'It was devastating,' says teen videotaped being set on fire, but she won't let it define her
'I chose not to be sad after my healing process,' says Erika Young, 18
WARNING: This story contains graphic details and language some readers may find disturbing.
It was a life-changing moment for Erika Young, but she says it's not one that will define her.
Two years ago, she was set on fire at a party in The Pas, Man. — a town of 5,500, more than 500 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
Three young people were later charged, including a 19-year-old who was convicted of aggravated assault in 2016.
Now 18, Young said from her home in The Pas that the horrific experience "was pretty heartbreaking."
"While I was in the hospital it was hard. I was really emotional and it was devastating."
With two bottles of water near them and a packet of tissues on hand, Erika and her mother, Donna Young, settled in at their kitchen table for a difficult conversation.
Young was at her cousin's house on June 21, 2015, when she was invited to a nearby party. She showed up and spotted 19-year-old Austin Fourre, her boyfriend of five months in 2013.
Young had been drinking heavily and doesn't remember much about that night — only that she was feeling the effects of the alcohol and needed to lie down.
"I needed to go to bed and the owner [of the house] took me upstairs to sleep. After that, I don't remember anything."
Deodorant spray, lighter used as blowtorch
According to court records, Fourre heard Young had been making out with another male at the party, and called two friends to meet him at the party — a 17-year-old male and Young's new boyfriend, who was 15. The pair had been dating for only three days. Fourre and the two other boys went upstairs to a small room where Young and a male were passed out on a bed. They began to call her names while she slept.
"The three then worked each other up again and laughed about the initial fire," the court transcripts said.
The teens pulled out a cellphone and began to videotape as Fourre used the lighter and deodorant spray as a blowtorch to set fire to Young's jeans, which caused her to immediately shoot out of bed. By this time, the male who went out for a cigarette had returned and was now trying to put out the flames, the court records said.
Young spent three weeks in hospital due to the burns. She underwent three surgeries, skin grafting, and months of physical and emotional pain.
"When I got out, they gave me lots of bandaging and lots of medical tape, just things to take home to heal more in the comfort of my own home, I guess," said Young.
"After I was fully healed, I started doing better for myself and I was succeeding at everything I wanted to succeed in. I had a better relationship with my mom. I just started doing really good for myself and I just didn't think of myself as anything different."
"For her, it was a lot of crying, so much pain, excruciating pain that I wish I could have taken away from her," said her mother.
"Just hearing her in that kind of pain, it's not what you want your child to go through as a mother. I would sit there and watch her sleep."
Fourre was convicted of aggravated assault in 2016 and sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Donna Young said the two other teens were also charged, but she and her daughter decided not to attend any of the court proceedings.
"We didn't want to know. We just wanted to move on with the whole process of skin grafting, and making sure she was making appointments and stuff like that," she said.
'I can't fathom what they were thinking'
"Nobody deserves that kind of violence towards them. Especially what's actually happening right now with Serena McKay just recently, it's just brutal," said Donna Young.
In April, Serena McKay, 19, was beaten to death on Sagkeeng First Nation, a community about 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. Two girls, 16 and 17, who attended the same high school as the victim, were charged with second-degree murder. A video of the assault had been posted on Facebook.
- Attackers threaten to kill victim in video linked to Serena McKay homicide
- Girls arrested in homicide of Serena McKay, 19, in Sagkeeng First Nation
Donna Young doesn't know McKay or her family, but can sympathize with their pain, because the assault on her daughter was also caught on camera.
"You never think anything like this would happen in a small town, where everybody knows everybody," she said.
"I don't know how people could have the joy of videotaping someone … I can't fathom what they were thinking at the time of watching someone burn. It's absolutely horrific."
While her daughter doesn't remember much, she's left with the same feelings.
Three weeks after the incident, Erika and Donna Young returned to their home in The Pas. Fourre was behind bars, but the two teens still lived in the community. The outcome of their charges is unclear, with the information protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
"I don't really see them at all," said Erika Young. "I went to school with one for a while but whenever he would see me, he would walk the other way, just to like stay clear, I guess. The oldest one … doesn't come to The Pas, so I don't really see much of him."
"Life goes on, I guess. I just didn't want to stay mad forever. I didn't want to hold on to the past, I guess. I just wanted to do better with everything," she said.
Erika and her mother used to be at each other's throats, like many other teenage girls and their moms, but all of that has changed.
"It's sad to say, but this incident has brought us much closer … she tells me everything, she doesn't lie to me anymore," said Donna Young. "It's a total different relationship that we have."
"I think that when things happen, good or bad, you learn from it. You're either happy or you're sad and I chose not to be sad after my healing process," said her daughter.