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VANCOUVER echo--By: Erik Rolfsen, Easter Sunday, April 4, 1999.       

Sarahdevries.jpg (3405 bytes)  Sarah Jean deVries would have been 30 years old on May 12, 1999.

She'll miss the Reunion

Just when you think news from the Downtown Eastside can no longer shock you, a former classmate turns up on the list of women who are missing and presumed dead.

YEAH, IT WAS HER

     Her hair was longer than I remember, but her eyes, face and skin colour made it pretty clear.  It was her.
     Sarah deVries was staring out at me from my computer screen, on the Downtown Eastside Vancouver website.  She was hunched over a little bit in the photograph, a red and grey track suit hanging loosely from her shoulders, and she looked considerably less happy than she did on a certain spring day in 1983.
     On that day, Sarah invited me and a bunch of our friends to her house for pop and chips after school.  I can still remember sitting on her West Side front porch, basking happily in the sunshine and the euphoria of knowing that six more months of it lay ahead.  The number-one song from that spring, a lament about lost innocence by The Pretenders called "My City was Gone," reverberated from a tiny ghetto blaster.
     Sarah, whom I once considered a peer, is now a drug-addicted prostitute who's missing and presumed dead by most.
     I had arrived at the Downtown Eastside Vancouver website after Sarah's name caught my eye while I was reading a newspaper story about the 21 women who have gone missing from the Downtown Eastside since 1995.  I almost missed it--I was skimming the story, and had to go back a few paragraphs to double-check.  I think I speak for a lot of people when I shamefully admit that newspapers are so full of numbers and so full of bad news about the Downtown Eastside that "21 women missing" sometimes doesn't catch my attention any more than "NDP at 21 per cent in the polls" or "Shareef scores 21 against Dallas."
     Then along comes the name of your former science partner and you start paying attention to what you're reading.
     I have two memories about Sarah that stick in my mind.  The first is the sunny afternoon you've heard about.  The other happened about six months later at our Grade 9 Halloween dance.
     When I was in school, the summer between Grade 8 and 9 was when you lost people.  The sweet kids who came out of elementary school would pretty much stay that way until the end of the first year.  If anyone was going to turn into something their parents would prefer they didn't, it would happen after Grade 8.   Perhaps it's earlier these days.  I don't know.
     But I remember that first dance of Grade 9, and the sight of Sarah reeling through the hallway in a significantly altered state, half-screaming, half-crying, with a wild look in her eyes as three friends tried desperately to help her to her feet and get her out of there without detection by the principal.  She was wearing a jean-jacket and a Mackinaw--a different style than she had worn the previous spring--and the whole scary incident gave me and my friends the sense that, despite her inclusion in our Grade 8 circle, Sarah was headed for adventures in which our middle-class asses wouldn't be joining her.
     Turns out we were right.
     Sarah was last seen at the corner of Hastings Street and Princess Avenue on April 14, 1998.  She had HIV and hepatitis C.  Her two children, ages seven and two, live with their grandmother in Ontario.  I learned all this from a newspaper story that quoted Sarah's adoptive mother about six weeks after her daughter's disappearance.  It included one quote that made me shudder:  "This started when she was 12."
     I'm not patting myself on the back for being an astute judge of character at the age of 13.  Instead I'm wondering, if the writing was on the wall 17 years before Sarah's disappearance, why was nobody able to erase it?

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016