At 15 years old, Eric Hung explained the sudden loss of his sister to a hushed convention centre of adults.
Hung recounted the painful journey that he and his family took in the wake of his sister Stefanie’s murder to over 1,300 people at the Chief’s Gala benefitting Victim Services Toronto on November 1 at the Beanfield Centre.
“It was January 1st, 2008, when I was just six years old I got the worst news in my life my mom came into my room. She had been crying but was doing her best not to too. She sat on the edge of my bed and somehow found the strength to tell me that my older sister had gone to heaven because she'd been attacked by someone with a knife and died. I didn't believe it and I didn't understand how could this be.”
Sad, terrified and with nights filled with nightmares
“My mom had promised to keep me safe but she hadn't kept my sister safe so what did that actually mean. When I eventually asked her I knew somehow that I just made things worse and even harder for her,” said Hung, of the guilt associated to the loss of Stephanie.
His mother Patricia, a retired Toronto Police Officer, has been an advocate for Victim Services Toronto and worked to demystify the grieving experience through her speaking engagements and writing. His father, James Hung, is a Toronto Police Staff Sergeant.
Hung saw the complete upheaval of their normal life as fellow parents avoided his mother at school.
“I also felt different than other kids at school and found myself crawling back into my shell. My mom tried to explain to me that people weren't trying to be mean to us, they just didn't know what to say. They were really scared that they would say or do something make it all worse and or make us cry or get angry,” he said.
At school, he was met with an extraordinarily painful moment.
“One day, when the front page of the newspaper had a picture of my sister and the girl who killed her someone brought it to school. Apparently those parents thought I might want to see it. Well, I hadn't seen it. On the bus ride home everyone was asking my brother and I what had happened, and for some reason they seemed to think the whole thing was funny and that really hurt. I didn't want my mom to know because I felt like I needed to protect her. She was protecting us from the media… things like this would happen too often, each time it made the hurt worse.”
Hung says he was lucky to have such strong family support but knows not everyone does.
“They knew where to go for that help and so we learned how to look forward instead of living in the past. There are families who are less fortunate. Maybe they are marginalized or lacking the skills and support to get through each day. Trauma takes over your brain and your ability to think properly,” Hung said. “Victim Services Toronto is a lifeline with their help victims can get through each day and eventually those days into months and then years.”
Operating 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, the non-profit Victim Services Toronto operates the only program in Toronto providing immediate on-scene crisis, trauma, safety and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragedies.
Last year, the Chief’s Gala raised over $400,000, the largest contribution to the agency.
Chief Mark Saunders said Hung speaks for thousands of people left behind after police officers make an arrest or pull the tape down from a crime scene.
“Victims don’t wake up in the morning and say ‘I’m going to be a victim, I want to be a victim’ it covers all socio-economic lanes. Having worked Homicide I saw it happen over and over again. We needed solutions to fix that,” said Chief Saunders, of policing evolving to work in concert with social services.
“By being here you’ve made a statement that you understand what Victim Services does,” Saunders said, noting the agency handles over 20,000 cases each year. This year, they responded in the immediate aftermath of the Yonge-Finch van attack, the multiple-victim shooting on Danforth Ave. and to an increase in gun violence.
“We know that the sooner you can get intervention into moments of crisis the better the chances of healing and helping and moving people forward, which is why Victim Services is important to have.”
Premier Doug Ford also lent his support to the Gala because it supports people who have been victimized.
“They’re the only organization that can be on the scene immediately after a crime or trauma. Their work is not only necessary, it is essential,” Premier Ford said. “I’m proud to lend my support.”
NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neil also addressed the Gala.
“In New York City we’re in a good place for one reason: we continue to build trust with the 8.6 million New Yorkers,” Commissioner O’Neil said. “If you’re going to keep crime down it has to be in conjunction with everybody… They have to understand that fighting crime and keeping people safe is a shared responsibility.”
For more information or to donate visit the Victim Services Toronto website