Hugs and encouragement for beloved senior attacked in skywalk
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This article was published 04/03/2022 (461 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A 76-year-old woman who was randomly attacked by a stranger in downtown Winnipeg’s skywalk system feels “shaky and scared” even in the safety of her home as she recovers from the incident.
The victim, who uses a motorized wheelchair and portable oxygen tank, was left bloodied after a man grabbed her from behind on a bridge that links the arena and Cityplace at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Bruises were still visible around the woman’s right eye Friday, as she passed the scene of the unprovoked assault. She described how it has left her traumatized and cautious when she makes her daily rounds via the elevated corridors.
“This is the first time something like this has happened to me,” said the church-going grandmother, who asked not to be named. “I’ve never been attacked before. I was so shocked. I never expected this.”
A fixture in the skywalk network, the woman is beloved and known for playing music on a keyboard and decorating her wheelchair based on the season – tinsel and Christmas ornaments in December and bunches of flowers as spring approaches.
She said she is a former RCMP officer and a longtime Winnipeg police volunteer.
On Wednesday, she was making her usual breakfast-time visit to the Cityplace food court when she saw a man throw a crowd-control post — used for events at the arena — at a group of people.
Moments later, she was crossing the enclosed pedestrian bridge when the man attacked her from behind, just metres from a True North Sports and Entertainment security booth.
As he stood with at least one foot on the wheelchair’s battery, the man put his hands over her eyes and began to squeeze her head, she said.
“It was like he was squashing my head,” said the woman, who has a nasal cannula which delivers bottled oxygen into her nostrils.
Police said the victim was punched in the face.
As the bridge of her eyeglasses snapped in half, a jagged piece punctured skin near her eye.
The assailant ran off while witnesses rushed to check on the woman and security alerted police.
Foot patrol officers arrested a suspect walking through Cityplace a short time later. He is known to officers, said police spokeswoman Const. Dani McKinnon.
A 28-year-old man, who was released on an undertaking, is charged with assault causing bodily harm.
The victim spent a night in Health Sciences Centre, where she was treated for facial injuries.
More than 48 hours after the attack, her face and neck were still sore, and she was frightened.
“I get headaches,” said the woman, who carries a personal alarm. “I was so scared and upset. Whenever I go out, I’m watching out now.”
She was grateful for the security and police helping her and arresting the suspect.
Police officers gave her a small teddy bear when they visited her at home after the attack.
As she travelled throughout the skywalk Friday, there were many displays of love, care and concern for the woman, who is very popular in the pedestrian system after having lived downtown for more than 30 years.
A police officer, two police cadets, security guards and office workers were among those who stopped to ask if she was OK or offer words of commiseration or encouragement. A friend gave her a hug and called her a “trouper.” Another phoned to check on her after reading Fress Press coverage of the incident.
This kind of warmth wasn’t unusual before the attack. Her daily journeys through the skywalk and connected buildings usually involve multiple stops to say hello or catch up with familiar faces.
The daylight assault reignited concerns about downtown safety and security. It happened at a time when many Winnipeggers were using the skywalk system to go to work, although foot traffic is lower due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late January, a woman in her 50s was attacked by a man after he asked for money and she declined. She was pushed up against a wall, assaulted with a handheld tool and threatened near the Hargrave Street entrance.
Police and security officers patrol the skywalk system, which has multiple private owners, and attached buildings. Police Chief Danny Smyth cited foot patrols as he spoke to reporters Friday.
He said downtown has its “challenges,” and police have a “decent” presence.
“We can’t be everywhere all the time,” he said.
Cityplace workers who know the victim of Wednesday’s attack were shocked and outraged, using words such as “sweet” and “polite” to describe her.
Joelle Robinson, chair of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities, said she reacted to the assault with disgust and anger. She was relieved the victim’s injuries weren’t more serious.
Robinson said people who use wheelchairs or scooters depend on skywalks in winter when roads are hazardous due to snow and ice, and they expect the corridors to be safe.
“Someone using a wheelchair or scooter has to be so aware of their physical safety in all facets,” said Robinson, who uses a wheelchair. “We’re on heightened alert always.”
— with files from Joyanne Pursaga
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.