ABBOTSFORD, B.C. _ The parents of a nine-year-old Syrian refugee who was struck and killed by a bus in British Columbia on Friday thought their children were finally safe when they escaped the civil war in their homeland, says a volunteer who has helped the family.
On Saturday, Hala Albarhoum’s grief-stricken father held her little body, wrapped in a shroud, before placing her into her grave during the burial in Chilliwack that was attended by many community members.
“The amount of turmoil they’ve gone through … we can’t even fathom what it must be like,” said Adnan Bhat, who volunteers with the Abbotsford Islamic Centre.
“They’re trying to gather the strength for the other kids. They are praying a lot for Hala and for the other kids, just for strength to deal with the loss,” said Bhat, who indicated the family has four surviving children.
Several departments are investigating Hala’s death including the major crime unit and B.C. Commercial Vehicle Safety.
B.C. Transit president Manuel Achadinha said in a statement on Friday that he is “extremely saddened” to hear of the girl’s death and the agency’s thoughts are with her family, the driver and others who witnessed the event.
Sgt. Judy Bird of the Abbotsford police said it’s too early to say how fast the bus was travelling.
“At that time of morning, it was still quite dark, as well as our weather conditions were very rainy, so there was some visibility issues. But at this time we are at the very preliminary stages of investigation.”
Bhat said the family came to Abbotsford more than a year ago as government-sponsored refugees. Support from the government only lasts a year, Bhat explained, and the family has struggled financially since then.
Bhat spearheaded the GoFundMe campaign after the death to raise money to cover the funeral costs as well as buy the family a car. But as the campaign quickly gathered momentum, he said there were requests to continue accepting donations to help the grieving family deal with other expenses.
Over $20,000 had been raised by Sunday afternoon.
Bhat said he’s assisted a number of refugee families, but Hala’s family made a particular impression on him. He originally met them while trying to assist them in bringing an uncle who is still in Syria to Canada.
That didn’t work out, but Hala’s teenaged brother, Mohammed, who had been acting as a translator for the parents, started to volunteer with the Abbotsford Islamic Centre’s efforts to help the homeless, such as participating in food drives. The father, meanwhile, helped paint the Islamic Centre.
Bhat only met Hala once, describing her as “a very sweet child” who was “slightly reserved and shy.”
“When you meet them, their manners and their righteousness is something that you can easily see in their behaviour,” Bhat said of the girl’s family.
Bhat said he learned of the tragic news on Friday afternoon. He didn’t know at first who the victim was, but his heart sank when he learned the girl’s identity.
“It’s extremely, extremely sad because this is a family who survived the war in Syria and when they finally thought they were safe in Canada, it was a small bus accident that took away their little child,” Bhat said.