Young girl hit by GO train remembered by family

Warning: This story contains details that might be disturbing to some readers.

Emmanuel Nwabuoku says his daughter went out for ice cream with her siblings last Tuesday afternoon and wound up chasing a butterfly. That innocent outing took a tragic turn when she got onto the GO tracks and was hit by a train.

Her father sighed deeply as he recounted the shocking experience of finding his vibrant and angelic daughter’s motionless body lying by the rail tracks near his brother’s Mississauga apartment complex.

Speaking to the Star on the phone Tuesday — moments after the funeral of his four-year-old daughter, Mitchell— Nwabuoku described how he and his wife, Ifunanya, have been overwhelmed with grief for their youngest child who the family was planning to enrol in piano and ballet classes.

Nwabuoku said Mitchell was outside with her older siblings and cousins, when the group drifted from a park located near the complex and onto the nearby tracks.

“They were playing (outside) and (they said) they saw a butterfly and they were chasing the butterfly,” Nwabuoku said about how the children ended up on the tracks. Once there, they were fascinated with tracks that they discovered, he said.

“They were on there, when suddenly they heard the honk and everybody fled, Mitchell froze,” he said.

Nwabuoku is also left with a string of unanswered questions, including why there was an opening in the fenced barrier that was supposed to block public access to the tracks, near a park at the Lolita Gardens-area apartment complex where his brother lives. He’s still waiting on investigators to provide some details about the state of safety measures erected along that stretch of tracks.

“It was open,” he recalled of the area where his daughter entered. “They kept going because it was open.”

At the scene of the incident the following day, a new section of fence could be seen blocking an opening passengers had apparently been using to cross the tracks and access the station.

In this part of Mississauga, the tracks run through both residential and commercial areas. The Star spoke with staff at several businesses who said that concerns about the tracks had been long-standing, as people crossed regularly, though nothing had been done. Trains came by so frequently, said one employee of an auto shop right next to the rails, that he’d stopped hearing them altogether. That is, until he heard a bang last week, which would turn out to be a fatal collision.

According to police, officers were called to the Lolita Gardens and Silver Creek Boulevard area around 7:30 p.m. on July 26, after reports of a child struck by a GO train. The child was pronounced dead at the scene.

The last time Nwabuoku saw Mitchell alive, earlier the same day, she was in a jubilant mood, happy about getting her parents’ permission to go outside with her older siblings Olivia, 9, and Parise, 8, along with their four cousins, the oldest of which are 15 and 16.

“They play together at the park most times, so the seven kids went downstairs,” Nwabuoku said. “It was a nice clear day.”

The children, who were cooped up in the 15th-floor unit with the adults for the entire weekend before, were excited to get fresh air, enjoy some ice cream and play at the park located in the complex, Nwabuoku recalled.

Nwabuoku said he and his wife were not aware that there were rail tracks that close to the park.

“Around 15 minutes, we got a phone call from the eldest, saying, ‘Mitchell can no longer breathe! Mitchell can no longer breathe!’ ” Nwabuoku said.

Nwabuoku and his wife raced downstairs and towards the park but the children were nowhere in sight. They soon discovered that the children drifted towards the tracks.

The gruesome scene Nwabuoku found has been etched in his mind since.

“I saw my daughter lying down on the floor, with a broken skull, with one of the eldest cousins sitting directly with her on the floor,” he said.

“The gory scene” froze Nwabuoku in his tracks for a second.

“My wife quickly grabbed her and I collected her from my wife and took her back to the park,” he said. Nwabuoku brother called emergency responders, who arrived by the time the family was back at the park.

Since that surreal moment, the family has been shrouded in sadness with Mitchell’s older siblings and cousins, weeping and wailing.

“My wife is still weeping,” he said. “The children are traumatized.”

Nwabuoku, a financial adviser by trade, said he and his wife had travelled to Mississauga from their Hamilton home so he could take part in a Toronto conference, where he won several awards. The celebratory mood was quickly spoiled on July 24, by news that his 73-year-old mother had died in Nigeria, thrusting Nwabuoku and his older brother into planning funeral arrangements.

“We were all bereaved,” Nwabuoku said of the impact of his mother’s death on the household. “Because of the planning, the children did not get to go outside on Sunday or Monday. They were getting restless.”

Nwabuoku said Mitchell was “someone everybody loved to be with. She’s very active.”

“She was a little ballerina,” he said of the youngster who, since birth, had a penchant for walking on her tippytoes. “She was supposed to start music lessons, because she likes music and sings a lot. I was thinking of enrolling her into ballet when she was five.”

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which deployed investigators to the scene, told the Star Tuesday that the investigation was ongoing.

Metrolinx, the provincial agency that manages GO Transit, said the child was hit by a train west of the Dixie GO station, which was the final train on the Milton line for the day. In an email to the Star, Metrolinx said it is still assisting all parties in the investigation.

Peel police have previously said the collision is not a criminal matter.

Pamela Fuselli, the president and CEO of Parachute, a national charity devoted to injury prevention, says it’s impossible to fence all tracks, given that there are roughly 73,000 kilometres of railway track and 55,000 highway and railway crossings in Canada.

“However, in areas where railway tracks go through populated areas and the tracks separate people from places they want and need to go, fencing and other means that prevent crossing need to be implemented,” she said in an email.

It’s also important “to understand how people are using the space, where they are currently moving to and from (often the shortest route), and develop options to facilitate this movement. It’s a combination of prevention strategies that stop people from accessing the railway tracks and providing them with safe alternatives,” she wrote.

Nwabuoku said his daughter’s death should serve as a call to action, to transport agencies and lawmakers, to shore up safety measures along busy rail corridors, especially in zones near parks.

“It should be fenced,” he said.

With files from Dorcas Marfo and Alex Boyd

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. Reach him on email: [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic


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