Calgary

Mourners call for reform at candlelight vigil for slain youth care worker

Dozens gathered to sing hymns and voice calls for justice outside an assisted living facility where a youth case worker was allegedly killed by her client in southwest Calgary last week.

Deborah Onwu was stabbed to death while working alone with a client with a violent history, her union says

Nancy Uwange lowers her head while a hymn is sung at a candle-light vigil for her slain sister, Deborah Onwu. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Dozens gathered to sing hymns and voice calls for justice outside an assisted living facility where a youth case worker was allegedly killed by her client in southwest Calgary last week.

"I can't even explain what my family's going through right now. It's just hard," said Deborah Onwu's younger sister Nancy Uwange, who flew in from England on Friday for Saturday's candlelight vigil.

"I hope another family won't go through the same thing."

Onwu was a case worker with Wood's Homes, a non-profit organization that offers mental health programs and services for at-risk children and youth.

She was supporting her 18-year-old client Brandon Newman at the assisted living residence on Oct. 25 when police say a verbal fight turned physical before the caseworker was fatally stabbed.

Deborah Onwu, 47, was the victim of a fatal stabbing Friday morning, police confirmed. (Facebook)

Newman, who has been charged with second-degree murder, was supposed to have a two-to-one care ratio because of a history with violence, according to Onwu's union — meaning she shouldn't have been working alone.

Her death has prompted other youth care professionals to speak out about dangers on the job and call for changes to be made to prioritize their safety, and allow them to better help those in their care.

"I want them to please look into this sector, find avenues through which other individuals can be protected," said Uwange.

Candles, flowers and signs calling for justice are left on the steps of the home where youth case worker Deborah Onwu was killed on Oct. 25, 2019. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Rebecca Opoku said she felt lost when she heard what had happened to her friend. Now, she's set up a group to advocate for justice and regulation reform.

"The death of Debbie was untimely. We believe very much it could have been prevented," Opoku said. 

"When we call out for justice, we are calling out for the rightness to be put in place. We know that the young man who did this brutal stabbing and killing of our sister, yes he's got mental issues. We get it, we understand. We hope he gets the help he deserves. We hope he gets put in a better facility that has better security and safety measures that are put in place.

"He should never, every have the opportunity of taking another beautiful life."

Rebecca Opoku is calling for more regulations to be put in place to help youth care workers following Deborah Onwu's death. (Teri Trembath/CBC)

Uwange said she was shocked to find out the accused had access to a knife, and that there was no CCTV video of the incident. 

But she said she's not calling for change in the youth care system out of anger — simply out of grief.

"We need to forgive the young man that did this. But he needs to be brought to justice," she said. 

She said the night her sister was working, it wasn't even her shift. She was simply helping out a colleague — that was the kind of person she was.

"That speaks volumes. That's how much Debbie cares for everyone."

Onwu didn't have any family in Calgary. She is survived by her father, who is frail and doesn't know what happened to his daughter, as well as seven siblings.

An online fundraiser has been organized to help Onwu's family with funeral costs.

Mourners held a vigil on Saturday at the site where Calgary youth worker Deborah Onwu, 47, was stabbed to death. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

With files from Terri Trembath

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