child Victim Witness Support Program teaches children their job as witnesses and what to expect at court. Expert staff in the program identify the unique needs of each child witness and advocate on their behalf to partners in the Criminal Justice System. By providing information and support to parents and caregivers, the program aims to create a safety net around the child to minimize the stress and discomfort of testifying.
Donations to the Dwayne & Melonie Memorial Fund will support programming at Boost Child & Youth Advocacy.
About Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre
Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre (Boost CYAC) is an organization that for 35 years has provided services to children, youth and their families to prevent child maltreatment and intervene when abuse takes place. The only one of its kind in Toronto, Boost CYAC provides a creative community response to child abuse investigations. A partnership among local and government agencies, it brings together all of the professionals involved in child abuse investigations and recovery support with the goal of providing a seamless, interdisciplinary response to children and youth when they disclose abuse and to their families. In addition to housing Toronto's only child & youth advocacy centre, Boost CYAC offers a number of direct services including: primary prevention, public education, trauma assessment and therapy, Internet child exploitation counselling referral and court preparation for child witnesses. www.boostforkids.org