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In Service of Cody's Memory

A tribute scholarship for a young man just like him helped Mark McCormack pursue his dream to serve and protect.

By Natalie Dobbin and Lena Smirnova 26 Oct 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Natalie Dobbin and Lena Smirnova are in their final year at the University of British Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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Scholarship winner, Mark McCormack, shown here with fellow reservists, trains in the military each week.

[Editor's note: This is the fourth article in a Tyee series about past crimes and unexpected consequences. Find an introduction to the series here.]

Mark McCormack wasn't the kind of student who tended to land scholarships, and he knew it. He hadn't been the face of student politics or a quarterback with a perfect spiral. Instead, he spent most of his free time training with the military reserves.

Since childhood, he dreamed of becoming a police officer. How to get there? He wasn't sure. Maybe he could stay in the reserves for awhile, study law enforcement at a local college.

These ideas floated in McCormack's head as he sat in the UBC Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, among the 2010 graduating class of Robert A. McMath Secondary School in Richmond.

Suddenly, the announcer's voice invited McCormack to walk across the brightly lit stage. "Mark receives the Cody Gottschalk Memorial Scholarship, made possible by the friends and family...."

Now McCormack's thoughts came into focus.

Cody Gottschalk. Cody Gottschalk had attended McMath, too, several years before. McCormack had never met him, but he knew the name.

And now Gottschalk's mother stood across the stage, waiting to present the surprised graduate with a $1,000 scholarship. It was in memory of her son, who'd been stabbed to death after making a comment that he wanted to be a cop.

A family shattered

In the evening on May 17, 2008, Cody Gottschalk and some friends relaxed on the beach at Cultus Lake Campground chatting and drinking with a group of young men and women from Chilliwack they'd met earlier that night.

Some campers complained about noise from their gathering, so a park ranger approached the group and asked them to return to their campsites. The four women left briefly. Then, one of the men asked the park ranger if he wanted to become a police officer.

Justin Lennard, 19, from Chilliwack, appeared angry when Gottschalk piped in that he planned to join the RCMP and, according to court documents, asked Gottschalk "if he would arrest him." Gottschalk answered that he would if Lennard did something criminal.

The men faced off, and Lennard began to punch Gottschalk in the face. Another Chilliwack man, Adam Phillips, 18, stabbed Gottschalk five times. One of the wounds pierced Gottschalk's heart.

Phillips also stabbed the park ranger and Gottschalk's friend, who barely survived. Chilliwack's Nathan Simmons, 22, beat and choked Gottschalk's third friend.

The Chilliwack men darted from the beach after the fight, but were soon caught by police.

On the other side of town, a police officer entered the B.C. Children's Hospital and slowly walked over to where Cody Gottschalk's mother was on duty for the late shift. Gottschalk's mother, a children's nurse, chatted with a co-worker about what it would be like to lose a child when the officer reached her -- and told her that her only son had been wounded.

Gottschalk's aunt was also relaxing at the lake that weekend.

She heard the wail of the ambulances from her trailer and went to the beach where emergency workers were trying to revive a victim. She stood too far away to recognize her nephew, and made the connection only when her sister called with the news that her son had been hurt.

Gottschalk's aunt first set eyes on her baby nephew in a delivery room, and was the last family member to see him alive.

"The only thing she remembers is just running down the street screaming hysterically," Gottschalk's cousin, Ashley Bartyik, said of her mother. "She could feel that he wasn't there anymore."

Gottschalk's mother sat through each court hearing about her son's death. She and other relatives pinned on orange ribbons in Gottschalk's memory, a nod to the uniform colour of the young man's favourite basketball team, the Phoenix Suns.

Phillips and Lennard pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated assault on Nov. 1, 2010. Phillips also pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm. The men originally faced charges for second-degree murder.

"I want everyone to know that I am taking responsibility," Lennard's lawyer read from his client's apology letter after the guilty plea. "This terrible experience will stay with me for the rest of my life."

The men will receive double-time credit for the time they spent in jail while awaiting trial, since the crime took place before the sentencing rules changed last year. Phillips has two and a half years remaining to serve in his eight-year sentence, and Lennard has one and a half years remaining in a seven-year sentence.

Simmons was convicted of aggravated assault on Nov. 24, 2010.

The 'good things'

When he attended Robert A. McMath Secondary School, Gottschalk would sit in the back of Sharon Chen's law class and joke with the teacher about faulty alarm clocks and what he would be eating for lunch.

Three years later, McCormack tried to master legal terms and procedures in the very same classroom.

