Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Killer's release painful for mom

Israel's swap deal stirs local doubts

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AFTER losing a vibrant Winnipeg teen in a terrorist attack 22 years ago, her family and friends are bracing for another painful blow this week when her killer is set free.

Fern Shawna Rykiss, 17, was killed in 1989 when a terrorist hijacked her bus and drove it into a ravine, killing 16 and injuring 27.

The driver, who survived with a few cuts and bruises, is one of the 1,000 prisoners being released in exchange for Israeli Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who was held captive in Gaza for five years.

On Friday, the mother of the girl who went by the name Shawna wanted to know if the prisoner swap had been confirmed.

"I was told by two Israeli officials who came to see me after the funeral that he would not be released because he deliberately killed the people," Joyce Rykiss said in an email to the Free Press.

On the weekend, the Israeli government posted the list of prisoners being released.

Shawna's sister, singer-songwriter Romi Mayes, was outraged at the news.

"I'm happy for Gilad Shalit and his family, but how is no one thinking about the 1,000 kamikaze murderers... that are being set free back out on the streets due to a technicality?" Mayes wrote to the Free Press. "It's an embarrassment to any justice system. I'm sure Gilad won't want any new blood on his hands, but I would think the odds of at least one of those prisoners repeat-offending are pretty... good."

One week ago, Israel and Hamas announced they reached an agreement to exchange more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the Israeli soldier in a deal brokered by Egypt.

The killer on Rykiss's bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Abd al-Hadi Ghanayem, was sentenced to 16 life terms in Israel, which has no death penalty. Of the 479 prisoners being released in the first stage this week, 279 had been serving life sentences.

"There are a number of people convicted of pretty serious crimes," said Bob Freedman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. "These are not people who robbed a grocery store."

Freedman's daughter, Pam, was one of Shawna's close friends in Grade 12 at Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. The 26 students had just completed a seven-week trip to Israel with their school and had gone their separate ways.

"I was one of the two people who had to tell Shawna's mother she was killed," Bob Freedman recalled. "I remember it like it was yesterday." He went to their home in the middle of the night to tell Joyce Rykiss that her daughter was one of those the terrorist killed.

"I can't imagine how she feels about it 22 years after being told he will never be released."

People feel for the family of the Israeli soldier who's been held captive for five years, said Freedman, but releasing the terrorists who took the lives of innocent victims is devastating for their families.

"One can understand the emotions," Freedman said. "They want to see this (Israeli soldier) come home. On the other hand, we're talking about people who've shown no remorse, who will come back and be hailed as heroes."

Jeremy Feuer, a classmate of Shawna's who saw her in Israel days before she was killed, called the swap a "bitter pill to swallow."

"It shows that Israel is prepared to make very difficult concessions with its enemies. The country does place a premium on human life." But Feuer feels acts of terrorism are acts of war that should get the death penalty.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2011 A5

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