Mom resents Pokémon players traipsing through baby's Burlington memorial

The popular smartphone game has brought people to a memorial for Jenny Latimer's baby son, Kevin, who fell out of a window and died a few months later.

'It feels like you’re being re-victimized by some silly game': Jenny Latimer

A memorial for Kevin Latimer at St. Luke's Anglican Church in Burlington is also a Pokéstop in the popular Pokémon Go game. Kevin's mom, Jenny, wants the site removed from the game. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

When Jenny Latimer's baby son, Kevin, died in 2004 after falling out a third-storey window, she used money raised from family and friends to install an outdoor memorial at her church, the church he was christened at, in Burlington, Ont.

But a wave of visitors to that memorial this week have been brought there for another reason than the peaceful meditation and reflection Jenny Latimer imagined:

Pokémon Go.

In the app-based augmented-reality smartphone game, Kevin's memorial is a Pokéstop, where payers can fuel up with Pokéballs, potions, and other energizing features.

It feels like you're being re-victimized by some silly game.- Jenny Latimer, mother of young Kevin Latimer, who died in 2004

Jenny Latimer, who now lives in Nanaimo, B.C., wants none of it. She woke up Monday to messages and photos from friends in Burlington.

She installed the memorial "for people to be able to sit, and meditate, and think about their loved ones, and remember Kevin in a positive way," she said.

Kevin was in the care of his father, who was estranged from Latimer, when he fell out of the window. Kevin's death spurred a larger provincial conversation around visitation and parental rights and supervision when Latimer campaigned in his memory. She was successful in changing provincial law to tighten protections for vulnerable children when parents are separated. 

Latimer spoke through tears in recalling the last couple of days. 

"We did a lot to change laws in his memory and make things positive – you know, such a tragic loss," she said. "I just don't want to see it come to being part of a game. It's hurtful."

"It feels like you're being re-victimized by some silly game."

Bringing new awareness

Janny Latimer said she hopes the memorial is a place where people can "sit, and meditate, and think about their loved ones, and remember Kevin in a positive way." (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
But some family members other than Latimer feel more mixed about the site's inclusion. Players can read the whole plaque in the app, and some may be visiting the site and learning about Kevin for the first time through it, they say.

The game lures players, mainly on foot, to explore neighbourhoods and landmarks they might not have ever seen or noticed before.

In some cases, that has proven controversial – walking around with a smartphone in front of you into a sensitive or sombre place like Auschwitz or the Canadian Museum for Human Rights may attract stares or glares from fellow visitors.

The head of the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, also known as the National Cemetery of Canada, found the trend appealing, so long as people remain as respectful as they've been so far.

"We don't want to restrict people from coming in," said cemetery president Roger Boult. "We want people to come in and walk around and if they're watching their screen more than they're looking at the flowers and the trees and the birds and the wildlife, well, all right, that's OK too."

'Kevin's now kind of immortalized in the game'

Kevin Latimer, who died just days before his second birthday, loved to laugh and dance and play in the water, his mom said. (Jenny Latimer)
But in Latimer's case, that controversy is personal. The game was the way her own cousin, Allen Harrington, discovered that the memorial even exists.

Harrington said every player he's met has talked about how they stop and read the plaques and signs at places they visit through the game.

"That's the whole thing of a memorial, is to learn about what happened," he said. 

Now 26, Harrington was only in Grade 7 when Kevin died.

He's been in Burlington this week, helping his grandmother move, and was checking out the Pokémon Go features in her neighbourhood, when he came across the memorial for his two-year-old second cousin.

"I sent it on to Jenny to say, just as an FYI, Kevin's now kind of immortalized in the game, which is, to me, kind of nifty, just because now he's in a game and every kid wants to be in a game," Harrington said.

"On that side of it, I thought it was kind of cool that he was in there."

Though his mom, Pat Harrington, has mixed feelings, Jenny and other family members were not happy at all, he said.

'It's not a place I wanted people gaming'

The plaque at Kevin's memorial is visible within the Pokémon Go game. It reads: "In loving memory of my courageous little angel, Kevin James Latimer, Feb. 5, 2002 - Feb. 2, 2004, May your love and strength shine through to us forever." (Pokémon Go)
Latimer has asked the game creators to remove the site from the game, but all she's heard back so far is an automated message. That company, Niantic, did not return a request from CBC News to explain the process for removal requests.

"Everyone's free to have their own points of view, but when you're on a sacred place I feel it's disrespecting the property," Latimer said.

Many people donated when 18-month-old Kevin fell and was in the hospital. He needed a special bed to come home, and a wheelchair, Latimer said. When he died just days before his second birthday, she used money left over to donate to McMaster Children's Hospital to buy a tricycle for kids with similar injuries, to the Ronald McDonald House and the memorial, at St. Luke's Anglican Church.

Her aim: To build a place for prayer where people could "sit and think about their relatives, think about Kevin, just relax and meditate," she said. "It's not a place I wanted people gaming."

Kevin, she said, "was just a good spirit. All the kids in the neighbourhood loved him. He was a great kid and I'm sure he would've grown up to be a great person."

Latimer said her three other kids – aged 7, 8 and 16 – won't be playing Pokémon Go.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

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With files from the Canadian Press