A small group of Dontay Lucas’ family and friends attended a Port Alberni city council meeting on the evening of January 29th, some carrying framed photographs of the little boy who died at the hands of his mother and stepfather on March 13, 2018.
Dontay, known for his happy disposition and brilliant smile, had a difficult life, having grown up in the foster care system. Four months before his death he was returned to the care of his mother Rykel Charleson and stepfather, Mitchell Frank. Crown counsel alleges he suffered abuse over those four months, culminating in a head injury that caused his death.
Charleson and Frank were arrested May 7, 2022 on first degree murder charges. In November 2022, they appeared in court to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. They will be sentenced in May 2024.
But a group of people, including Dontay’s natural father, Patrick Lucas, are hoping to make something positive from the tragic loss of the little six-year-old, who would have turned 12 on New Years Eve. Their idea is to create a space that not only memorializes Dontay, but also is a space where people can find joy – where they can laugh and play.
Patrick, his mother Florence and Karen Ruttan, a former foster mother of Dontay, each told Port Alberni city council about the imprint little Dontay left on their lives.
Patrick said his son was a happy little boy with a smile that lit up a room.
“He loved his culture – singing, dancing and hugs,” said Patrick, adding that he was loved by many.
Grandmother Florence Campbell noted that Dontay was a huge part of the community, having attended local schools and events.
“Every child matters,” she said, through her tears.
“He was resilient, despite what he was going through, he always had a smile,” said Graham Hughes, organized the meeting.
Karen Ruttan, former foster mother of Dontay, spoke of her family’s long history in the Alberni Valley and their long-standing admiration for the Indigenous people there, how the two groups of people learned from each other.
“I really do believe that we as a community need to support these people,” she said in reference to the group that is seeking a park in Dontay’s name.
“I will never forget Dontay,” said Ruttan, adding that now is the time to celebrate his life. “We all need to work together to make this a better place – we hope to have your support for a place of healing for everyone.”
Organizer Graham Hughes asked the people and city council to build a legacy for Dontay. A friend of the Lucas family, Hughes administers a social media group called Justice for Dontay. He organized the push for the park along with Dontay’s biological father, Patrick Lucas.
“We need to create a space where healing can happen,” said Hughes.
The group is looking for a place like a park, even an existing park, that can be named in Dontay’s memory. It would be a place where people can laugh and play. The family of Dontay Lucas want a space that celebrates reconciliation, joy and happiness.
“In our British Columbia, one child dies or is injured every day in the foster care system,” said Hughes.
Mayor Sharie Minions said she loved the concept of creating a park in Dontay’s memory or, perhaps, renaming a green space where he played.
City council voted to move forward with the idea and will establish a committee that will include Dontay’s loved ones to begin sharing ideas and planning for a park.
The core vision, said Hughes, is to have the community come together to create a place for healing through happiness and play.
In January 2024, BC Premier David Eby made this statement in regard to the death of Dontay Lucas, “We’ll ensure British Columbians will get the answers they need, and in particular, that we have the information we need to prevent any similar deaths from taking place.”
Jennifer Charlesworth, BC’s representative for children and youth says her agency will be taking a look at multiple stories like Dontay’s, seeking ways to make changes in the system that will prevent further deaths of other children. It is part of a systemic review, she said.