Christopher Raynsford, 34, of Ottawa and Owen Sound, Ontario, was found dead in his Lisgar Street apartment in the early morning of December 4th, 2002. He had been missing for several days; he hadn't been seen or heard from in almost two weeks. His badly decomposing body was found in his downtown Ottawa apartment. The autopsy showed he was the victim of a terrible crime - he had been beaten to death sometime around November 21, 2002.
Christopher Raynsford was remembered by 500 people at the candlelight vigil on December 6, 2002. Despite bitterly cold temperatures, friends, coworkers, politicians and police gathered at the Human Rights Monument to mourn his murder and to call for an end to violence against gays.
"We have lost one of our brightest from our community. Violence is violence and cannot be tolerated anymore," said Ghislain Rousseau, Chair of the Pride Committee and organizer of the vigil. "A wonderful and loving person has been taken from us. We are who we are and have the right to live our life without prejudice."
At the Monument, a makeshift memorial was created which included a picture of Raynsford, candles and the gay pride flag.
"It could have been one of my sons," said Diana Stimson of PFLAG. "This is very unfortunate that something like this has happened."
"I'd rather be here to protest Reverend Phelps than this," said Dennis Stimson, also of PFLAG. Stephan Degrase didn't know Raynsford personally but felt it was important for him to be there that night. "It shows the unity within the community. Our community cares. Chris was a great man who will be missed dearly,' says Degrase.
Members of Act Out Theatre, of which Raynsford was an active member, held their own vigil. Thirty people gathered at their Nepean Street office where letters from Raynsford's parents were read to the gathering. His parents didn't approve of him being gay but loved him regardless.
A book was passed around for those who wanted to write their thoughts about Raynsford and what he meant to them. The book was given to his parents. Although police have not yet labeled Raynsford's death as a hate crime, one detective from the hate crimes unit has been assigned to assist in the investigation, which also involves the Major Crimes and Hi Tech Units.
A tribute to our precious Son Christopher:
From Mum and Dad
As you are reading this you will be celebrating the life of Christopher. Both Peter and I wish with all our hearts that this were not the case, but because of what has happened, it is not possible that we could be with you, but here are our thoughts and little stories that we would like to share with you.
Chris has always been a fun loving boy and always looking out for others. I remember the time when we went to the golf driving range in Toronto. Neil his brother was back to back with Chris when he took an almighty back swing and hit Neil square in the head causing him to need 6 stitches. I think this is probably the most and only ever violent thing he ever did, but on telling his brother this he promptly told me of the time he was teasing Chris and he finally lost his temper with his older brother and swung a bag with a pop can in it. He took off like a scared rabbit and needed to, as Neil was in hot pursuit.
Chris went to Jamaica with the school band, orchestra and choir. That year we had the best group of musicians the OSCVI had ever had. Now you all know that Peter and I do not drink and it was well known when we chaperoned a group that the kids, if at all tempted as kids were to drink that they stay well away from us. Well the "little angels" Chris included went into the local watering hole in down town St. Anne's and decided to try the local fare. They had all just got the drinks when Chris called out "Chaperones Coming!!!!" The drinks disappeared very fast and when everyone was kind of choking, he calmly told them "Got you"!!!! No problem mon!!
This is now his dad writing a few thoughts for you to share together. As many of you know, I travel to Ottawa often during the summer months and Chris has brought me to see where a lot of you gather together. I have met some of you during the three years that Chris lived in your beautiful city and the obvious love and respect you showed to him and respecting my support of Chris has been something I will treasure in the years ahead.
Although Chris's lifestyle was not what we would have wished for him, we have publicly supported him in vigils and other community events. He is our son and, do you know what, we love him just as our Lord and Saviour taught us to, we hate his sin but love the sinner. As parents, so many people reject sons and daughters when they declare their preferred lifestyle and are abandoned, as so many of you can attest to, but it is at that time that arms of love should be extended.
We chose to love him and travel through the good and bad times together. We thank you for your uncompromising love that you have showed to Chris and you are showing this by a public, albeit, private celebration of Chris, the real person who was so gifted, talented and had such a gentle spirit. This is something that we can hold on to in the days ahead and our prayer to all of you listening to this tribute for Chris is, that more love, understanding and forgiveness will come about because Chris has left us.
He has not died in vain because he has left us with a legacy of love, compassion and gentleness that makes each of us better people in today's society. So with full hearts both Anne and I want to say thank you for coming alongside when we have been so far away so often. You have showed tolerance, love and support when it is needed most.
I will be coming back to Ottawa in May and during the summer months and I would feel privileged to meet you and we can think back on the good days when Chris was with us. May God Bless you and may we who are, to use a phrase, "straight" learn to show more love, understanding and tolerance, learn to be more accepting, caring, and yes, even more forgiveness.
Thank you again, we truly appreciate your love and acceptance and the fact that you have gathered here today. Our greatest prayer is that your parents will open up their arms to you in love, accepting you for being their sons and daughters, may this day be a start of a movement of acceptance, love and drawing close to those you love.
This is Anne again. I would like to publicly thank the Ottawa Police Services, his Landlords and all those who are striving to bring justice to this situation.
God Bless you all.
Chris Raynsford - Friend and Role Model
There have been many difficult days leading up to this moment. Now, faced with the task of speaking about my friend Chris, the words that come to mind are gentle, kind, warm, extremely funny, dedicated, honest and sometimes outrageous! What I mean by outrageous is Chris' zest for life. He wouldn't think twice about breaking out into song and dance while strolling down Bank Street. He wanted people to know; this is who I am. You never had to guess where Chris was coming from. And I liked that best about him.
I met Chris through Act Out Theatre when I auditioned for, and successfully landed a role in the musical production of Hair. The response I received from Chris was typical of him, as I would discover in the coming months of knowing him. He raved and raved about my voice, about how he could picture me in a wreath of daisies singing the opening number of Aquarius. I was pleased, because daisies were my favorite flowers. Throughout the rehearsals leading up to the performances, Chris was everyone's biggest fan. He always had a compliment, always had a funny line when someone messed up, and encouraged us always to move forward and have fun.
If I had the chance now, I would say to him: Chris, you are an amazing, talented, loving person and I am proud to be your friend. This would be followed by a big hug, hopefully one that could match all the hugs he gave me; and three fond words: I love you.
Our community here in Ottawa (that is all-inclusive) will never forget you Chris. We will revive the theatre in your name, we will always strive to educate and inform communities at large that violence will not be tolerated, that life has value, and most importantly, that we have the absolute right to happiness and to live our lives as we choose. You set that example, and we will try our absolute best to live up to that example.
To Peter, Anne, Neil, Chelsea and all of you who are here today, we are with you and hope that we can support you in the months ahead. Chris wanted to be famous. I hope he knows that we are his biggest fans.
With love and deep appreciation,
Lori Jean Hodge
On behalf of the friends and colleagues from Act Out Theatre.
Early in 2002, Chris had added his thoughts to Mathew Shepard's Guestbook:
"To all who have taken the time to sign and read this guestbook, thank you! To know there are people in this world who still care for someone not even met is inspiring. We are doing the play The Laramie Project in May here in Ottawa and I for one will be honoured in telling this story to the family and friends. My heart goes out to you and it must be a comfort to know that people still care. God bless."