The room has a casual feel. Chairs are arranged in a horseshoe pattern to encourage discussion. There's a sunk-in couch by the door. Chen has taped photographs of her former students to the back of her computer monitor, which faces the class.

Gottschalk didn't give Chen his graduation picture to tape to the computer, but he visited her several times after graduation. During the school year he died, he sat on the classroom couch and updated one of his favourite teachers on the steps he was taking to become a police officer.

Chen devotes two classes each year to talk about Gottschalk. She mentions him in a class on the different levels of crime. She also brings his name up in May to remind students to be careful during graduation season.

"There's something very incredibly distressing and sad to have to go to a student's funeral," Chen said. "Through my little tiny part of this world here I try to keep the good things of Cody remembered."

The law teacher said she was happy that the scholarship committee at McMath Secondary awarded McCormack the memorial scholarship. The committee chose McCormack because he's similar to Gottschalk, school counsellor Marie Ratcliffe said.

"He's just a solid kid," Ratcliffe said of McCormack, who joined the reserves in Grade 12 and now trains weekly at a reserve unit in the Lower Mainland.

"He's able to stand apart from other peers and do the right thing. And that's what we felt about Cody as well."

A lifelong dream

Gottschalk was eight years old when Tarmii Miskiw came into his life through the Big Brother program. And when Miskiw joined the RCMP five years later, Gottschalk became inspired to do the same.

Gottschalk was most interested in becoming a police dog trainer. He had many pets over the years and had loved his dog Journey so much that he got a tattoo of a paw print over his heart to commemorate her.

Miskiw recalls "working on the baby steps" with Gottschalk, as they tried to figure out what the young man needed to do to enter the force. Gottschalk planned to get a diploma in auto mechanics while also volunteering at the RCMP. Miskiw was just waiting for a weekend night shift to take Gottschalk on a ride-along when he was struck by the news of his death.

Miskiw attended Gottschalk's graduation in 2006. The picture of them together, decked out in suits, was featured in newspapers after Gottschalk's death. Two years later, Miskiw swapped the suit for his red uniform when he attended the funeral and read a eulogy for a boy who had become a "part of the family."

Miskiw said Gottschalk's concern for all living beings would have made him a good officer.

"He had a great demeanor for it," he said. "You have to be totally level-headed, and that's what he was.

"He respected law enforcement. He knew right from wrong. He was just starting to grow into his new skill, but he had already given back to society."

A scholarship for Cody

Each year, a fundraiser is thrown at Gottschalk's favourite restaurant in Steveston Village to raise money for the Cody Gottschalk Memorial Scholarship.

"We just want to really put Cody on a pedestal and show people who he was," Ashley Bartyik, Gottschalk's cousin, said. "The scholarship fund is going to continue to keep his name in people's mouths who are wanting to do the same thing."

The fundraisers, held on Gottschalk's birthday, are a celebration of the young man's life. Splashes of orange brightened the restaurant on Gottschalk's past birthday. Family, friends and well-wishers dug up orange clothing and ribbons to wear in tribute to the young man.

A slideshow with pictures of Gottschalk flashed on screen and his face beamed from photographs on the tables. Guests scribbled their favourite memories or stories of how they met him on note cards. Bartyik plans to turn these into a scrapbook for Gottschalk's mother.

Gottschalk's family donated a portion of the money raised last year to send a boy from Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver to an RCMP youth camp. Past fundraisers also helped nine underprivileged children go to a summer camp run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Shock and honour

Mark McCormack was surprised when he heard the announcer's voice tell the large audience of fellow graduates and their parents that he was selected for the memorial scholarship, which could help make his dream of a career in law enforcement a reality.

"What I was feeling," he said, "was mostly shock and sort of honour that I'd even be considered for that."

McCormack plans to use the scholarship to pay for classes at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, Kwantlen Polytechnic University or Langara College. He's considering studying business or criminology, depending on what subject looks best on his application to the police force.

He said he'd be happy if he got into any kind of police work.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I always used to see RCMP officers and thought that would be a fun job," McCormack said. "I just found that they had a good job. They got to protect the public."

Since receiving the Cody Gottschalk Memorial Scholarship, he has come to learn and understand more about the young man who was murdered before he could pursue the path that McCormack now is determined to complete.

"Cody was the kind of kid everyone wanted to know, everyone wanted to be friends with. He had a real passion for helping others," McCormack said of the boy who shared his dream.

[Find more Rights and Justice reporting on The Tyee.]  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice

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