Mother of Ottey sisters perseveres after tragedy
Two months ago, Avis Ottey discarded two garbage bags filled with her daughters’ soccer gear.
A member of Scarborough United Spartans Club, Marsha Ottey was an exceptional student athlete who graduated from Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate and was on her way to take up a track scholarship at the University of Arkansas.
Younger sister Tami, who was in Grade 11 at Agincourt Collegiate Institute, was a forward with the same soccer club.
That was 20 years ago and a bright future was ahead of the teenagers until tragedy struck in its worst form.
Ottey – who was employed with Bell Canada at the time – returned from work on a late summer evening on August 16, 1995 to face a mother’s worst nightmare.
Her only children – ages 19 and 16 – were murdered in the family’s Scarborough home. Autopsies showed they died of multiple stab wounds to the neck and chest.
Rohan Ranger – Marsha’s ex-boyfriend – was found guilty for a second time of killing the sisters. He was originally convicted of first degree murder and manslaughter in 1998. His conviction was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal, but his lawyer applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which denied that appeal three years ago.
Ranger’s cousin, Adrian Kinkead, was arrested in Florida seven months after the horrific crimes and convicted on two counts of first degree murder in 1999. He’s also serving a life sentence for the murder of Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) ticket collector Dimitrija “Jimmy” Trajceski, who was fatally stabbed during a robbery at Victoria Park subway station two months after the sisters’ murders.
For Ottey, the healing process has been painful, long and arduous.
“I am at a stage where my agenda is to heal, take care of myself and not let this beast destroy me,” said Ottey, who testified for the Crown during Ranger’s second trial. “When I look back at how angry I was, I could have dropped off if I was not strong and healthy.”
Hours after stumbling upon the bloodstained bodies of her children, Ottey almost killed herself.
“I was overwhelmed with shock and I had a sharp pain in my head that I cannot describe,” she said. “While taking a bath in my girlfriend’s home, I dipped my head in the tub and just wanted to submerge myself under the water and erase the pain. At that moment, I literally heard Tami saying, ‘Who is going to bury us’? I am so glad I didn’t because it was important for me to be in court. I am glad I was able to do that because the criminals that killed my daughters might still be on the street.”
Ottey feels betrayed by Ranger, who was a regular visitor to the family’s home.
“I knew Rohan relatively well,” she said. “I fed him dinner at Christmas, I drove him home and I gave him warm socks to wear. How can someone like that do so much harm to someone who was kind to you?”
She pledges to do everything she can to ensure Ranger and Kinkead serve their life sentences.
“I have already asked the parole board to inform me when they apply and I will be at every hearing,” said Ottey.
On August 22, 2000, five years to the day that her daughters were buried, Ottey joined the Toronto Police Service. She was inspired to become a member after observing detectives Mark Mendelson and Ron Whitefield – who were assigned the case – in action during the many months leading up to the trial.
“The volume of work in front of them and the meticulousness with which they went about their job to get a conviction stood out for me,” she said. “I remember Mark going for days without much rest, seeking to get it right. They worked hard to get justice for my daughters. In addition, they were so kind and I am still in touch with them. Ron, in fact, sends me a card almost every Christmas.”
After five years in the Intelligence Unit, Ottey was assigned to Organized Crime and the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy units before becoming the Employee and Family Assistance Program co-ordinator.
“In my role, I inform service members that there is help available for them,” said Ottey, who is part of the Service’s psychological services unit. “It’s important they know they can speak to me about personal problems they are having at home, addiction struggles and the bad scenes they have witnessed. If I am unable to provide them with the help they need, I will find it for them.”
Until a few months ago, Ottey wore her daughters’ soccer shorts and slept in their T-shirts. That was her way of clinging on to some of the happy memories they have left behind.
“That was my way of holding on to them because I love them so much,” she said. “I can hardly speak about them without tearing up. While I discarded most of their soccer stuff, I gave my brothers a few T-shirts and I kept some for myself along with some of their trophies.”
To mark the 20th anniversary on Sunday, Ottey will attend Armadale Free Methodist Church – the girls went there too and are buried in the adjoining cemetery.
Twenty ribbons will be tied around the church’s perimeter.
“That’s a ribbon for each year they have been gone and a ribbon for every year of pain that I will release since I have been without them,” she said. “This is the year to release my pain from inside. It’s a hell of a burden I have been carrying and it has done many things to me like stymie my career growth. It’s time for me to be free to live, worship, laugh and heal.”