Family of van attack victim turns tragedy into 'positive story' through women's shelter

Relatives of Anne Marie D'Amico, a victim of last year's deadly van attack, are using a new space to change her death into a "positive story" — one that helps other women. 

Fundraiser to be held Dec. 3, what would have been Anne Marie D'Amico's birthday

A shelter under construction in North York will include a large outdoor space, pet area and unique rooms for art, exercise, learning and healing. The community hub within the building is being backed by a foundation created in memory of Anne Marie D'Amico.  2:34

Relatives of Anne Marie D'Amico, who died in last year's deadly van attack, are using a new space to turn her death into a "positive story" — one that helps other women. 

Using money donated to a foundation started in her honour, the family is helping build the North York Women's Shelter, which is slated to open in January. 

The shelter will offer support to both women and children fleeing domestic abuse.

"We wanted to change the narrative and try and build people up, help these women," said the victim's brother, Nick D'Amico. 

"It's just a matter of changing what happened and making it a positive story." 

The D'Amico family from left to right: Anne Marie's father Rocco, her mother Carmela, and her brother Nick, seen here during a tour of the shelter while it was under construction. (Angelina King/CBC)

The family hopes to donate $1 million to build and operate a community hub within the facility.

With that goal in mind, they've organized a fundraiser to be held on Dec. 3 — which would have been Anne Marie D'Amico's 32nd birthday. 

"It's impossible to move on, at least we can move forward," her father Rocco D'Amico told CBC Toronto. 

"It feels that she's moving with us still." 

Launched a year ago on Dec. 3, the Anne Marie D'Amico Foundation helps abuse victims start a new life. 

Known to her loved ones as a warm and welcoming woman with a great sense of humour, the D'Amico's relatives hope she'll be a face of hope for women in need of a fresh start. 

Anne Marie D'Amico, who worked for an investment management firm, was one of 10 people killed in the van attack on April 23, 2018. (Facebook)

D'Amico was one of 10 people killed in the attack in Toronto's north end in April of last year. Eight of those who died were women. 

Alek Minassian is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder after he drove a rented van down a busy sidewalk on Yonge Street on April 23, 2018.

In his police interview,  Minassian said the attack was motivated by incel ("involuntary celibate") ideology, a violent and misogynistic internet subculture dominated by men frustrated by their lack of success with women.

Community hub will help women live on their own

Right now, the shelter only has enough money to house 30 people. In general across the city, about 80 per cent of applicants are denied entry into shelters due to a lack of space, according to North York Women's Shelter executive director Mohini Datta-Ray. 

But the 24,000-square-foot community hub within the shelter will give women and children access vital services, classes and a health clinic, without having to actually live there. 

A sketch showing how the exterior of the North York Women's Shelter will look. (LGA Architectural Partners)

"We recognize the issue is so much bigger than what shelters are able to address alone," Datta-Ray said. 

Instead, the D'Amicos hopes the facility will empower women to start fresh in a new home instead of a shelter. 

And having a building that encompasses all services — art, exercise, health, education, an outdoor space and emotional healing — means clients have a safe space to get the help they need, Datta-Ray says. 

Mohini Datta-Ray describes the community hub as as safe space that encompasses all the vital services needed by its clients. (Angelina King/CBC)

"This is a very, very special and very important space," she added, and one that will be named after D'Amico. 

"A place for healing and a place for growth and change and possibility." 

'I just feel more connected to my daughter'

As others use the space to heal, the D'Amico's hope they can too. 

"Anything we can do, speak about the foundation, I just feel more connected to my daughter. So it feels that she's moving with us," Rocco said. 

The future multi-purpose room at the North York Women's Shelter. (LGA Architectural Partners)

His son agrees. 

"We get to have conversations with each other, we get to talk about her, about what we're doing next, whether about an event or just the foundation," Nick said. 

"It's about creating a legacy in kindness for my sister." 

The shelter is near completion. It is set to open in January. (Angelina King/CBC)

Now that the walls are up, adorned with colour and paintings, he says it brings a sense of what tangible things they can give to women and children in need. 

"It's about rebuilding lives." 

With files from Angelina King